Think back, way back, to junior high. You’ve had a crush on one of your classmates all year and one day you get the courage to pass him a note. It reads:

Do you think I’m cute?

Circle:   Yes          No            Maybe

Reminiscing about the good ol’ days is fun. Nostalgia may deem these memories as sweet no matter how many replies of “Maybe” you received in 6th grade. But I’m not so sure if the 21st century version of this trend is quite as innocuous.

On Sunday CNN.com posted an editorial by 15-year-old Teddi Noel Maddox, a freshman at Montclair High School in New Jersey. In the article Maddox discusses the “Hot or Not” YouTube phenomenon. She writes:

“Unfortunately, what’s “in” at the moment is something a lot of girls my age are doing, posting “Hot or not?” videos on YouTube. The whole premise of this is to post a video of yourself and ask viewers if they find you attractive.”

Maddox goes on to say that the problem with these videos is that girls “can look at 100 good comments and if there is one particularly nasty one, that’s the only one that stays in our heads.” And as the Internet allows viewers a certain degree of anonymity the negative comments tend to be quite vicious.

But before completely shunning this trend, Maddox said, we need to understand why it exists. Adolescent girls need more positive messages, Maddox asserts.

And that’s where we come in. As women, I believe it’s our duty to do whatever we can to help build the self-esteem of young girls and encourage positive, healthy body images. But how do we do this?

As an educator I know there’s no easy solution. I can tell my students they’re beautiful every day but if they’re comparing themselves to unrealistic images in the media or sulking over the boy who just dumped them, my words will fall flat. Still, we should try.

Although it’s difficult to rise above the media’s constant insistence that we are too fat, too skinny, too short, too busty, too this or that, we have to try to set good examples for our younger sisters, cousins, daughters, and friends. Their lives depend on it.

This means, in part, not complaining about your weight or your waistline in front of impressionable teens. I believe this also means encouraging an active lifestyle. We need to be the positive, healthy, and realistic images that they’re not seeing on their favorite websites or in their favorite music videos. One lesson I have learned in my 31 years on the planet, and one I try to pass on to the girls I work with at my job and in the community, is that I am the most confident and the most content with my body when I focus on what it can do, not how it looks. So instead of setting goals like “Lose 10 pounds” or “Get back down to a size 6,” I set my sights on other fitness aspirations such as “Run a half-marathon” or “Do 50 push-ups without taking a break.”

Think of the young girls in your sphere of influence and consider how you can go beyond simply telling them about the importance of self-love, but also showing them how you walk the talk.

  • http://envasa.blogspot.com LuciFreedom

    Great article. Our mission as women must include SHOWing young girls that we are strong, beauty and confident.

  • 2NatuRho

    I completely agree with this article. I just went on a Twitter rant the other day about how young girl’s, even older teenagers (18,19) need guidance on self-love and self-respect. We’re in a day and age where women are dumbing their selves down, revealing body parts as an excuse for liberation and flaunting every body part except their faces because they have low self esteem. Its up to us, the women of the world, to hold ourselves accountable and give these young girls knowledge on respecting their bodies and minds.

  • jamesfrmphilly

    i find it sad that the most attractive females, (black, nappy hair) are the ones with the lowest self esteem. white women are all out there trying to get a tan. sisters are BORN with tans. black women are the most desirable on the planet. all they have to do is realize that. look in a mirror and be the queens that you are.

  • edub

    Sign of the times. Broken families + Social Media is going to wreak all kinds of havoc on society.

  • http://pervertedalchemist.blogspot.com Perverted Alchemist

    “Maddox goes on to say that the problem with these videos is that girls “can look at 100 good comments and if there is one particularly nasty one, that’s the only one that stays in our heads.””

    I’ve been guilty of this more times than I care to admit…but I did this in real life as opposed to the internet , LMAO!!!

    The funny thing is that when I talk the way I do (which is how I really am in real life), I had no idea there were so many young girls with low self-esteem out in the world Also, it’s not race specific either, as I have encountered a lot of White women who have less than perfect views on themselves.

  • QCastle

    @2NatuRho

    Are girls really dumbing themselves down? I just read a few comments on the article about the relevance of black teachers and apparently blacks have a lower IQ, especially black boys as one commentator noted. Maybe these are just some of the few black girls who are just too below average in intelligence to know any better.

  • QCastle

    People need to build there self esteem, whatever that is, by doing good things not be constantly told by strangers that they are great.

  • Yb

    Sisters, aunts, mothers, and friends, loved ones in general are not strangers.

  • Yoshia

    women especially teenagers don’t respect themselves like our grandmas and what not did when they were younger.. give the P away easily..

    Learn how I became LESS racist in 2012 (this is NOT spam) see http://goo.gl/3EAi1 <..wow REALLY??

  • chanela

    This is sad! but what kind of self esteem do you expect young girls to have when their own mothers are getting things like “mommy makeovers” and other plastic surgery? nothing is wrong with their mom but mom wants to get tummy tucks, breast implants,nose jobs ect. dont sit there and say “theres nothing wrong with fixing things with surgery. they want to feel good” and in the same breath preach to young girls that they need self esteem and guidance. everybody needs to learn to love themselves. We have elementary age girls already saying they want to get surgeries done how do you think they got those ideas???

