Friday, February 24, 2012

Beautiful

Yesterday, a Facebook friend posted a link to some Youtube videos.  In these videos, adolescent girls were asking the viewer whether or not they were attractive.  My friend was (appropriately) horrified by this, as was I.  But our point of view differed.  She was horrified because these young girls posted the videos, only to be told by perfect strangers that they were ugly, or fat, or stupid, or what have you.  I was horrified because why would you post something asking what a perfect stranger thought of you?  And why would you care? 
We both came to the same conclusion.  The self-esteem of these girls must be impossibly low to even WANT to ask that question.
Now, my question is why?  Why is their self-esteem that low?  How do I prevent my daughter from feeling this way?  Friend and I grew up in similar circumstances, though she is almost 10 years younger than me.
Same socio-economic status, same religion, similar expectations, similar mental health issues.  But she suffered from a very low self-esteem.  I did not.  Where lies the difference?
I grew up poor, in a less than stellar part of my town.  There were a lot of drugs and alcohol, most of the violence in the town happened in the area in which I lived.  Wrong side of the tracks, if you will.   I grew up Mormon.  High expectations when you are Mormon, by the by.  I struggled (and still do) with depression.  But I did not, nor have I ever, really, had issues with self-esteem.
Do I credit my parents?  My genes?  What?  Is it nature or nurture?  I don't know, I really don't. 
Not being privy to the details of the home life of my friend, I cannot really gauge what her parents did with regards to that. 
I am not sure that my parents were deliberately trying to build up my self-esteem, or if it was just a by product of their parenting style. 
Whatever it was, it worked.  And it worked for most, if not all, of my siblings.  We think we are pretty damn awesome.
I think this irritates people sometimes.
But why?  What is wrong with thinking we are awesome?  We are awesome.
In my home, it was assumed that if you wanted to do something, you could.  It might take a lot of effort, you might fail a few (or several) times, but if you wanted it, you could get it. 
I grew up thinking I could be anything I wanted to be.  I just had to do it.
I grew up thinking I was incredibly intelligent.  I still think that. 
I didn't grow up thinking I was particularly physically attractive, but that didn't really matter that much.  I wasn't interested in a guy that was more interested in how I looked than how I thought.  If my brains and personality weren't enough for him, he could stick it.
But why?  Why, when I was surrounded by girls who were so concerned about whether or not someone found them attractive, did I not particularly care?
Honestly, I cannot really remember whether or not my parents told me I was pretty.  I don't think it would have meant much to me if they had.  (They probably did, but the fact that I can't remember it says something.)  I do remember that they told me I was intelligent, and clever and witty and determined (which is a polite word for pigheaded).  And that mattered to me.  I wanted to be all of those things.  I LIKED that I was all of those things.  But aren't most of us those things?  Why do we want to be something that we aren't? 
My dad told me a few years ago that he used to worry about me because I wasn't popular and he was afraid that had bothered me as a kid/teen.  I was shocked.  I couldn't for the life of me understand how he could have thought I wanted to be popular.  Why on earth would I want to be one of those people?  I thought they were pathetic.  All sorts of obsessed with their money and their clothes and how pretty they were and if they were dating the right person, blah, blah, blah.  Really?  I had no desire to be part of that, one of them.  I had no respect for them at all.  I am sure they were probably lovely people, but they certainly weren't MY kind of people.
My kind of people were geeks.  Nerds.  Whatever.  I still love geeks.  I still am a geek.  But, you know what?  It's the geeks that rule the world.  Not the popular people.
Maybe my parents tried to steer me into the popular crowd and it didn't work.  I don't know.  I certainly wasn't popular crowd material.  I was poor, I wore weird clothes (I had eclectic tastes back then, too), I had this crazy mane of frizzy red hair and lots of freckles.  I didn't wear makeup much.  I was smart.  I was in Drama.  I had nerdy friends.  All these things added up to NOT COOL.
But I liked my weird clothes, especially since I made most of them.  And I liked my crazy hair, it made me different from everyone else.  And I didn't really care about makeup most of the time, because no one was looking at me anyway.  And I liked being smart.  And I liked drama.  And I liked nerds. I would have had to give up all of those things if I wanted to be popular and why would I do that?
Maybe it has something to do with having your eyes on the prize.  I knew, had always known, what I wanted.   And I knew how to get what I wanted.  And once I decide what I really want, dammit, I WILL get it.  Nothing is going to get in my way. 
In junior high and high school, where I think attacks on self esteem are the worst, I had already begun my quest.  I was making a beeline for my goal, which at the time was college.
So, is that the difference?  Is that why what other people thought didn't much matter?  I don't know.  I do know that other's opinions of me were peripheral to the goal.
Did I get made fun of in school?  Sure.  Of course I did.  I was a weirdo, a geek.  But, when you think the person making fun of you is a pathetic, dim-witted ass, what they think doesn't have much affect.
And in my way of thinking, if you don't think I am smart, or funny, or awesome-well, you are probably dumb, or an ass, and I don't really care what dumb asses think of me.  Why would I?  Why would anyone?
See, this is where I get confused.  Why would anyone care what some dumb ass thinks of them.  Seriously, why?
The reason this question gets to me is because of The Small One, of course.  I don't want her to be one of the girls that relies on the opinion of others.  I couldn't bear it if my daughter was hurt by the opinions of some mean non-entity. 
So, how do I raise her to be like me?
I know, it sounds terribly prideful, but I do want her to be like me.  I want her to be able to throw off the unwanted opinions of others, I want her to know she is smart (she is), I want her to know she is clever and funny and witty and strong and determined. I want her to know that she is just as good as anyone else, and possibly better.  And I want those things to matter to her. I want her to know that she can be anything or anyone she wants to be and that no limitations need hold her back.  (The Small One is also pretty and has lovely hair.  But I prefer that not be the important thing to her.)
Trust me, I know that I am not perfect.  I know that I have flaws.  Everyone does.  But I also know that I am great.  I like the good bits of me.  I try to fix the not good bits about me.  The not good bits that are out of my control, well, I accept them for what they are and try to not let them take over.  I would certainly rather be me than most other people.
In my family, one is awesome simply by virtue of being one of us.  DeGreys are smart.  We are witty.  We are clever.  We are funny.  We are determined. We can do anything we put our mind to.   If you are a DeGrey, or born of one, you are amazing. (Other people are amazing,too, but that is neither here nor there.)
Is it nature?  Is it nurture?  Is it hubris?
I don't know.  But whatever it is, I want to make sure my daughter has it. Some people don't like it, but I don't care what they think.;)
Thoughts?  Opinions?  Success stories?  Throw your comments my way,  I love to hear from you.

