On this international #DayOfTheGirl, may we all remember that the girls of today are the women of tomorrow. And the seeds we plant now, if the right conditions are reunited, will bloom tomorrow. In order to build a healthy, strong, confident generation of women, it is imperative to understand and address the issues young girls face today, especially the subtle ones, those that seem invisible yet have a great impact on how they see themselves and project themselves in the world. This issue is, to me, the disease of our age, one that affects both girls and boys, low self-esteem.
Self-esteem is the way in which an individual perceives herself. It’s the foundation of self-confidence and the main element that helps girls make healthy choices for themselves.
I grew up being a very bright, creative, talkative and smart girl. I was bubbly, fierce and super confident, like all children are, really. But somehow, at the beginning of my teenage years, I lost this sparkle. I started doubting myself, being unsure of my potential, questioning my abilities and my worth, comparing myself to others. Inevitably, I entered a vicious cycle of self-doubt where my self-esteem was scrambled in the process. Today, I am an adult woman, mother, and passionate about my work and advocacy for young women and girls, yet there are times when I still experience moments of self-doubt, whether it’s in my work and relationships. At times I feel like the adolescent girl with low self-esteem, unhealthy thought patterns, constantly doubting her abilities and worth still lives inside of me. It’s no surprise girls’ self-esteem is at the core of my work and advocacy, because of my personal story, but also because I believe building a positive self-esteem in children in general, contributes to helping them achieve their full potential. Self-esteem is not a personal battle, it’s not something we build on our own, it’s something that is built in the community: with parents, educators, friends, family, the media and culture we live in. A positive self-esteem is the common factor of success of highly successful women: when you know your worth, you become unstoppable.
7 in 10 girls believe they are not good enough or do not measure up in some way, including their looks, performance in school and relationships with family and friends. – Real Girls, Real Pressure: National Report on the State of Self-Esteem, Dove Self-Esteem Fund
Over 50% of girls between the age of 11 – 14 experience self-esteem issues because of different reasons: the images shown in the media, the books they read, the society and culture they live in, but also, their family dynamics. In fact, self-esteem is something that is built in children as soon as they are born, it is directly shaped by the parents and immediate environment hence the importance of a healthy family dynamic. If a girl continuously feel loved, valued, encouraged and protected from her early years, chances are she will develop a strong self-esteem and make positive choices for herself. On the opposite, if a girl grows up feeling unwanted, unloved, unworthy, constantly criticized, she will develop insecurities that will certainly follow her into her adult years. Childhood and adolescence are such an important part of our lives, as we are shaped by the experiences we had, and tend to emulate the kind of behaviors we were exposed to. If one component is missing (the love and affection we receive from both parents), or if this cycle is suddenly interrupted, this will negatively affect girls self-esteem. A low self-esteem plays a huge role in the experiences we have, the choices we make, the relationships we have, our aspirations and motivation in life. So the question is, how can we help girls think better of themselves, make better choices in their lives, raise their aspirations and help them reach their full potential? The first step is listening to them. Listening to what they have to say, paying attention to their concerns, the issues they face, their aspirations and leading by example. This is a crucial part of coming up with effective solutions. No child is born with self-esteem issues, it’s something that is taught through repetitive and emulated behavior. In order to help girls develop a positive self-esteem, we need to acknowledge the role the family dynamics play in girls’ development.
It is our job as parents, educators, thought-leaders, media to instill self-esteem in girls as early as possible, and one of the most effective ways to do so is to lead by example. A lot of work is being done on helping girls build a positive body image, especially in the social media era where it’s so easy to compare yourself to others based on what we see on our screen. Yet a lot of work remain to be done in the foundation of how self-esteem is built. The thought process that leads a girl to believe she is unworthy is rooted somewhere in her childhood or adolescence. I believe what a girl thinks she is capable of hardly have anything to do with how she looks, but everything to do with her aspirations. Do we provide enough and diverse female positive role models for our girls so they know that, they too, can achieve their dreams? Do we encourage them enough on their career path without forcing our own ideas of what they should be doing instead? Do we support their passion and invest in their dreams? These are the questions we must be asking ourselves.
Let’s not just focus on the tip of the iceberg instead of the root issue. The foundation of self-esteem in girls is knowing they are worthy of love, respect, affection and all the goodness life has to offer. It’s knowing they are smart, beautiful inside and out, strong, capable and that their dreams are valid. That is, in my opinion, the essence of how to raise a healthy and confident girl, who will be equipped to make the best decisions for herself. Of course, the media plays a huge role and would have a better, bigger and more positive impact if it portrayed a more diverse representation of women, from diverse backgrounds, in leadership roles. But let’s not forget our roles as society, parents, thought-leaders, each and one of us who contribute to raising and educating the next generation. What are we doing for our girls?