  • LAD86

    Even if *we* help build up self-esteem in teenage girls, there will always be people around to tear them down.

  • apple

    i think its important for family members especially your mother to tell you are beautiful, then you can achieve anything.. instead my mother told me i was ugly just about everyday, and for that i have no self esteem, and no one can tell me i’m worth anything because she told me i was worth nothing..

  • Lingaling

    Yes, I wholeheartedly agree. I thank God that my parents and family members told me I was beautiful, smart, could take on the world etc… because if they hadn’t I probably would have been extremely insecure right now especially considering the racial makeup of my university. My school is 85% white and even the most beautiful girls are never satisfied with themselves. They are either too fat, or their nose is too big, or they are too pale like honestly there is always something wrong. All my friends are size 2′s and they are constantly saying how fat they are… well damn I’m a size 12 I must be huge. But I have learned to love my body, hair, thighs and am grateful for all the165 pounds of me enables me to do.

  • Buttons

    Our youth, and that include males and females, should be focused on their education, their self development and planning their future. Being concerned about how some one rates your beauty is of no importance whatsoever. The whole beauty issue is a major distraction that keeps our youth focused on things that are counterproductive to their healthy growth and productivity. A teenager’s life should be spent preparing for their adult life, so that they are capable of making intelligent decisions about their lives. This is what I teach to my daughter.

  • edub

    Amen! Your daughter is lucky to have a mother like you!

  • Sho

    It’s “their self-esteems” not “there.” Since you’re posting on innate intelligence and all. That’s “you’re” not “your.” See how I did that? And I’m black.

  • QCastle

    @YB

    Then I should include friends and relatives as well. Seriously, we have to prepare our children for a world where no one is going to love and care about them as their friends and family. The earn the respect, admiration and even a pay check they have to produce. We shouldnt be cruel to our children but we need to make our children understand that the way to feel better about themselves is to set goals and accomplish them. We can do it with very young children with small chores and older children with good grades, chores, sports, playing an instrument, having a part-time job, volunteer work, etc.

    I dont feel comfortable with lavishing our children with praise just because.

  • QCastle

    @Buttons,

    Thank you.

  • http://www.georgiamae.com/ javacia

    I completely agree that it’s not race specific. But, most likely because I’m African American, a lot of the girls who come to me with self-esteem issues are black and I feel it’s my duty to help them, especially those who are unhappy with their natural hair and things of that nature. But I do make an effort to help all my girls, regardless of race, and the boys too, feel better about themselves.

  • http://pervertedalchemist.blogspot.com Perverted Alchemist

    I sincerely applaud your efforts, Javacia, but here lies a pervasive problem- at least in my eyes. How does one go about building up the self-esteem in young girls- and boys as well- when their own parents are mostly responsible for their self-esteem issues?

    Within the last 25 years, I’ve seen parents from all walks of life talk to their children as if they’re full grown adults. To make matters even worse, I’ve heard them say rather disparaging things to their own child’s face!!!! I was wondering how can a child even overcome that problem?

  • nappyandhappy

    dang it @james from philly i never agree with you put today you get a +5000 ….dont let that happen again!!!

  • binks

    Agreed! Beauty fades time is better spent on improving you and yourself outside of your looks. Because there is nothing sadder watching a grown women bank on their looks/body because they don’t have anything else to fall back on. Be happy and secure in yourself and the rest will follow

  • Alexandra

    “The whole beauty issue is a major distraction that keeps our youth focused on things that are counterproductive to their healthy growth and productivity. A teenager’s life should be spent preparing for their adult life, so that they are capable of making intelligent decisions about their lives”

    Awesome teachings Mom. You sound like my dad and that’s why I love him!
    You daughter will be thankful, cause I sure am :)

  • http://www.poshmiss.com Poshmiss.com

    I had a young girl send a post to me about “remembering” her self worth. This is something they should “know” and not have to remember. Her post is linked below.

    http://poshmiss.com/2010/08/09/pms-physical-mental-spiritual-journal-remember/

  • http://www.georgiamae.com/ javacia

    Oh, it’s certainly not easy and I don’t pretend to have all the answers. And I do think parents can have the stronger impact. I have a student whose mother is constantly telling her she wished she had “good hair” and it’s discouraging because I feel it’s negating all the positive things I try to tell her. But I feel like I still have to try. I won’t give up.

  • LAD86

    No, their physical traits are.

  • Elle Michelle

    Thank you so much for this article, Javacia. I had no idea this trend was going on. I’m two months shy of becoming a certified life coach and my niche is to empower teen girls and young women with confidence and a healthy self-image. I’m making a commitment to counter the negative messages that the media and American culture at-large sends us.

    I definitely struggled with my self-esteem in the past, but in my case I attribute less to the media and more to not being affirmed at home. In any relationship, but especially when dealing with children, it is essential to balance criticism with affirmation. My mom would be quick to tell me when I did something wrong or I didn’t do enough, but she didn’t applaud me when I did well or tell me that I was smart or beautiful. (Until about a year ago, I always had this agonizing feeling that I wasn’t enough.)