8 comments:

Katya said...

Hmm. Lots of thoughts.

1. I'm reminded of a study where kids who were told they were smart performed worse on math tests than kids who were told they were hard workers. The larger point of the article was that we can think we're building up a child's self-esteem by praising them in certain ways, but those labels can backfire. (We think of being "smart" as something you either have or you don't, which makes kids labeled "smart" more likely to panic or give up the first time they run across a real challenge. It also makes kids more afraid of failure, because then they won't be "smart" any more and they think that's what's most important about them.)

I remember another article about how we tend to praise little girls in terms of how pretty they or their clothes are. Again, we think we're doing them good by giving them praise, but we're really telling them that the most important thing about themselves is that they are pretty or have pretty clothes.

2. I remember reading about research that showed girls who participate in sports have healthier body images than girls who don't. The theory was that participating in sports gave girls a way of relating to their bodies that wasn't based on being thin or getting the attention of boys.

3. I highly recommend the book Queen Bees and Wannabes as a resource for understanding the complex social issues facing teenage girls. (Of course, I don't have kids, so you can take that with a grain of salt.)

4. Healthy role models help, so the fact that you have a good self-image will help when the Small One looks to you for cues about how to be and act.

5. In the end, I do think innate personality also plays a role, so don't beat yourself up for being a bad parent if your child has issues with self-esteem. I know I've caught myself habitually thinking some really terrible things about myself that definitely weren't messages I got from my parents or my peers. I'm a fan of counseling and other mental strategies to help sort out that self talk.

bill cobabe said...

So...

I know I'm a dude, so what I have to say is filtered through that particular lens. FWIW... :)

What concerns me is how, as a father of a beautiful, intelligent, sweet, witty, fun, nine year old girl - how do I combat the mixed messages the world sends her? She's never been one to be into "girly" stuff. Not sure why that is... But what I desperately want to instill in her is the idea that she IS beautiful, smart, fun, and all the rest. I want her to be confident - not JUST because of how she looks (I want her to be confident about that, too - everyone should be confident in the way they look), but because of who she is, because of her potential, because of her goals, dreams, and character. I want her to find within herself a wellspring of confidence and strength, because she's going to need it. This world is full of crappy people and situations that are very hard on young women (and not so young women). She needs to be able to overcome that, to shrug it off and move on.

I'd am very grateful for examples like y'all's. I hope and pray (seriously) that she will be much like you are.

Kaytee Postma said...

