Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Self-Esteem

A few weeks ago, our living room was crowded with friends after the boys had gone to bed. As our conversation, somehow, approached self-esteem, I announced that I honestly cannot understand women who have low self-esteem.
"Even in this world?" Josh asked. "With society treating and portraying women the way that they do?"
Yes. Even in this world.
Every time I meet another woman, I am almost always blown away by her. Smart, talented, kind, hilarious, and usually beautiful.
And always there comes a time when I realize that this spectacular creature doesn't think much of herself. She wishes she was prettier, funnier, smarter, more crafty, more ambitious, more everything.

And I want to grab this woman by the shoulders and shout "Why don't you realize how awesome you are?!"
We all wish we were something more, don't we? But why on earth should that keep us from realizing how awesome we are so far?
I have really high self-esteem. I think that I'm beautiful. I think that I am smart and funny. I think that I'm a good mom.
And it's weird and embarrassing to admit that.
Because I have lots of flaws, and so do you - and sometimes it seems like the only thing we want to see in each other is flaws. I'm much more relatable if I say, "Well, I think I'm kind of pretty. But I wish my boobs were bigger, and my eyebrows were fuller, and my stretch marks could just disappear."
And you know what? I do wish those things, sometimes.
But mostly, I think I'm pretty. And I probably think that you're pretty.

Here's what people say next, almost always: Well, that's easy for you to say. 
It's easy for you to have high self-esteem, because you have the things that I don't. You have heart-shaped lips, or skinny legs, or whatever it is that I am particularly lusting after.
You have the one thing that I think would make me beautiful. So you are beautiful.

Knock it off, sister. I'm sick of this low self-esteem garbage.
I am. I'm sick of it in me, and I'm sick of it in you.
I'm sick of the world expecting us to have low self-esteem. I'm sick of wanting to attack people because they are put together or well-dressed, or have perfect blond hair in a knotty bun on top of their head. That's the worst.
I hate it.

I see these mom blog posts all over Pinterest with titles like, "How to raise a confident daughter," or "Seven things to tell your daughters about their self-worth," but I don't have a daughter, and I think it's not just what you say to your daughter that teaches her about self-worth. Telling your daughter that she is beautiful, is the same as telling me that I am beautiful.
Because what you're not saying is that you are beautiful. And you need to say that too.

Somehow, my parents raised some really self-confident kids, despite (as my mom jokes) how hard they tried to beat self-confidence out of us.
"Was it just that they told you that you were amazing all the time?" asked a friend, and Travis burst out laughing. Because seriously? No.
The number of times that I left my house, and my dad said "You look like an idiot" cannot be counted. My parents told me when my grades were unacceptable. They grounded me on a regular enough basis that my seminary teacher announced that my theme song was "Fun, Fun, Fun" by the Beach Boys, because my daddy was constantly taking my car away.
And I can remember several occasions when my dad announced that I need to go change my clothes so that I didn't embarrass him.

But I've been thinking about having high self-esteem a lot lately. I've been trying to figure out what my parents did so right in that department. I've also been trying to separate having high self-esteem from attractiveness  but it turns out that it's really difficult to discuss self-esteem without discussing beauty.
So first, let me say something about beauty, and this is my completely honest opinion:
There are not ugly people, except a few who have chosen to be ugly.
Okay, so some people do not fit the traditional molds of societal beauty- that is true. But "If you have good thoughts, they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely," as Roald Dahl said.
And I think that is true. I think that we assume that the defining feature in attractiveness is eyes, or lips, chins, or noses, long beautiful hair: and that is 100% not true.
I think that we can all think of at least someone that wasn't traditionally beautiful, but that we adored. That we loved to see, that we wished we were more like, and who had features that we loved and envied.
I think we also can all think of "beautiful" people that are unhappy or unkind - and maybe all of us can agree that they are less attractive, and certainly less enjoyable to be around, than those plainer and happier people.

