From the outside, it is wholly impossible to judge. You simply don't know the person's subjective experience of his or her circumstances — the internal state reigns.
Case in point: Julie Tan.
When I first saw her 29th birthday pictures on a yacht, I immediately recognised her as that Mediacorp actress in several Channel 8 dramas I used to watch. My first thought was, wow, she is really beautiful. (Not to mention rich. And famous.)
Yet, as I dig into more of her biography — I'm low-key obsessed with reading people's biographies, whether they be dead or alive — I uncover the telltale signs of low self-esteem.
Someone who seems to have it all having low-self esteem? It feels so incongruent. And yet, I read an article on how Julie opened up to her TikTok followers about her struggles with self-harm.
"Whenever I am feeling depressed, there are voices in my head telling me I deserve to be punished. So I would punish myself, I would bite my arms and slap myself. When I was younger, I used to cut myself, but due to work now, I can't afford to have scars."
Following this, I dug deeper and found out how there were netizens — mostly old 'chikopehs' (pervert in Singlish) who have nothing better to do than be lecherous — who criticised Julie for her flat chest. And how because of such criticisms, Julie hated how ugly she was and even contemplated going for breast enhancement surgery a few years back.
My reaction of horror: "what girl? you're really beautiful!!"
The incongruence I mentioned earlier can be traced to this fundamental premise: if you are beautiful, rich, famous and successful, you ought to have high self-esteem. Conversely, if you are plain looking, poor and low in the status hierarchy, you ought to have low self-esteem.
But being beautiful, rich, famous and successful does not guarantee that you love yourself and are confident in your own skin, as Julie's life shows us.
What if there is, in actual fact, no correlation between them?
What if your internal state of loving yourself and your life is not tied to the circumstances you are placed in, regardless of how unfavourable they are?
Now, think of the inverse, someone whom you pity. Someone who had it really rough in life — going through what feels to you as unimaginable odds. (I think of sewer cleaners in India.) And stop there.
That person may not be in a self-pitying state. Instead, he may be proud of his honourable contributions to the world, however small or little rewarded they may be. He may love himself and his life, even more than you do.
He may be more confident in his own skin, even more than you are.
You never know — just like how from the outside looking in, you would never know that beautiful, rich, famous and successful Julie has had an ongoing battle with self-harm, with bouts of intense self-loathing.
You can't accurately judge how others experience their circumstances, for their perception is everything.
And you are not privy to their perception (until they decide to bravely share it, like Julie).
So spare yourself the hassle of envy — or in some cases, of pity. Judge not. Put aside your pre-conceived notions and get to know them more intimately. You may just be surprised.