"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
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.
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.