How Not to Give Your Daughter Low Self-Esteem

Self-esteemLast night, my daughter’s after-school program hosted a community event, sort of a coming-together to show off all of the activities they do on a regular basis. The Girl, ever the spotlight-seeking starlet, was in both a fashion show and a skit. In it, she played Carla, the prettiest girl in Cuba that all the boys wanted to dance with.

It struck me how different she is than I was at that age. I’ve always struggled with self-esteem. I never liked anything about the way I look, except the dimple in my right cheek. And I darn sure wouldn’t have been all up on stage in front of the whole student and parent body assuming the role of the prettiest girl anywhere.

Alas, not much has changed in that area since I myself was a 12-year-old gal. Even though I’m grown with a kid, a car note, and a 401(k), I have these pre-teeny moments of envying other women for their fabulosity. I never want to pass that level of insecurity on to my child. It sucks.


When girls are still little and fresh and underexposed to the ways of the world, they like themselves just the way they are. They look in the mirror, checking out their smile and hair and twirling around in dresses, clearly feeling pretty. As far as they’re concerned, it’s OK to be who they are.

I’m not so sure I was ever one of those self-admiring mini-divas. My mother never really told me I was beautiful or addressed anything about the external me. It was always about excelling in school, being mannerly, and having a great personality, which she called “the important stuff.” And she was right. It was.

But the lack of positive reinforcement at home made the merciless teasing I suffered through at school even tougher. For being tall and chunky. Having glasses, a bad overbite, and eventually braces. And — Lord have mercy — having the misfortune of being born with big lips in the era of TV history when Jamie Foxx was doing his Wanda character on In Living Color.

Kinda hard to get a good footing on self-esteem when all you’re hearing and seeing is the wrong stuff.

Heck, my mind can’t ever stretch back to a period when what I just saw was what I wanted to see. That’s been exacerbated by a bad habit of looking at other women — not, to the chagrin of stereotypical male fantasy, in a sexual way — but to compare myself. It’s something I thought I’d grow out of, but it can’t get much growner than this. And the condition lingers.

Case in point: After agreeing to meet a friend for happy hour, I walk smack into what has to be the largest collective of stunning women in the city. If every other lady in there wasn’t qualified to be the lead in the next Ludacris video, then I must be sane (and I think I’ve proven by now that I am not).

I scan the room, bubbling with teenage-like awkwardness at the abounding gorgeousness and pick out parts I’d love to claim as my own: this one’s waistline, this one’s bust line, this one’s apple bottom. Leave it to said friend, who herself is an hourglass-shaped knockout, to come up with a place ripe for the America’s Next Top Model picking. I take one for the average girl team and enjoy the evening, intermittently wondering if a plastic surgeon would barter with a writer in exchange for a full body reconstruction.

I guess the cat’s out of the bag that I’m a work in progress, and not just on the physical side. How can I encourage my daughter to think she’s every bit as beautiful as she actually is if I don’t get my own self together and convince myself that, though I’ll never be anybody’s cover girl, the dreams I have planned and the goals I have outlined aren’t about the way my booty is shaped or the clarity of my skin?

Despite my ongoing battle against myself in a so un-heroic way, I’m relieved and thankful that I haven’t passed my hang-ups and my gajillion and one insecurities on to Girl Child. She’s bubbling with self-esteem and I’ll do anything to not only protect it, but boost it. Between hip-hop generation stereotypes, good ol’ fashioned sexism, and the relationship baggage that weighs most of us down, there’s no such thing as being too confident. So I’m pouring it on thick like her own personal body armor.

Did your mother invest in your self-esteem? Have you made a conscious effort to pass that on to your daughter?

Image via J Anand/Flickr

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