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.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.