Self Esteem

When my daughter and I walked into Kmart yesterday, I prayed she wouldn’t notice the enormous Barbie display by the front door. But of course she did.
“Can we look at the Barbies? Pleeeeeeeeeease?” E jumped up and down with excitement.
I reminded myself to be patient as we walked to the display. I’m not sure what Kmart is gearing up for, but they don’t have this much Barbie stuff at Christmas time.
E peered inside every box and proceeded to give me a list of what she wanted for her birthday. A mermaid. A horse. A new corvette.
I squinted at the display. Something was off about it, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. When it finally came to me, I commented before I could catch myself.
“Where are the brown dolls?”
In a full aisle of merchandise, all I saw was blond Barbie.
“Isn’t she brown?” E pointed to a mermaid on the top row.
I followed E’s finger to the doll. She had dark hair, but her complexion was pale.
“No,” I sighed. “She’s not. Let’s go.”
“Mom, I need more white dolls.” E declared this as we walked to our car.
“You do?” I asked. E has a diverse group of dolls at home. “Why?”
“The white ones are prettier.”
“WHAT? Who told you that?” I didn’t catch my anger in time. E was frowning.
“I don’t know.” She shrugged. “They just are.”
“Don’t you think brown people are pretty? What about me? You don’t think I’m pretty?”
“Yeah, but you’re light.”
I was confused. “Do you think you’re pretty?”
“No.” E started to cry.
My heart broke.
There are more things wrong here than I have time to write about. My daughter and I are the exact same complexion, and she is absolutely beautiful. She has big brown eyes with lashes that women pay good money to replicate, a killer smile, and a personality that makes it all the better.
Who in the hell told my baby she wasn’t pretty? And who told her that brown wasn’t beautiful?
I started thinking about what she watches on TV. Dora the Explorer. Ni Hao Kai-Lan. Hannah Montana. Suite Life of Zach and Cody.
The characters of color are cartoons.
I pledged in that instant to do a better job of showing my daughter real-life beauty in all shapes, sizes, and colors. I’m renewing my subscription to Essence. I’m on the lookout for TV programs that showcase more diversity. Brandy on Dancing with the Stars was all I had that night, but it was a start.
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15 thoughts on “Self Esteem

  1. Oh, this is so hard and sad. My nephew came home crying from school one day saying that he was ugly because he was dark. My sister found out that a girl at school had told him this. Ironically, the girl was African-American and actually darker than him. It made me so sad for the girl and what she might think of herself. I know that in my culture and many others, lighter-skinned people are thought of as more attractive. I never understood that. I think this goes deeper than toys and magazines. It's almost a social norm, and I think we all need to do our part to teach our children that beauty comes in all colors, shapes and sizes. You are on the right track.

  2. Oh my word, I nearly cried just reading those two tiny sentences. My heart broke with yours…She is beautiful – ALL girls are!! Inside and out, and everything in between.I hope you're able to find some good sources to show her that she IS truly beautiful. You're her mom, and if you think she is, that is the strongest root of anything you can teach her. What YOU say and do with her matters the most, and will make or break her. You sound like a great woman who knows her daughter is incredible, and while she's having trouble now, there is a light deep in her that will never go out, a tiny voice that will always tell her "yes you ARE" in her darkest times. Because of YOU.

  3. Such a beautiful post, and heartbreaking, too. I'll be thinking this one over for a long time to come. I wonder, and I'm just thinking out loud here, whether this is analogous to the self-perception issues of most children. For example, my 10-year-old daughter thinks that her very straight hair is not pretty, and is constantly fighting to give it waves. Even I sometimes fall victim to this myself: I find myself envying my sister-in-law's smaller build. And I have a friend who literally hides her ankles at all times, because she is so ashamed of them. ANKLES! I will freely admit that I am not an expert in these issues. As a white person in a majority-white society, I understand that my perspective has limitations. Maybe my analogies are not accurate, and if so, I do apologize.It's the bursting into tears part that just breaks my heart. It's one thing to have some issues with self-perception, but another to believe strongly that you are not attractive. Poor thing. And good for you for recognizing and noticing and trying to do something about it. I wish you (and your daughter) all the best.

  4. I recently saw a study on this particular line of thought – thinking it was a special hosted by Anderson Cooper. And they interviewed school children of different ethnicities, using a series of pictures and colors while asking the kids to pick out the pretty ones.Needless to say, the conversation that you and your daughter shared was pretty much the same finding of the study. I honestly cannot say why most children feel a certain way about a certain group of people. But, all things considered, it is definitely something that parents should be concerned about, as it sometimes triggers self-esteem issues, I've heard.I too believe that it begins with television programming.Also, I followed you on Twitter – @minusthebars

  5. I'm so sorry your daughter is going through what so many other children of color have gone through. I always hoped it would get better with time, but apparently America is still sending the wrong message to our girls. I think you're on the right track with showing her positive images in magazines and on tv. Hopefully she learns that she is more than the color of her skin and can view herself as a whole individual that writes, dances, sings, or whatever her special talent is.

  6. This is very sad to see and I really don't know how to overcome it. Really I don't. I have numerous friends that have had the same issues with their daughter. I can't really blame the media because one of the children that said she wasn't pretty doesn't even watch TV.I wish I knew where kids were getting these messages from. It hurts my heart to hear and I am dreading it. Right now, all Ava really watches is Dora and occasionally Yo Gabba Gabba. We have the Cosby show series and Fat Albert on hand too. Where TV fails, DVD is there.On a side note, there is a Barbie line called SOS (Sisters in Style). It is a combo with RocaWear. They have 4 black barbies, with little sisters, and boyfriends…various hairstyles. Look out for that!

  7. This just breaks my heart. Our television and magazines and store shelves still do not do an adequate job of representing all the colors and shapes and flavors of our culture.

  8. That's terrible. No child should feel that way about herself. I'm sure your daughter is stunning! It is society, and television shows that seem to work against a person's self worth and self-esteem – you would think they would've caught on to that by now, no? Show your daughter the LOVE and remind her that she is a walking version of fabulous :)BTW, I could swear I saw brown Barbie when I was in the giant Toyrs R Us in NYC!

  9. I'm really saddened that your daughter feels that way about herself and hear color. It is so important to instill that self love early in life. Teaching her that all people are beautiful and unique. Unfortunately the media does not do good job of doing this.

  10. You are on the right track mom and you will be the one to positively role model a beautiful and strong woman for your daughter. You are probably too young to have seen a show called Julia (Dihann Carroll was the star and she was a nurse in the show.) Anyway, I got a Julia Barbie for my birthday; I was too young to understand the difference between Julia Barbie and my other blond ones. She was my all time very favorite! I thought she was the prettiest one and obviously the smartest because she was a nurse! I saved most of my Barbies for my daughter but Julia was so loved that she didn't survive. 😦

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