I think you think like you do because of your personality. You just have that "I don't care what you think of me" attitude. That's a good thing. But I also think a downfall of growing up in Utah (and I did it to so i have a perspective on it) is that we are kinda raised in the Mormon culture to be "perfect" in a way. Held to a higher standard so that's why I think so many girls in Utah seem to struggle with their self image and what not. At least that's how I viewed it where I grew up. Not sure if it's like that in northern utah but that's how the girls are in Southern Utah. I never worried about my physical appearance because I always thought I was beautiful. I was lucky to have a pretty body (thanks to my genetics) and I always thought I had a pretty face and pretty hair but I was viewed as a slut because I had a pretty body that was hard to dress modestly (shirts fit in the body but too small in the chest and whatnot). It wavered my self esteem to be seen as that but I knew that it wasn't forever. Hopefully Lilz will know that high school is not forever like so many pathetic people who view what happens in those 4 years is forever. But I think because of who Lilz' parents are and how they view the world she'll be just fine.

Sorry for the rambling. I'm done now.

Kaytee Postma said...

I also think that growing up in Utah having that "have to seem perfect" persona that so many women in Utah have is why Utah is one of the leading users of prscription drugs. It's sad really because everyone knows that no one is perfect.

Jen said...

For me? Other. girls. I grew up with all the self-confidence in the world, until I met some really Mean Girls in 5th grade, and they beat it out of me. I was pretty much wrecked until about 19/20, when I finally realized that THAT was what was still upsetting me. Now, 15 years later, I can finally just in the last year, have real, non-suspicious relationships with women and not feel "ugly/judged/less-than." And that, all with the same awesome support of my parents, etc.

I think all you can do is build your kiddo up like crazy, and teach her early that some people will be rotten and they will WRONG. I think if I had known that might be coming my way (just like anything else we prepare our kids for), I'd have known what to do with it. But if she's lucky, she'll never have to know first-hand. She sure is an awesome kiddo. :)

Linda Sappington said...

I am troubled by anyone who thinks the LDS Church preaches perfection as a goal in this life! Elder David A. Bednar addressed this issue recently in a Q&A Devotional to the YSA's in the Caribbean. He said, "its not about being perfect . . . its about being good!" I really liked that because isn't that really what we are supposed to be doing?

Sarah Anne said...

In response to Katya's comment, I was definitely affected by #1. I was told I was smart. I was expected to be an amazing artist. It wasn't so much a hope for me as it just WAS. So if I struggled with something (say, drawing a giraffe in first grade) I gave up quickly because it wasn't perfect. This problem didn't last (or at least didn't stay as black and white) as I grew up, but as I recognize that it was an issue during crucial developmental years, I'm sure it played in to my self-esteem issues.

Additionally, I was *always* praised for being pretty and thin--but indirectly. I would hear my mom and sister talking to other people about my looks. And the comments on my weight were from friends and neighbors, but they were constant. Imagine my horror when I got acne and giant glasses in sixth grade, when my hair got frizzy, when my nose grew into a statement on my face, when the scale tipped over 3-digits...

While you and I grew up under some of the same general conditions, and with some similar circumstances, our upbringing was, I'm sure, extremely different. I stuck to generalizations when I posted that article because I just don't share a lot of my childhood with a wide audience. But it was horrific in many ways. Those experiences made me more susceptible to emotional harm--and I am a very sensitive person anyway.

And similar to Jen, other girls definitely played a part in my self-esteem issues as I got older. I still remember specific things girls said to me over the years (and we are, of course, facebook friends now)...which could just be chalked up to girls being catty or immature or jealous...but they cut me to the core.

I'm thirty years old now, and still struggle with depression and self-esteem issues from time to time, but overall I like the person I have grown into, and I continue to grow every day. If I hadn't endured all of the challenges and traumas I had growing up, I don't know if I would be the awesome person you know now! :)

Like you, I worry about my kids' self-esteem and self-worth, and do everything I can to make sure they believe in themselves and never feel less-than. Whatever I'm doing is working so far, because my kids are outgoing, smart, fun, hilarious, and confident. They are the things I have always been, but was too shy and injured to share with the world. Additionally, I *do* tell them they are handsome/beautiful and it makes them feel good. And, unlike me, they don't have a problem receiving compliments, so their eyes light up and they respond with a sincere "Thank you."

I think the greatest thing we can do for our children is to believe in them, love them, challenge them, and praise them. And to always be there.

I'm sure Lilly will grow up to be an amazing, strong lady--I already see all of the ways that you encourage her to grow and love. She is amazing and talented, and has that same glint in her eye that you do. Just keep doing what you're doing! <3

lillysmum said...

Thank you, all, for you comments and insights! It is really, really helpful to me to hear about other experiences and helps me to know what to avoid, etc.