BOSTON-March 28, 2014
My daughter Kelsy Marie is a beautiful girl. She truly is. She has these amazing, big brown eyes that can be as dark as a midnight sky and cut through your soul with a glance. Sometimes they shimmer with a greenish hazel tint that can melt away the madness of the world with a blink. She has a perfect little button nose, flowing brownish- gold tresses, smooth olive skin and the prettiest little bowtie pout, which in the course one day can show you 10 different types of smiles.
From the moment I found out I was pregnant, through 9 months of pregnancy, 13 hours of labor and 2 hours of pushing, I had this image in my mind of what my precious baby girl would look like, as I brought her into the world. I dreamed that she would have curly blonde locks, pale ivory skin and beautiful blue eyes. Needless to say, when the doctor finally placed my little angel in my arms I was completed shocked. Despite my pre-conceived notions, I still had the most amazingly beautiful child that I ever could have wished for; the child I had waited my whole life for. When I look at Kelsy now, as I’ve watched her grow, I still see that beautiful baby as I did almost sixteen years ago, and not because she is my daughter but because she is a beautiful child inside and out. Kelsy is the sweetest, kindest, smartest, funniest, good-hearted girl in the world. She is genuine and respectful, honest and humble and I am honored to be her mother.
That being said, most people only get glimpses of this inner beauty because Kelsy has been born into a warped society where inner-beauty often falls to the wayside; a society which is inundated with gratuitous images of sex and violence, celebrity status obsession, distorted body image ideals and compromised moral values. She has been bred into a generation of instant gratification; living in a world where everything and anything is just a click away on a laptop or a swipe away on an IPHONE. Having never known anything else, she has learned and lived a lifestyle of social media saturation, perpetuated by commercial sabotage and superfluous images of unattainable beauty. Despite my best efforts to shelter her from the madness of this world, I am hard-pressed to do this, so I continue to try give her the proper tools and foundation she needs to succeed; the support and encouragement to be secure with herself, feel safe and protected and a modest sense of self-esteem.
Generally speaking, self-esteem or one’s “self-worth”, begins developing in infancy and carries over to adulthood, fluctuating over time, experiences and life altering events. Ultimately, a child’s experiences both positive and negative, and said perception of such experiences, is how they create this “self-concept”, based primarily on interactions with other people. As self-concept patterns emerge, the child begins to realize their strengths and weaknesses and begin to adapt coping mechanisms in defining their self-esteem. The most crucial element in establishing these patterns in the child is the influence, guidance and moral compass of the parents. A child will typically model behavior and self-perception based on how they view similar traits in immediate family members and friends, coupled with a myriad of external factors such as social stigmas, environmental precursors and level of intelligence. As parents, promoting self-esteem should occur early in childhood and remain consistent throughout, even in tumultuous circumstances by utilizing a positive approach in wording and repercussions. Research has shown that negative self-esteem in children ages 8-18 is the leading cause of anxiety, depression, body dysmorphic disorder and addiction in children as they enter adulthood with a direct correlation to unrealistic expectations and inaccurate representations of mental and physical manifestations by the parents.
Children, especially young girls spend an inordinate amount of time obsessing over their appearance. As their bodies and minds begin to change, they are developing a more acute self-awareness of flaws, fears and peer criticism, thus a subsequent dissatisfaction with body image. Perpetuated additionally by insecurity and vanity, young girls often become trapped in a cycle of self-loathing which convinces them that physical beauty is at the forefront of their existence and the guiding force of their motivational plane. This type of behavior carries over into womanhood, creating lower confidence levels, unhealthy relationships, lack of true intimacy and self-exploitive behavior patterns seen in appearance and sexuality.
As parents, it is our responsibility to nurture, guide and set an example for our children. At times this may seem an impossible task without bordering on some level of hypocrisy. However at the end of the day we are all human and our children know this. Rather than preaching to your kids, share your experiences. Rather than demanding they go to Harvard, explain the value and importance of getting an education. Rather than telling them they are beautiful by showing them a picture, show them by telling them a story about how they changed your life as a parent, as a person, as a woman.
As a woman and a mother, the greatest gift I can give my daughter is the confidence in knowing that the reflection she sees in the mirror may someday fade but that beautiful inner- child will live within us both, forever.