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.
8 thoughts on “The Road to Loving Yourself for Who You Are”
That is insightful. I had your question in mind while reading. Here’s what I am thinking now, but I am sure that the question will be rolling around in my mind after I turn off my computer for the evening. In some ways it seemed like your student answered the question, older students can support younger students in understanding their experiences by forming mentorships. There is also the power of authentic literature that explores those feelings. Thanks to you, your student, and her mom for sharing.
I think it’s important for this question to keep lingering in all of our minds. As we know, our society places a lot of emphasis on outer appearance. I like your idea of mentorships. That’s powerful!
What can we do-stop valuing young girls or women for what we see instead of what they do. Tough, economic topic, Stacey, & tough to tackle in school, too. Thanks for sharing this story.
What they do & not what they look like. Exactly Linda!
That’s a really good essay! I am struck by how much her self esteem was reliant on her own perception of her outer beauty and how that measured up to the other girls. As an elementary teacher, I think one important thing we do is help them discover all their talents and all the things that we see as “beautiful” in their personality. I like to buy miniature greeting cards (which less lazy people than I could make out of scrapbook paper) and leave them on their desk. I writing things like, “I saw you helping someone today. Thanks!” My hope is that this shows them I value kindness, honestly, helpfulness, etc.
More teachers need to do things like this Lisa! Perhaps these kinds of messages will reach our students if we’re all sending them to the kids (boys and girls)!
Thank you ladies for replying. I forwarded my daughter’s essay to Ms. Shubitz as a thank you. Stacey, in no way should you beat yourself up, but I wanted to share how your strong teaching skills and dedication caused a insecure girl to mature in to a confident young lady.
Self esteem starts at home but continues in school. I am currently experiencing similar issues with my youngest daughter, however because my eldest was able to achieve victory through her experience she is now able to help her younger sister. More school programs must be created in our schools to educate our children on inner beauty and how your outward appearance does not justify the heart. A co-worker shared with me how in high school her parent did not allow her to socialize with “lower class children”. It took for her to become an adult to understand that class does not define a person’s heart and soul. She admits to being responsible for many children feeling that she was better than them. This behavior started at home. Such is an example why we must go back to the beginning and make sure all are on the same page. Reinforce how to respect and not discriminate. Seeing the beauty beyond the eyes. Open group sessions on what’s special about your class mates. Teaching to love everyone. We want to push this topic to the back when it needs to be first priority. When you have students with strong self esteem you can than push them beyond the stars because the sky is not the limit…
Mommy who loves from inside
P.S. Stacey you will always rock in my home. Your one of the few and your standards have set the bar high as for teaching and providing excellence.
One thing that levels the playing field is have kids wearing uniforms! You see their faces, not their clothes…also, their actions not the latest fashion trends…the district I teach in requires uniforms for elementary and middle school students. I wasn’t for the idea at first because I thought it would take away from individuality and creativity but they can still add their own touch to shoes and socks as well as hair accessories if they want-
I think schools would do well to implement uniforms…