Have you ever watched a young child look in the mirror? They are mesmerized with what they see! They make goofy faces, smile and giggle…but you do not see them looking at themselves with criticism or derision. You don't hear many four year olds say my "nose is too big," or "my eyes are too narrow." Children do not learn these concepts until other people teach them to feel that way about themselves.
In recent years, the cosmetic company, Dove, has embarked on a "Social Mission" to increase the self-esteem of females. As part of this larger mission, they recently conducted a campaign called "Real Beauty Sketches." The basic idea was that they surreptitiously paired strangers for a brief time and then had each person sit with a forensic sketch artist to create drawings of one of the participants. The drawings that resulted from the self-descriptions were much more critical --- and far less accurate --- than the descriptions given by the strangers; even though they had only met for a brief period. I wonder what this says about us, as a species, that others see us more clearly than we see ourselves.
Before proceeding, I feel two things bear clarification: first, I wish Dove would include boys, it is just as important for them to value themselves as girls. Second, I feel the point is not to focus on physical beauty as a status symbol or that there is some arbitrary level of perfection to which to aspire. My point is that every human being, no matter the gender, color, size, shape, ethnicity, and/or level of perfection based on societal standards, is perfect and should feel perfect when looking in the mirror. Every child deserves to love what he or she sees when looking in the mirror.
So what can we, as parents, do about it? We can put our children in a bubble until they turn 18 so that society never teaches them negative stories about themselves! Oh wait, that won't work? Darn! Hmm. You really want to make me think on this one then, don't you? I have, personally, tried to limit my own negative self-talk in front of my child because I know that she is learning how to view herself through how she understands my view of myself. But I think that is only part of the puzzle.
What we can do is apply the principles of Conversations with God to our interactions with our children in a way which will help them to grow up confident and secure in their inner beauty, their inner connection to God, and their inner knowing of their value and place in the Universe.
Some concepts that may be helpful are:
We are all one - This might help your child to overcome feelings of pain if other children taunt or ostracize him or her for being, looking or sounding different. Remembering that you are connected to the All, even in the face of others being mean to you, can help you to feel that you are not alone.
Love is all there is – Remembering to love yourself, even when others are not showing you love is huge in remembering your perfection. It is also helpful if you can, in the face of being hurt by someone, be love back to them instead of reacting back in meanness…it helps you stop the cycle of meanness. You may even change their mind about how to treat someone! And there is nothing more beautiful to anyone than love shining through.
o human beings are better than other human beings – This concept is typically used on the context of the fallacies of life and how human try to separate themselves from each other, finding reasons to produce conflict, killing and war. However, I find that it is applicable here because to assess beauty in societal terms is to classify some as better than others. If we can teach children from a young age that differences in facial or body features do not equate to better or worse, they just mean different, then children will not judge their own beauty according to the standards of others. Instead, they will see their beauty as inherent, internal and all-encompassing.
hildren come into this world feeling love, promise and open to possibilities. They only learn about limits from what they are told and experience. We can help them learn to overcome society's limits by fostering a deep sense of self-love and connection to God from a young age.
Hopefully, through these small efforts we can help our children to see the beauty we see in them, long into adulthood!
Originally printed on The Global Conversation Online Newspaper, (2013). All Rights Reserved.