How a Facebook-free Childhood Saved My Self Esteem
I can honestly say that thinking back to my childhood, there are not many occasions in my memory where my parents or grandparents ever told me I was beautiful. Never an indication that my appearance was pleasing. My mother, of course, would correct me as a teenager, when I would have an outburst in front of the mirror cursing my curly hair and my protruding potbelly, then she would tell me my hair was gorgeous and that I was slim, that I had nothing to complain about. When I stated my nose was crooked she would agree that it was but that it was my nose and that it suited my face.
I was born into a line of strong women who do not mollycoddle each other. We do not praise without cause. Certainly, educational achievement would be considered worth admiration, but praise over appearance was withheld.
The only thing that outweighed one’s academic achievements was the numbers displayed on the scales. I come from a family where focus on weight is of paramount importance. I heard my mother speak negatively about her figure, embarking on the latest diet, whilst my health conscious grandmother would take up the newest fitness trend – be it a kickboxing fusion sport… or any other funky new weight-busting trend. I watched them weigh and calculate their food. My granny was not always the skinny minny she is today, and my mother has gone through a lifelong struggle with weight.
After my own struggles I am desperate to stop this circle with my daughter.
Some members of my family would mock my weight when I was a size 8, just as much as they would if I reached a size 28. I would be ridiculed for clothes or attempts at using make-up as a young girl, and as a grown woman I still get remarks telling me I am lucky my husband puts up with me… and that he would even choose me! The first time my father complimented me about anything but my children was on my wedding day, when he actually told me I was gorgeous. I honestly did not know how to react to this long craved for compliment.
I grew up in a society where social media was not so prevalent and Facebook did not exist along with its tagging and likes. Maybe I was lucky? As a young woman struggling with her self esteem I would probably have relied too heavily on the amount of likes my pouting selfies received. I discussed this phenomenon with a close friend; we know we where lucky growing up in a world without constant judgment, we talked about how young girls take a “selfie”, post it and tag everyone they know to make them aware there is a new picture to like. They validate their appearance by how many likes the pictures gets and they measure their worth by these likes.
I do not want that for my daughter.
Striving my entire life to be beautiful, and to feel pretty, has left me drained. It has effected my mental health and my self esteem. As a result, I decided to always compliment my daughter; to make her see her beauty and to make her feel comfortable in her own skin. As a result, I would tell her several times a day how gorgeous and pretty she is, until it struck me that all I was doing was recreating my childhood. Of course, I wasn’t withholding compliments, but I was still reaffirming the huge importance of appearance and looks. I was still putting my focus on my daughter’s exterior, telling her (without the intention of doing so) that her worth is measured by the symmetry of her face.
I spent ages researching how to do it “right”- although several parenting styles take a complete stance on any commenting of appearance, I knew from experience that this just made me crave it further. I felt going down the road I was heading, would leave my daughter putting too much focus on her appearance as a barometer for her self worth.
So I decided it was all about balance… I tell my daughter she is beautiful inside and out. I tell her she is pretty in a dress, but also in a pyjamas with her hair unbrushed. I tell her how beautiful her heart is and how kind she is. I tell her that kindness makes people beautiful. I tell her beauty is skin deep but self worth is never ending. Most of all, I tell her to her face, and hope others will do the same, rather than resorting to social media tactics and ‘counting the likes’ by means of just how pretty or accepted she is in the future.
But my words aren’t the most important thing. It’s how I put my thoughts into action. I made a conscious decision to never criticise my appearance in front of my child and I continue to make an effort not to comment on other peoples’ appearances.
(Note from The Editor: Not only is Sofie a regular columnist for The Glass House, she also runs her own ‘gentle parenting’ blog. Pop over to thegentlemumblog.com to read more of her musings.)