10 Major Motion Pictures About Low Self-Esteem

One reason we watch movies is that they tell us our own stories in the guise of fictional characters wearing, say, boxing trunks or togas -- and if movie characters' problems can be solved in under two hours, maybe ours can too.


Having struggled with low self-esteem for many years -- my new book Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself comes out this week -- I've compiled this list of major motion pictures involving low self-esteem. Some of them will make you feel better. Some will make you feel worse. They'll all remind you that you're not alone.

1. Nymphomaniac: "I am a bad person," announces the title character after being discovered bloody on the ground at the start of Lars Von Trier's grim new film about a life spent engaging in cynical, self-abasing, loveless and detached sex. Live and learn.

2. Welcome to the Dollhouse: Classmates call her "Wiener Dog" and scrawl mean graffiti on her locker; bullies threaten to rape her; and her mother always sides with her pretty little sister; her only friend is a pariah too: Preteen Dawn Wiener has nowhere to turn.

3. Annie Hall: Insecure chanteuse Annie Hall, forever struggling to get her life together, forms a tenuous relationship with death-obsessed nihilist Alvy Singer, who says, "I would never want to belong to a club that would have someone like me for a member."

4. Happy Gilmore: One of my all-time favorite films, this riotous comedy follows the titular character as he goes from utter humiliating failure at the sport he adores (hockey) to accidental mega-success at a sport he barely knows exists (golf). Meanwhile, his grandma loves him.

5. American Beauty: Saving up for the breast-enhancement surgery she's sure she needs, 16-year-old Jane Burnham thinks she's ugly and worthless -- a belief confirmed by her dismissive mother and by her father, who's obsessed with Jane's beautiful best friend.

6. Wreck-It Ralph: Video-game character Wreck-It Ralph, whose chief talent is breaking things, feels like a loser; his fellow characters don't invite them to their parties. Embarking on a saga aimed at gaining their respect, Ralph gains self-respect unexpectedly.

7. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken: In this Don Knotts classic, bullied wimp Luther Heggs volunteers to stay overnight in an allegedly haunted house because he hopes it will win him a job promotion and some respect. It does, but not in the ways he predicted.

8. The Great Santini: Critical, cruel, dictatorial dad Bull Meecham makes his four children feel that they can never live up to his monumental expectations. "When I say something," Marines Colonel Bull is fond of saying, "pretend it came from the Burning Bush."

9. 8 Mile: Young Detroit factory worker Jimmy "Rabbit" Smith blames others and himself for being stuck in a go-nowhere existence and for living in a trailer with his alcoholic mother. Focusing on his potential future as a rap singer gives him hope.

10. Leaving Las Vegas: Alcoholism has cost down-and-out Hollywood screenwriter Ben Sanderson everything: friends, family, career. Filled with self-loathing and suicidally depressed, he arrives in Las Vegas planning to drink himself to death.

Photograph by Kristan Lawson, used with permission.

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