But I've been thinking about the things my parents did, and here are is what I think they taught me, through their words and actions:
People are important. All people. Including me.
The fact that everyone is special, does not make everyone less special, because everyone has different strengths and flaws, every one is important for the same reason, and every one is also important for different reasons.
Is that confusing? Maybe. But, here are some of the things they did that taught us that - so maybe it will be a bit clearer:

1. My mom never talked about her body or our bodies as though they were disappointing. 
In all my life, I can never remember my mom saying "I wish my eyes were..." "My nose is so..." or (even worse) "Too bad, you got my eyes, legs, hair, anything, and etc."
Our bodies were not disappointing. True, sometimes she would look in the mirror and say, "I think I need to lose some weight," but I never got the impression that it was because of the thinness of others, or even that she was unhappy with the way she looked.
And that was true about everything. She never said, "How sad that you're not as smart or capable as..." Instead, our talents and strengths were complimented and praised. We were beautiful, inside and out - as cheesy as it sounds.

2. My dad often constantly complimented my mother in front of us and others. 
A few years ago, my parents came to visit Travis and I in Utah. We were sitting in the living room with my dad and some of our friends, when my mom entered the room.
"Look at her!" my Dad yelled. "Dang, Polly! You look like a super model! You're the most beautiful woman in the room."
We laughed and rolled our eyes, because in my family - this complete adoration of my mother is normal, but my friend spoke of it for weeks. She brought it up often, saying that she had never heard a man act like that towards his wife.
But I grew up in a house where my mother was adored. She was (and is) the pinacle of beauty, the smartest and the funniest woman my dad has ever met. This instilled in me (and I assume my siblings) the belief that I was also beautiful, smart, and funny - and that I only deserved a spouse who knew that. The only husband worth having is one that announces your beauty to the room every time you enter it - and he does it sincerely. I deserve that much- because it is true, and my husband deserves the same from me.
It taught us a lot about self-worth. It taught us that the people around us are at least as important, special, beautiful, smart, and funny as us. It taught us that people deserve respect and love. People are worth a lot and loved for a variety of reasons.
Once (my mom denies this story), we sat down as a family to go over the plan if there were a fire.
My dad announced to his four children, that if there was a fire - he would save my mom, and then come back for us.
"She's a grown-up!" my sister Mary yelled. "Why wouldn't you save the baby first?"
"I can make new babies," my dad teased. "But I couldn't make a new Polly."
That's the house I grew up in. One where I was important and special, but not the most important - or the most special. You know what, though? I think that's alright. I also know that when we get together, all my siblings are quick to argue that each of us is, in fact, the favorite child. My parents loved and adored us each individually and completely - but they also loved each other. We were worth a lot, but we certainly weren't the pinnacle of perfection.
That was our mom. Maybe someday we could be like her.


3. My parents taught us that we were valuable and important, but also - that we had to live up to that. 
You know that problem with entitlement? The one facing pretty much every parent?
The one facing me, as I try to teach my children that they aren't entitled to anything. I try to remind myself that I am an not entitled to a house. Not even a tiny one, even though we've been working our butts off. I don't deserve a house unless I earn it myself. In school, I wasn't entitled to As unless I earned them. I'm not entitled to a happy marriage where I'm constantly lauded unless I'm doing my part too.
As a child and teenager, I was told that I was valuable and and special, that I was good, beautiful, important - but then I was told to prove it. Being those things didn't exclude me from the turmoil of life, it made me someone who was capable of handling it.
I had to get good grades, I had to make good choices, I had to do hard things.
Because I was valuable, special, good, beautiful, and important.
I think that we are so focused on helping our children know that we love them no matter what, that sometimes we forget it's okay to expect things of them. I read a quote that said, the difference in parenting between now and three generations ago, is that then children tried to earn the approval of their parents and now parents try to earn the approval of their kids.
I think of that often, and I think that I want my kids to seek my approval. I want them to work hard, to be good, and try their best so that their mom will be proud. Certainly I will love my children, even if they make bad choices, but I don't want that to be an excuse for making bad choices. I want my kids to also seek my respect, and respect is a little more hard-earned.
(And then maybe they'll respect themselves as well.)

