The Difference Between Image & Self-Esteem


There’s never a dull moment in a gay guy’s imagination, but sometimes our imaginations can become our greatest enemy. For decades, we have mistaken self-image for esteem, even convinced ourselves they’re the same thing. But trust me, they’re not…

Our image is the world’s perception of us from the outside looking in. It’s how our friends, family, strangers, coworkers, bosses, and boys we flirt with perceive us (or, how we think they perceive us).


An image is intertwined with status, title, body, personality, and all the other stuff we pressure ourselves to maintain. Many of us try desperately to create a certain kind of “image,” and the pressure to achieve it can be crushing; it forces us to neglect our esteem, which is the most important of all.

Our esteem is fueled by our self-worth. It’s a genuine awareness of who we are as a person and what we offer to the world. It’s what we think of ourselves versus what the world thinks of us. It doesn’t rely on a title, status, or a face-lift to define us, unlike self-esteem, which is dependent on the opinions of others.

Here’s the thing, though… whatever construct you feed the most (be it image or esteem) is what will ultimately take over your life.

If we feed the image, we’re going to base our entire worth on that image. As it crumbles down, so shall our value and worth. But if we feed our esteem, allowing ourselves to grow from an idea rooted in ownership and honesty and authenticity, we allow inner strength to become visible. Our worth soon follows.

Worth is everything, that’s why I write about it so much. It’s invisible and will never be seen by the naked eye, but it’s felt intuitively and energetically. It’s electricity that stays with us, and transfers to others subliminally, making them comfortable and open to express themselves.

Too many of us choose to focus on an image; pretty soon everything we think, feel, and say will be trapped inside a realm of delusion. Our image has nothing to do with us. We don’t own it — the people do. We give ourselves to the mercy of the public in deciding our worth.

The moment the world decides we’re nothing is when we fall to pieces, for we have no esteem left to ignite us again. Esteem is owned and managed by us. It requires us to investigate moral codes and decide how to carry forward as a genuine human being. This is something we as a culture ought to start focusing on.

In the gay community especially, many of us are pressured to maintain an image. So much so that it eats away our authenticity, while pressuring others to build an artificial “self” along the way. It’s toxic, and spreads like wildfire.

It’s hard not to care what everyone thinks when we’re all doing it; but the second we stop, we change the monotony of our lives. Ironically, people start to notice us more than before because the “self” they see is genuine. No one is intimidated by us because we’re unafraid to show imperfections, rather than presenting an illusion that everything is perfect. “Perfection” doesn’t exist. When we pretend to be perfect we are actually limiting ourselves because we aren’t living in reality, but a pretend world.

When we try so hard to be something we aren’t, we’re saying we aren’t good enough. We betray ourselves. The “image” is the man we think the world wants. But he’s made up. It is impossible to relate to a person that doesn’t exist.

Instead of layering masks on top of ourselves, imagine how stronger we’d be if we choose to shape what’s already there? To enhance our attributes and beauty rather than pretending it isn’t there?

It’s time to let go of the image and start focusing on building esteem. Our worth defines our value in the world, so we might as well feed it organic thoughts.

Let yourself grow from the inside-out, not the outside-in.

David Artavia


David lives in New York City, where he acts, writes and lives vicariously through his friends.

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