It's easy to assume that beautiful, talented, successful superstars have high self-esteem and feel great about themselves. But all the speculation about whether self-loathing played a role in Philip Seymour Hoffman's recent death-by-overdose has made us face the notion of public figures suffering terrible private pain.
So it's poignant -- and courageous -- when famous people admit in interviews that they have low self-esteem. Or that at some point in their lives they did, but have found ways to challenge it and outgrow it.
1. Mariah Carey: "I understand that people think I am a ditzy moron," Carey told an interviewer in 2009 after having released eleven CDs, acted in five Hollywood films and won over 200 music awards. "I've always had really low self-esteem, and I still do."
2. David Bowie: Looking back on his amazing rise to superstardom, Bowie confessed that while filling auditoriums with impassioned fans in the early 1970s, "I had enormous self-image problems and very low self-esteem, which I hid behind obsessive writing and performing. ... I was driven to get through life very quickly," Bowie told a reporter. "I really felt so utterly inadequate. I thought the work" -- songwriting, recording, performing -- "was the only thing of value."
3. Serena Williams: The tennis champion told Oprah Winfrey that, as a child, she "always tried to be Venus" -- her elder sister and fellow tennis superstar, Venus Williams.
"There were two Venus Williamses in our family -- it was crazy," the Wimbledon winner and four-time Olympic gold medalist told Oprah in 2003. At restaurants, "my parents would make me order first, but once she ordered, I'd change my mind. It was tough for me to stop being Venus and become the person I am. ... I still copy Venus in many ways, but it's not as bad."
4. Nicole Scherzinger: During her career with the Pussycat Dolls, this singer who has sold over 50 million records was much-envied and much-desired for her sculpted cheekbones and lean, supple figure. But one thing that kept her so slim was bulimia.
"It was like my addiction," Scherzinger said in a recent interview. "When I got off stage ... I'd come back to my room and I'd be alone, so I would just do things. My bulimia was my addiction; hurting myself was my addiction."
For eight years, "I did it every day. ... Every time I had a second to be alone, I was doing something to myself. You get, like, blisters on your hands or scars on your hands, and I'd try to hide those. ... I just hated myself. I hated myself. I really was so disgusted with myself and so embarrassed. I felt so alone. I was in a group, and I never felt so alone in my life. It's embarrassing. I never spoke about it."
5. Kate Winslet: Before she was a world-famous actress envied and desired by millions, Winslet was a 5'7", 180-pound teenager whose schoolyard nickname was "Blubber." As she has revealed in interviews, mean girls repeatedly told Winslet that, because of her size, no one would ever find her attractive.
"Even now I do not consider myself to be some kind of great, sexy beauty. Absolutely not," Winslet said in 2009, after winning an Academy Award.
Self-loathing is an affliction which is seldom reality-based and which can afflict anyone -- even those who seem to have everything. As I strive to point out in my forthcoming book Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself and at my Unworthy blog, we can never know for certain whether that person sitting next to us or walking past us at any given moment believes him- or herself to be hideous or hopeless or horrible. And while it's hard for people with low self-esteem to accept compliments, what can we say to those around us that might lessen their self-loathing today?
Photograph by Kristan Lawson, used with permission.