4. My parents were rarely, if ever, unkind to others - at least not in front of their kids. 
I can't remember a single instance when my parents made fun of another adult, or were unkind about a professional. If I complained about a teacher, the response I got back was "Teacher knows best."
Sometimes they would express frustation, and I have seen them argue with other adults, but never - even after an argument with a family member did I hear my parents say, "I can't believe your aunt would say this. She's wrong, or mean, or stupid." Nothing.
Never.
No wonder kids are struggling with bullying these days, when adults bully each other so much - whether in person or online. If you need to rant and rave to your mom or husband on the phone, then do so - but doing so to or in front of your kids just teaches them that people are not as good as they ought to be. They're not smart enough, kind enough, or capable enough.
And if they aren't, you probably aren't either.

Maybe it seems counter-productive to believe that teaching your kids to love and respect others will help them love and respect themselves.
I see silly quotes all over that say things like, "You can't ever love somebody until you learn to love yourself," and I believe that to an extent - but I also believe the opposite is true:
You can't love and respect yourself until you learn to love and respect those around you.
Maybe it's a circle. Maybe love and respect for one's self and those around you come as understanding grows.
Understanding that you are important. You are beautiful. You are smart. You are creative.
And so is everyone.
Understanding that I am a daughter of God who loves me, and every one else in the world is a child of God, too. We are not better than those around us, and they aren't better than us.  We don't have to be ranked on a scale of most to least important to understand our self-worth.
And that is why I have high self-esteem.
Because I know that I was fearfully and wonderfully made. I know that the stretch marks across my stomach are there because I grew two babies. I know that my "poop colored eyes" (as a boyfriend once described them) are inherited from my mother, who loves me and who is beautiful. I know that the way that I look is the way God wanted me to look, and who can be a better judge of beauty than the artist that created the earth and paints the sunset every night?
I am sometimes broken-hearted that I am not musically talented, despite my love of music. That I am not a good painter, despite my love of beauty. That I cannot remember how to do math, even though I love the feeling that solving an equation gives me.
But I am a good writer. I am a good cook. I am sensitive and compassionate.
I am good enough. I work hard enough. I am beautiful and happy enough.
And so are are you.



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25 comments:

Rosebud said...

Beautiful! Thank you!

Mandey Ejiasi said...

This is a great post. You're lucky to have been raised by such confident and loving parents. It helps you understand a little, why most women and girls don't have crazy self esteem. (Might have a lot to do with the divorce rates in this country.) My parents, not any time I can remember, showed love toward each other. They never kissed or hugged...I never remember my dad calling me beautiful, ever. Still to this day it's just not something he says to me. My mom will say it occasionally when she's all sappy and emotional these days. The same with my sister, or its usually in the form of a "You're really good at such-and-such, but why don't you.... or but what about..." There's always a "but".

I'm guessing there are lots of stories like this, essentially 1 in 2 people have parents that are divorced, could play a role in a kid's self esteem.

Betsy Hite Reddoch said...

There are a lot of things that my parents weren't the best at (financial and health education, for example) but self esteem they got exactly right. I would like to lose 50+ lbs, but I still like and love myself. I'm awesome at my job, most days I'm a pretty good mom, and I know I am very good at my church calling. I think I'm pretty, but I KNOW I'm beautiful. Knowing I am a child of God is the biggest part of why I think I (and everyone else for that matter) is really very great. High five soul sister!

Ama said...

I am frustrated by your post, and I hope my less-than-praisey comment doesn't ban me from your blog because I do enjoy reading it, but a couple things struck me here.

First of all, I think it's beautiful that you are able to find the light inside yourself and see your true self-worth. I think you hit the nail on the head that it had to do with your upbringing, but I think it's important to notice when you meet women/girls that the fortunate home you describe is truly not the average home and what comes easy to you may be the hardest struggle to someone who doesn't have those values bred within them. Having sensitivity to the fact that it's not always easy allows for empathy when it comes to self-esteem issues instead of comments like, "I just don't understand how a woman can have low self esteem".

