Self Esteem: What Are We Doing Wrong?

I have seen articles ad nauseum about the self-image issues that women in this country have (and I suspect that most men have a lot of the same issues, they just don’t talk about them like we do!)  But it just breaks my heart when I hear beautiful young girls tell me all of the things that are not perfect about their bodies, instead of embracing their own unique beauty.  How being able to count ribs became beautiful is entirely beyond me.  And I think it’s just sad that Hollywood has gotten everyone there thinking that they should spend millions on plastic surgery, for crying out loud.  (Meg Ryan comes to mind, not to harp on the poor woman, but just that she was so cute, and her surgeries have definitely made her less so).

For the last 30 years or more, we’ve been constantly telling our kids that they’re wonderful, beautiful, perfect, and can do anything they want to do, but clearly it’s not helping their self-esteem.  We pass kids on to the next grade in school even when they don’t deserve it because we “don’t want to damage their self-esteem.”  So I’m likely going to ruffle some feathers today by saying, we need to stop this.

No, I’m not a psychologist.  So you can scoff and tell me I have no idea what I’m talking about.  But forgive me for a moment while I stoop to making a pop-culture reference.  I keep thinking of Syndrome, the villain in The Incredibles, when he said he wanted to make EVERYONE super, because if everyone was super, NO ONE would be super. I think that is the tragedy of what we are doing to our children when we praise them for something they have not earned. Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all about cheering your kids on, and praising their accomplishments. I’m just a strong believer in celebrating REAL ingenuity and hard work.

Even the alarming increase in bullying, I think, has its roots in self esteem issues.  Think about those kids (and adults) who are the bullies.  They tend to either have a vastly over-inflated view of themselves, and feel that the entire world owes them whatever they want, or they internally have very low self-esteem, and bullying makes them feel superior to others.  Or maybe those two coincide.  But I didn’t really intend for this post to be about bullying.

While we don’t want our kids to have over-inflated egos, neither do we want them to have false modesty OR under-estimate their worth.  We have to teach our kids to be appropriately proud of their accomplishments, to appreciate those things about their physical bodies that are attractive and overlook or work to improve the things that they don’t like about their bodies, and most importantly, to cultivate those characteristics that make them beautiful on the inside.

Unfortunately, I haven’t the foggiest idea how to do this.  I hope you weren’t expecting me to tell you how!  I see so many young girls unaware of their own physical beauty, and their innate self worth.  I see so many young people too focused on what they can get from the world instead of what they can contribute. And then there are some really great kids out there, who truly don’t realize how amazing they are.

In the next few posts, I’d like to tackle some of these issues separately.  But in the meantime, what do you think about how we, as a culture, deal with self esteem?

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