If you’ve never heard of Stuart Smalley, you were either living under a rock in the early 90’s or are too young to be using the Internet without adult supervision. As a teenager, nothing could trigger hysterical laughter like the hapless yet hopeful SNL character. Every skit ended with emotionally vulnerable Stuart speaking affirmations into a mirror in efforts to make it through another day breakdown-free.
Stuart struggled with poor self-esteem, an issue I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately. With the ongoing debate over too-skinny models in the fashion industry and movies and television depicting unattainable images as the standard of womanhood, it’s no wonder many women feel they can’t quite measure up. What I learned recently, however, is how early these messages start chiseling away at us. My daughter is six and, like many children, has always possessed the kind of confidence that seems to burst forth from her in every word and action. Take a look at this video that’s been making the rounds and you’ll see just what I’m talking about! (click photo to activate video)
Like little Jessica, my daughter has never hesitated to claim being the smartest in her grade and insists on tackling tasks far outside her skill set. Recently, though, I’ve noticed some changes in the way she views herself. When she can’t read a word, she reacts as though she might as well kiss her higher education hopes goodbye. She has even started comparing her body with others, often telling me that she’s “fatter” than the other girls. While this is uncharted parent territory, I do remember my own struggles with self-esteem as a child and teenager and I know how hard it was. Just ask my mom about the year I ate only Ramen noodles and my hair started falling out as a result of my quest to be skinny (and no, I never got skinny ENOUGH, whatever that means). Simply put, we tend to make unwise decisions when we start to devalue ourselves and this can have potentially devastating consequences, particularly for young girls.
Many of you probably remember being as bold as Jessica as a child, declaring your many talents to anyone who would listen. But as you got older, “bragging” became less acceptable and was replaced with the daunting task of being humble. Don’t get me wrong, humility is important and I certainly want to instill that value in my children. I also feel that there’s a fine line between being confident and being self absorbed. However, in the journey down the well-intentioned path of humility, I think some of us missed a turn and ended up on a detour of self loathing. And we’ve stayed there under the false pretense of modesty.
My wish is for my daughter to feel MORE THAN good enough and to know that it’s okay to cheer for herself at the same time she’s cheering for others. I want her to celebrate all the traits that make her unique and special. Otherwise, the opinions or unkind words of others may become her measure of success, beauty and worth. While I don’t have all the parenting answers, I have chosen to spend more time lately dialoguing about what she likes about herself and what makes her feel special.
More than anything through pondering this issue, I’ve realized that the way I feel about myself today will have a profound impact on how she feels about herself in the future. As much as I say and do all the right things where she is concerned, many days I don’t speak to or about myself very well. How can my daughter learn to believe in and love herself if her mother doesn’t practice what she preaches?
Knowing that she’s watching and listening is the strongest motivator for change. Just don’t expect a reenactment of Jessica’s video to be up on You Tube any time soon, as the bathroom cabinet probably can’t hold my weight.
Change is hard. There’s always tomorrow, right?!