Also, I'm sure as a woman in our time period, you are rightly aware that bullying among females is just as prevalent as bullying among men. Kids are mean, and girls are mean to each other. When we are young (and often when we grow up) we are judgmental and unsupportive of other women. I find a lot of girls saying they just don't have very many "good girl-friends".

Even for those of us who grew up in positive homes with positive attitudes have been taught to be critical of ourselves through our environment, which makes maintaining self-esteem difficult and also produces those books for parents, on how to teach their girls to be positive about themselves. Our culture, while it improves all the time, is still teaching girls to compete with each other as opposed to support each other.

Third, I am a beautiful woman, from a comfortable cushy home with a beautiful mother and I can see my strengths, but I think it's important to always look for ways to grow, both physically and mentally, and while that may come across as low self esteem to someone outside myself, it is more a pledge to humble myself.

I don't think it's negative for you to say positive things about yourself. We should praise ourselves in small ways all of the time, and acknowledging your beauty or talents is good, but I hope to encourage you not to impose your ideas of self-esteem and how easy it's come to you on other women in different situations. It's just another form of bullying.

Kim Lovejoy said...

Becky... this post brought me to tears. It is has been so awesome to watch you (through your blog) grow into the beautiful woman and mother that you are!

Emily said...

This is probably my new favorite post. Someone should make a Mormon Message out of this :)

Kristen said...

I love this post so so much. I am one of those women who have always struggled with self-esteem issues. But since having my daughter 6 months ago, I have found that my confidence is beginning to flourish, and as conceided as it may sound, I love it. Growing up my mother was constantly bombarding herself with negative comments about her image. I have no doubt that that is where a lot of my self-esteem issues stemmed from. I don't want that for my daughter, because that road led me to a very dark place for a good portion of my life.

You are beautiful, and I won't lie and say that I'm not jealous of your cooking/sewing/mothering skills, because well, you are pretty awesome =) The world needs more Beckys. That is all.

Becky Pitcher said...

Ama,
I both agree and disagree with some of the things you've said. I hope that you don't think that I look down on women with low self-esteem. On the contrary! It is because I am constantly in awe of women that do not think they are amazing, that I wrote this post. Having high self-esteem is extremely difficult, and I know I was blessed to grow up in a magnificent and unique home. It is frustrating and often confusing to me that people do not recognize their own self-worth, but that in itself does not mean I don't have empathy for them.
Secondly, I know that bullying is a huge problem, which I kind of addressed. I think that as adults, we have a responsibility to ourselves and our children to stop bullying and being unkind, but to support and love each other - which helps people love themselves.
Also, I agree that just because I have high self-esteem, doesn't mean that I think I am finished being better. In fact, because I think a lot of myself, I think that I am worth improving. I am worth the effort it takes to be better, and I know that I am capable of being my best self.
Having high self-esteem doesn't mean that I think I'm perfect, but that I am alright with my imperfections and I know I can ultimately change the things about myself that I dislike.
And I think that it's okay for me to say that all women should have higher self-esteem. I don't think that's bullying. Certainly if I said that everyone should feel the same way about themselves as I do, or that everyone should grow up in a home that is the same as mine - that is bullying. Wanting women to love themselves? That seems like the opposite of bullying to me.

lex said...

I LOVE THIS! And I love that you said that society expects us to have low self esteem. It's so true! Thanks for sharing!

Marisa said...

This is a great post! So well written and relatable. It's interesting to hear your experiences and think back to my own childhood (of divorced parents)and compare and contrast. Thanks for sharing!

Jess Thompson said...

I love this post, and I really enjoy it when you branch out to address other topics. You are such a great writer! I have high self esteem also, and definitely as a result of my upbringing, although it was quite different to yours.

My mum was critical of her body but never hid it from me and as I result there may be things I want to change about myself but I am accepting of how I look and don't hide my body.My mum also always told me how she was proud of me, but let me know when I wasn't working hard enough so as a result I set high standards for myself and this has been really beneficial to me.