    I firmly believe that self-esteem starts at home. Everyone’s foundation is built at home. At the same time, it takes a village to raise a child. So I think we can all think of some youth (or find someone through an organization) in our lives that we can affirm, encourage, mentor or support in some capacity. I have a nephew (12) and two nieces (11 and 4). My sister is a single parent, and I realize that she can’t do it all on her own. So I help her continuously. Though our collaborative efforts, hopefully her kids will be more emotionally secure than we were.

  • Elle Michelle

    @Perverted Alchemist: I wish I would’ve read your comments before I wrote mine below. I agree with everything you said from you being able to relate to that one nasty comment staying in your head to the fact that parents are mostly responsible. Our thoughts are aligned.

    +1000

  • Elle Michelle

    I’m sorry to hear that. Many mothers don’t realize the magnitude of the impact that they have on their children, especially with the things they say.

  • Miss September

    I really enjoyed this article .I am currently studying psychology and I want to be counselor to help with this particular problem.
    My goal is to work in a middle school, so I can combat these issues. I mean I can relate to this on so many levels . I was that girl with low self esteem so I know how it feels to want acceptance.
    Also as a black young woman, it doubly hard for us when it comes to self esteem/self worth.
    I can see it a mile away, a young girl with low self esteem the constant need of attention or approval and it’s really sad. But it really starts at home, when parents don’t instill self worth in their young daughters. It’s imperative to tell our girls that they are beautiful and smart. That way when they get to school they don’t need a boy or anybody else to validate them.
    Young women with low self esteem turn into adults with low self worth and the cycle continues.
    It becomes a generational thing, I’ve met them the mom felt bad about herself so she has to project that on to her daughter .It is really sad! I mean just the thought that you need some stranger to comment on a video (mind you, their anonymous) to make you feel better about your self is SAD!!!!

  • http://Ninasgoodthoughts.wordpress.com Ms. Write

    Great article. My issue with the movement to build girls’ self-esteem, however, is the emphasis on beauty. I don’t think consistently telling a girl she’s beautiful really instills a strong sense of self-worth in her. Look at some of the women on America’s Next Top Model. Many of the traditionally “beautiful” girls beat themselves up, complain about their weight, feel as though they’re not strong enough to win. You look at them and think, “Wow, doesn’t she know how pretty she is?” But it’s not that simple.

    When I have a daughter someday, I plan to tell her one thing for certain: that she’s valuable. As a human being, she is intrinsically worthwhile, no matter what she looks like. Some will find her attractive, and some may not. None of us can control the genes we inherit. Regardless, I will show her that she is complex, valuable person, imbued with positive and negative attributes. Finally learning that about myself has changed my life.

  • Buttons

    Thanks, guys. My daughter thinks I am overboard with my approach. But, I say to myself..hell, she’ll get over it. She’ll thank me later when she has her degree and her self esteem is in tact.

  • http://pinterest.com/dancesbyremi/ dbyr

    @Elle Michelle,
    I totally agree and relate to your comment.
    I strongly believe that the development of self esteem and self worth begins at home. I was raised in a single parent household and my mother did not have the tools needed to empower my brother and me. She was not a bad parent, she just never praised us for our good choices and accomplishments. This has left a lasting feeling of not being good enough. It wasn’t until I found dance that I realized there was something I enjoyed and was great at. It gave me more confidence and drive than anyone could ever give me.

    Working with youth I see every day the importance of showing these young women the importance of self love and not looking for outside validation. I also believe that finding this self worth will only come when they find something that they are PASSIONATE about. Whether it be the Arts, music, sports or academics it needs to be something that encourages them to challenge themselves and take pride in their accomplishments. We should work on opening their eyes to all the possibilities this world has to offer in addition to saying that they are great.

  • http://www.georgiamae.com/ javacia

    Thanks so much for reading my article. I think it’s wonderful that you plan to focus your life coaching on young women and girls. I completely agree with you. It does start at home. My parents were always great about building me up when I was younger and I will always appreciate that. But like you said, it takes a village, and unfortunately so many girls (and boys) aren’t getting support at home. That’s why people like you and the work you plan to do are so important.

  • LAD86

    It also gets brushed under the rug because people think that mothers can do no wrong and excuses are made for their behavior.

  • adriane

    Why does every woman, young or old, black or white, always have to be attractive, or beautiful or pretty or whatever? Why can’t some of us just be brilliant, fabulous, funny,geniuses, engaging, intriguing, successful, introspective, great cooks, loving partners, wonderful friends, and highly compassionate human beings, and leave it at that. There is more to life than being “cute” or “pretty” or (dare I say it) “hot.” That is so vapid. Who cares? Seriously. Just move the ball forward, ladies.

  • Pingback: Discussion: Our Bodies, Our Hells: The Struggle To Build Self-Esteem In Teen Girls | Praise Cleveland - Praise 1300 Cleveland's Home for the Gospel Community

  • LaTasha Merchant

    Great Article!!

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