“The driving force behind this project is to raise awareness about the lack of self-esteem and poor body image in today’s youth. I want to change the way that we look at ourselves and the way that the young women and men look at themselves.”
A worthy pursuit.
Tricia over at Shout is helping co-host this project, along with Amy of Five Flower Mom. This week’s subject is “In your opinion, what is the best way to build self-esteem?” and Tricia has asked me to give it a go and write something about the subject.
I don’t know how well I can tell you how to help your child build self-esteem, but I can certainly tell you what to avoid doing.
I had absolutely crappy self-esteem growing up. I was smart and I knew that, but I was also a plump child. Not fat, by any mean, just a little chubby. I was chubby because my mother had atrocious eating habits, which she passed on to her children, and I was discouraged from too much physical activity – I’d been diagnosed with a heart murmur at the age of two and the well-meaning but misguided doctor told my mother to keep me “as quiet as possible.” So running, swimming, roller-skating and bicycling, all things I loved to do as a kid, were strictly curtailed and I was encouraged to read (I could read by the time I was three), draw, paint and do various crafts; it helped that my mother was of an artistic bent and I am possessed of a vivid imagination.
By the time I was a teenager it was apparent that I was not going to drop dead any time soon of heart-related problems – the murmur, which I still have, is what doctors term an “innocent” murmur – and while I still enjoyed swimming, roller-skating and biking, I enjoyed my sedentary pursuits even more; not surprising, since those were the ones that had been encouraged. The problem was, by the time I was a teenager, although I was healthy as a horse, I was a good 30 pounds overweight, and it wasn’t helped by the fact that I am fine-boned, big busted and short-waisted – every extra ounce has always been all too obvious on my slight frame.
An even larger problem was my mother. Mom had been overweight most of her life and was a yo-yo dieter to boot – whatever new fad diet was out, Mom would go on it, lose a lot of weight, and gain it all right back…plus more. And she nagged me about my weight – I saw my very first diet doctor when I was 12 years old, and was put on diuretics. By the time I was 18, she had nagged me to go on every quack diet there was, but by this time I was doing most of the cooking in the house and, well, eating cabbage and grapefruit three times a day kind of paled in comparison to a pan of homemade brownies or a plate of chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy. Not much deterred Mom, though – I imagine I was the only kid in high school that had taken speed supplied by her mother.
My teen years were a litany of “You’ll never catch a good man if you don’t lose weight” “Don’t wear horizontal stripes (or all white, or A-line dresses) they make you look fat” “Don’t eat that…or that…or that.” All while NEVER being encouraged to exercise or truly eat properly. She also ignored my good physical qualities – my thick, gorgeous hair, my very pretty face, my tiny hands and feet, my fine, unblemished complexion, my curvy figure. And while she was proud of my intelligence and talents, she never encouraged them the way she drove me to be thin. It was as if she felt that being thin were the end-all and be-all of a woman’s exitence, and that all the answers to all of the problems of her life, to say nothing of mine, could be found on a number on scale – preferably reading under 120.
Like most people, by the time I had kids I was determined not to make the same mistakes my mother had made. I won’t claim to have been a perfect mother by any means, but I swore that my kids were never going to feel judged by their physical qualities. Oh, I fuss at them a little about how they eat, especially Oldest Son, but it’s about eating healthy, and I really try not to nag them. Mostly, I encourage them to make the most of who they are, not how they look – I’ve vowed that none of them will ever, ever hear me say “You’ll be happier if you just change the way you look.”
And they never will.