I was thinking recently about where I derive my self-worth from, and a large part of it, for me, comes from my academic achievements. I like to make an effort with my appearance and wear clothes I think are nice but I don't spend that much time on my hair or make up so my attractiveness isn't a large feature in this. To me, good grades, work ethic and the like are a way to measure whether I am living up to my standards.

Also, I love the fact that your father praises your mother so much. I didn't have this growing up as my mum was a single parent, but my fiance is always complimenting me and we always thank and praise each other for chores done, and I'm glad to think that our children (if and when!) will experience this.

AlissaBC said...

You hit the nail on the head with #1 and #2. Those are two things that were lacking in my family and I've always seen the effect it had on my self-esteem. My husband is a lot like your dad though, so I'm hoping things will be different in our family. I am trying, but it is HARD not to copy what you have been raised with.

Natalie said...

loved everything about this. you are blessed to have had positive role models!

Bethany G said...

This was fantastic.

I seriously can't believe that someone as amazing as you lives down the road from me!

Angela Bailey said...

HERE HERE!!!


Gosh...our families are ridiculously similar given what you wrote in your numbered list!

I wish I could say my self-esteem is always great, but it's been the biggest struggle of my life. I will overcome it. Satan's biggest lie to me is that I am not enough. Wanna know his second biggest lie to me? That I am TOO MUCH. Go figure that one out!

xo,
A

libby said...

So I'm totally a silent reader and never comment... however, I just read your post, which was really awesome, and then I was on Facebook and clicked on this link a friend had posted.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=XpaOjMXyJGk#!

The way we view ourselves vs. the way others view us.


I'm realizing this seems pretty spammy, but I just thought it was such a coincidence to come across these two things in the same afternoon :)

David Harrison Smith said...

http://jamesfaulconer.byu.edu/papers/self_image.pdf

Just something to think about.

Jessica Holly said...

This truly spoke to me. I needed it this week! New follower over here :)

Jessica Holly said...

and really random....I just realized that I'm 75% positive you were in our ward in Provo before we moved to Boston. I think you'd just had your boys but I was super sick and pregnant at the time ergo not super talkative. Plus that ward was HUGE! Random! But I noticed you because I thought you were really pretty and I like your pixie and your boys were super cute! Small world.

Allred's said...

I truly enjoyed this. So many lessons for myself and for me as a mother. Thank you for being bold in your frustration and for acknowledging each individuals wonderfulness!!

Rachel said...

I am glad to know that there is someone else out there like me. I seriously was starting to think that there was something wrong with me because I didn't hate myself. :) I am not a perfectionist, my parents raised me to be very independent, and my mom was a great example of what a woman should be.

Tammy said...

I too have a high self esteem and often get hurt that people don't think I am amazing as I think I am. And then I laugh about it because it is out of place in this world to think well of yourself. I am grateful for my opinion of myself. You are also an Aries which helps a lot too. I get mine from my Cap/Leo combo. I think the best thing you can do for other women is lead by example. Show people it's ok to think well of yourself.

Sarah said...

http://realbeautysketches.dove.us/

Have you seen the dove video about beauty/ self esteem? I think you'd love it.

Celia said...

I'm proud to call you friend, Becky. :)

Celia said...

And just for the record--I really love this about you. You have always been self-confident in a quiet way (if that is possible?). What I mean is that you never force your self-confidence on others or come across judgmental or condescending. It is quite the opposite, in fact, which always awes me and makes me respect who you are as a human. I remember when I came over when I was just a few weeks pregnant with the twins. I was so sick and gross, yet you made me feel beautiful. And when I worried about stretch marks, you proudly showed me your stretch marks without a moment's thought. You were proud of them and unashamed! It was what it was and there was nothing but beauty in that. You may not remember that moment but it was pivotal for me because I knew I could love myself no matter what happened to my body. I was a beautiful, sacred vessel. And when my breasts deflated after nursing, I remembered your candid blog posts about that...and I loved you even more all over again.

Thank you, Becky. You are loved.