A few weeks ago I received an email from one a former student’s mom. She wanted to inform me about a program into which her daughter recently gained acceptance. She shared a few of the writing samples she provided to the program. One essay struck a cord with me. It’s about growing up, self-esteem, and wanting to look like everyone else. I read it and my heart ached since I wish I had known about the struggles she faced in elementary school. However, I tried not to beat myself up about this since I know she has grown into a well-adjusted, confident young lady who will enter 11th grade this fall.
I asked this student’s mom if I could share her personal essay in this forum. She (and her daughter) said yes. I have not edited it at all. It appears just the way she wrote it. After you read it, I’d love to know what you’re thinking about how we can reach out to girls when they’re in elementary school to help them to become more confident with who they are.
Like many other daughters, sisters, and nieces in the world, I was once one of many who suffered from low self-esteem. Even though I was always told I was pretty and beautiful by my parents and family members, I could never find the truth behind those two words. Parents were supposed to tell their daughter that she was beautiful, even if she really wasn’t. What beauty might have stood for my parents and family was definitely not what I felt beauty was. In my eyes being beautiful meant that you had long, flow-like hair, an olive skin complexion, and wore nice clothes. Needless to say, I was not blessed enough to have any of those beauty must-haves. Instead, I had short, ethnic hair that didn’t even past my shoulders or neck. My skin complexion was a deep brown and my clothes were a mix of hand-me-downs and attire that was two seasons too late.
It didn’t help that I attended elementary school where there were a majority of Hispanic girls who had those three beauty must-haves. The African-American girls, who did look like me, were mean and cruel, so I tried to befriend the Hispanic girls. Even though I envied the Hispanic girls around me, I considered them my “friends” because in some ways they accepted me into their cliques. As I grew to know them, I felt that I could slowly turn into them. I wanted to finally be pretty and feel beautiful, even if I had to kiss up to them and just brush off their crude comments. Being a quarter Puerto-Rican didn’t really help me either, being that I felt that I was almost them. It took me a while to finally realize that I would never be them, and would have to learn to love being me.
It was a long journey learning to love who I was, and it took me to the middle of junior high, to learn to do so. It may have been because I began to receive male attention and was even told I was pretty by the girls in my junior high school. Most girls might have used this newfound attention and used it negatively, but I didn’t do so. I didn’t run off and have sex with any guy who told me I was beautiful or do shameful things to continue the male attention. Instead, it gave me the boost to see what I was told all along. What made me beautiful was my huge heart and warm spirit, while physical features attractions were pluses.
When I look back at how insecure I used to be, it doesn’t upset me or wish I’d never gone through what it did. It makes me feel lucky but I know appreciate myself more than I would have if I didn’t have low self esteem before. Going through what I did, has also led me to be a mentor of my eight-year-old sister, Sade. Just like me, she faces insecurity and has even shared wanting to be pretty like the Hispanic girls. I’m able to share my experiences and help my sister understood her beauty, in and out. Low self-esteem and insecurity can way a lot on young girls and is an epidemic even more today. Luckily, my experience hasn’t been negative enough for me to take my life, but hopefully better the life and give life to another. The number of daughter, sisters, and nieces continues to increase, and I hope I can help decrease the number of self-esteem and insecurity cases.