Really, this goes out to all women surrounded by young women/girls who look up to them. However, the emphasis is entirely on mothers as they are the most influential on the self-esteem of their daughters in my opinion.
There are so many women and girls in this country (and across the globe too) who are torturing themselves emotionally and physically. They are living their lives trying to be something that they are not. They are quietly suffering due to low self-esteem simply because the women who they loved the most didn't help them develop it. Many have actually had their self-esteem destroyed, both intentionally and unintentionally, by these same women. Add the destructive effects of media into that equation and you have a young girl, young woman, or a grown woman who has not learned to see her own beauty. And this breaks my heart.
I just finished watching the documentary, America the Beautiful. At the beginning of the year I got my hands on the book Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry, and a couple years ago I fell in love with Dove's work on the Campaign for Real Beauty. In my opinion every mother should be aware of the issues addressed in the documentary, book, and campaign. There are tons more resources out there to learn more, but it would make a world of a difference if every mother started with even the most mainstream of materials.
Women, please hear my plea.
Think about the damage that you might be unintentionally inflicting on the young girls you are surrounded by. They look up to you whether you like it or not. Be careful how you speak about your own body, how you show your pride in your talents/strengths, and how you demonstrate love for yourself. They are watching and learning.
If you are already a mother and this comes as news to you, it is not too late. Sit down with your daughter. Tell her that you love her and why. As one of the women in the documentary perfectly stated, "Don't over appreciate your daughter based on appearance."
That doesn't mean don't tell your daughter (or niece or sister... etc) that she is beautiful. It just means don't make her feel as thought that's what your love is based on. Because what will happen on the days she doesn't feel beautiful? Will she be able to maintain her self-esteem if she does not know that she is uniquely blessed with talents/gifts? How else will she know that her spirit is amazing? Let her know that beauty comes from within as well.
I make this plea not from the voice of an expert (which I am not) or a mother (which I'm not either), but rather as a young woman who has come to appreciate the way that my mother and my sisters taught me to love myself. I just ask that you do the same for the young girls and women in your life.
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