Imagine a world, proposes the Dove Movement for Self-Esteem, where every girl grows up with the self-esteem she needs to reach her full potential. I’d like to extend that, of course, to boys – Cameron needs self-esteem too! But I do remember being a young girl. I remember having such self-esteem that I rarely questioned myself, and I remember the gradual erosion of that feeling. I watch Kate taking the first few steps down that path, where social acceptance is everything. Cameron, well, he is a typical boy in many ways. He’s deceptive, seeming oblivious, but he is well aware of the social maneuvering and jockeying for position amongst the girls. On occasion he’s given me a pretty good rundown of the girls’ interactions. He also clearly doesn’t feel ‘good enough’ at drawing and painting, and is unhappy with this – so yes, the feeling of not measuring up is not solely a girl thing.
Did you know that ‘the experts’ are saying 70% of girls believe they don’t measure up in some way? When I read that, my first reaction was, “Yeah, and roughly 29% are lying.” I look back at intermediate and high school, and find it hard to believe that any ‘normal’ girl felt 100% confident in her abilities and place in the world, all the time. But then, maybe my perspective is a little skewed by my own experience.
Dove asks women to join their movement, and to write a few words of advice they’d give to their thirteen-year-old selves.
I was intrigued by this idea.
What would I say to me, what advice or wisdom would I share, to that girl?
It’s hard to write this letter. I don’t think I can tell you about the things that are going to happen, because then you’d know what was going to happen, and surprises would be ruined. You were never the kind of kid who snooped to find out what Christmas morning would bring, so I don’t want to spoil the happy surprises, or the twists and turns your life will take over the next 25 years. Perhaps you’d make other choices based on your knowledge of the future, and I would be a completely different person writing this letter.
You see, I don’t really have any regrets. That’s pretty big, isn’t it? There’s really very little that I’d go back and change. Let’s put it this way. Two things. Call Grandma. Really. And at some point in the future you’ll sit down on a couch with a big bit of news to impart, but you won’t be sure what you’re going to say until it’s coming out your mouth. Think about it and decide before you open your mouth, girl! What came out was probably the right choice in the end for complicated reasons, but looking back and not feeling a sense of control over the situation, like it happened to you instead of you choosing it, sucks.
There. That said, I do have some perspective to share, on you, on your personality, on your strengths, and on your life.
Because that’s who you are. You are strong, you are smart. You’re able to process information and pull together pieces to synthesize answers to puzzles in a way that will at times leave others wondering what just happened. Believe in yourself when you feel that ah-hah feeling, when you feel like you’re seeing a network of ideas where others see discrete lumps. And yes, that sounds pretty geeky, but that won’t always be the end of the world.
But you have a lot to learn still. That’s okay! You might feel all grown up right now and yet six years old at the same time. And that’s okay too. I know you – you aren’t going to want to hear some of what I have to say. Some of it will not seem relevant right now, but it is. So listen. Absorb.
Don’t waste time trying to impress, please, satisfy people who do nothing but ignore you, put you down, and hurt you. You’ll spend years and heartaches trying to be good enough for them before you learn that it’s not you who isn’t good enough. You’ll never achieve ‘good enough’ for that type, because they are the queen of hearts, they change the rules of the game as they see fit, so that you can never win and they always do – within the game that they have defined. But if you step outside that game you’ll see that they aren’t winning, they know it, and are terribly afraid. You’ll only be able to walk away from their game, though, when you accept that you ARE good enough inside yourself, because it’s not really them who you are trying to please. You’re trying to silence the voice in your own head that says you’re not good enough – they’re just the external echo. Stop trying to please the wrong person. And try letting yourself win. You can walk away from another person’s game, but it’s harder to walk away from your own. Still, both take strength, strength that you have inside of you.
Surround yourself with beautiful people. No, I don’t mean the pretty and popular girls at school who tease you for weeks because you said something dumb, tripped, wore the wrong clothes, picked your nose, or don’t have perfect hair. They might turn out to be beautiful, but right now they’re dealing with their own insecurities and it’s coming out nasty. I mean people who know that they have strength inside, who let others in, who shine. I know, it’s hard to accept them when you measure yourself compared with others, and think that you are lacking. But take notice of who they are and what they do that’s different. Tuck that knowledge away somewhere until you’re ready to use it.
Listen to the people in your life who you admire, who you believe to be strong. Some of them you already know, and right now are dealing with some pretty big changes and challenges in their lives. Watch them, and learn. Talk to Nana, she is the strongest woman I have ever met. Right now you don’t think too much about or of her, but you’ll see. You have inherited this strength – maybe not her grit, sure, but her strength.
I know, this was long, and a lot of ideas that seem a little abstract. But take this knowledge and tuck it away in your heart, right beside the certainty that your parents love you, the knowledge that you are intelligent, and the understanding that you really can do anything you set your mind to. I know, Dad keeps telling you this until you want to gag, but really … he’s right. These Ideas, this knowledge and understanding, will pick you up and keep you you when it really matters.
Two more things. Take a philosophy course when you get to university. And go easy on your parents and the people they bring into your life.
And you? What would you say to yourself, at 13? What has life taught you that you would share? What does that 13 year old need to hear?
(and I must thank practical mum for bringing this campaign to my attention! I missed the contest, but … it’s about more than a few cups of coffee anyway.)