Interesting thread.

A few thoughts:

1) I think that self-esteem named as such as an independent concept is a "first world" and modern age thing in the sense that, as has been said, people who are poorer don't have the time to think about it because they are thinking about basic necessities and survival and don't have the choices in their lives that we do. However, I think that some of those people can or did in fact suffer from what we might label as "low self-esteem" - feeling worthless, feeling powerless about their lives, allowing others to mistreat them, not liking themselves and their lives, not thinking they deserve or can have better, etc. I have many clients from very low socio-economic backgrounds who commit crimes because "that's all I can do" or "no one cares if I do time so I might as well" or "everyone else I know does this and I can't do any better."

2) I do think that a lot of self-esteem is relevant, so the more of the world people see, the more aware they can be of what they are not and what they don't have. My mama always says that when they were growing up in the islands they didn't have a lot of material things, didn't get big presents for Christmas, sometimes barely had enough food, didn't wear fancy clothes, etc. But everyone else was in the same boat, and as long as they had their friends and family and got their educations and played and had fun, they were happy, and had no idea others might think they were deprived. But as has been said, they couldn't go on the internet or cable TV and see what others had.

The media seems to revel in trying to make people, especially women, compare themselves negatively to other people. I just came across this article about Kate Middleton and Kim Kardashian's pregnancies. The point of the article was basically 2 things:

1) Kate Middleton apparently looks fantastic pregnant and "pregnant women the world only must be so envious and wondering why they can't look so good"

2) Kate Middleton apparently looks so much better pregnant than Kim Kardashian and Kim must be jealous and Kim looks disgusting

So basically, if you are pregnant and don't look like Kate, you should be down on yourself and trying to look like her, regardless of your life situation, body type, etc. compared to hers. And if you are pregnant and look like Kim, you look disgusting.

It used to be that being pregnant was a blessing in and of itself. Now apparently you have to be a fashion queen too or something is wrong with you and you are less than. It's not about being healthy and happy for your baby - it's about what you wear and what your "bump" looks like and how much weight you gain, as seen through the eyes of other people. And we buy and watch and pay for this crap. And even if we don't seek it out, it's in our faces (I wasn't looking for that article but it somehow came to my attention.)

3) I'm not sure I agree with spidey about religion. If religion was so great for self-esteem, etc. so many people wouldn't leave it. I think religion CAN give self-esteem to some if they fall within a very narrow range of acceptable behaviour and choices - if they happen to be fortunate enough to have that situation and be satisfied with it, they can be happy and fulfilled, but if they seek more, as many people do, then they'll be sent the message that something is wrong with them.

Many religions also use guilt or the idea that you are a "sinner" or "unworthy" - certainly, this is a theme in Christianity as much as the idea that you are "saved," at least in the way that it is practised.

As to the idea of the men as the head of the household, that's a whole other debate, but I would argue that that traps and limits women and keeps them unfulfilled as much as it can give them security and an identity. In the days when men were the head of the household, women were trapped in controlling or abusive relationships more than they are now, and that was pretty bad for their self esteem. I think for many people/couples, an equal, challenging, dynamic partnership is a much better way to "help them be the best they can be", and religious beliefs that oppose this are therefore not assisting people in developing self-esteem, as self-esteem comes through autonomy and being empowered to make choices, not through following prescribed roles.
Get used to me. Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me. -Muhammad Ali