Is This The Key to Self Esteem?

Freshman year - JV Cheerleading

Yesterday, I spent about 30 minutes of my work day in a live web chat talking about cheerleading with Varsity and The Motherhood.

Oh, yes, I did.

  • One – I was paid to participate and promote the talk beforehand via Twitter, etc.
  • Two – I used to be a cheerleader and I loved it. I was also awesome at it. So awesome, in fact, that I was convinced as an adult that I could still do it. And then I peed myself.
  • Three – The conversation was to be focused, in part, on how cheerleading and other sports can build self esteem in young kids, especially in girls.

I have a daughter and I am terrified for her teenage years.

Specifically, I’m terrified of how the state of her self esteem will affect her teenage years. And I’m worried that it will take her a long, long time to undo any damage that her messed up self esteem causes in those teenage years and early twenties.

I’m worried, of course, because my self esteem when I was young was crap.

I’m also fascinated by the evolution of self esteem. I’m in awe of the way one woman seems to come by hers so easily while another wrestles for decades with her perception of herself. As a woman, I’m amazed by the stories and differences. As a mother, I’m obsessed with figuring out what determines which path a girl will take.

I want to know the secret, the magic words that will ensure my daughter is spared the insecurity and self destruction that plagued my teens and twenties.

“the dichotomy of wanting to stand out and fit in”

The expert host during yesterday’s web chat used this phrase to describe the challenge facing many teenage girls today. She was talking about teenagers and that funky place where you want to be your own person but you also want to fit in.

She was talking about me for most of my life.

Except I never really wanted to stand out. I just did. And while part of me was proud of the traits that made me unique, a bigger part of me wanted so, so badly to be able to fit in. I hated not belonging so much that I struggled to accept anything and everything that made me different.

It’s only been in recent years that I’ve found places to belong, groups in which I could be part of something bigger than myself and completely myself. After hearing the description of this dichotomy yesterday, I wonder if that’s what has made the difference in my self esteem.

I wonder if that’s the magic key that I can give to my children.

I’m not going to make my children sign up for cheerleading, obviously. But I think I will focus on doing what I can to show them what they’re a part of – family and community both intimate and extended. Perhaps if I foster that sense of belonging they’ll be more comfortable with embracing their individuality.

I think, too, that I need to make an effort to meet both of those needs for myself on a regular basis.

There are places where I belong.

There are people who effortlessly get me, and I them.

I don’t want to spend my whole life in a comfort zone made up of easy conversations and people who are just like me, but I often swing too far in the other direction and abandon my safe harbors all together. I rebel against the childish need to “fit in”, berating myself for needing external validation about Who I Am.

And then I turn into a ball of guilt and insecurities and bitchiness.

I am not too good for comfort zones. I am not too evolved for fitting in or too mature to benefit from a sense of belonging.

I am, I think, just human enough to need it.

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  1. Aaron Sweeny says:

    Mrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. You stand out, just because you’re amazing. Even if you consider yourself in bitchiness. :)

  2. Nancy says:

    Great post. Trust me, I didn’t have my kids until my 30′s and I still had self esteem issues that I’m sure will affect them. There’s just no escaping it. I was my mother’s attempt to fix everything she didn’t like about herself and I see myself unwittingly doing the same thing to my daughter.

  3. Jared Karol says:

    Britt, Really enjoyed this post. I teach middle school and I think you described about 90% of the girls AND boys I teach. I really liked this especially:

    It’s only been in recent years that I’ve found places to belong, groups in which I could be part of something bigger than myself and completely myself.

    Totally awesome. And I feel like I’m constantly searching for groups like that myself. It’s kind of cool when you find them, isn’t it?


  4. Robin says:

    I am beginning to think that fitting in (at some level) is a basic human need – it helps to provides us with the friendship and human contact that is essential to survive.

    With that being said, I plan to raise my future zygotes to understand that they are enough the way they are and with whatever they decide to do in life – I truly believe doing this will help my future zygotes contribute better versions of themselves to the world. I wish I had parents that had the forethought to do that….my self esteem during my teenage years (and beyond) would have definitely been on stronger ground. :)

  5. Faiqa says:

    Gah. I thought the webchat was TODAY. Ergggh. Anyway.

    I think I’ve always been taught and have openly accepted this idea of being part of a community and the benefit of fitting in. My personal struggle has been to rebuild my self esteem and perception outside of that community, if that makes sense. The way I understand it, your rejection of fitting in has played into your self esteem issues and my need to fit in has played into mine. For the most part, I have always been accepted into the communities I chose to be a part of with more than open arms. And, yet, that sense of loneliness is still there because I question people’s sincerity… do they accept me based on who I am at my core or my ability to follow the rules so perfectly? It’s only now that I’ve identified that issue… and have begun to be more balanced in my approach to the self and its existence within a community.

    For me, I think my daughter will be fine as long as I consciously approach her self esteem as something that I have a responsibility to shape and foster. My mother was a strong woman, a wonderful example, but I don’t know that she conscientiously thought about how my experiences and the lessons she imparted to me about how the world works played into my sense of self. All that said, eighteen years is a long time, it’s quite possible she started out with the same intentions that I have right now.

  6. Lisa says:

    I think the desire to fit in is encoded in our DNA. We live in packs, we just call them communities, so we have that innate desire to avoid being cast out and therefore alone. Alone is the worst thing ever, right? (I don’t think being alone is the worst thing ever, but that’s me.)

    Self esteem is affected so greatly by forces outside of the family unit over which you have control that I think it’s the trickiest thing to instill in a child. Even though my son is awesome, and I tell him that all the time, he doesn’t believe me because forces I couldn’t control (his dad) affected him so much. I would really love to know how you get past that because I feel like I failed completely.

  7. I always wanted to fit in . All. Ways. I never really did though, and I was always picked on for it. Band geek. Honors student. Outcast. Now I watch my kids deal with medical issues that make them outcasts… and I just want to shake people and say “What’s wrong with you?!?” Sigh… now I try to build my own confidence back up from where it has been for the past 38 years with derby. Sigh… I have a long way to go.

  8. Megan says:

    Maybe it’s not about fitting in, but about being accepted as we are. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like I “fit in,” but I’ve been blessed to be accepted in a lot of different groups.

    I can’t imagine your daughter having the same issues you did. She is very much her own person and doesn’t seem to really care about what anyone else thinks. She’s awesome like that.

    P.S. – How cute were you? Still are, too.

  9. it makes my heart happy to see women like you caring so very much how their children turn out. i love that you are so very concerned about emma’s self esteem.

  10. Michelle says:

    I used to coach 5-8 grade cheerleaders. I swear watching a shy little girls come out of their shell from tryouts to nationally televised competitions where they just shined were some of the coolest moments in my life. It’s amazing what fostering self confidence can do.

  11. Queenie says:

    Brit – I have been following you for years. I have read your posts where you openly discussed your personal struggles with this very thing…and more recently I have watched you morph into this amazing woman that you are sharing today on your “new blog”.

    I really feel like I am witnessing you finding yourself through this blog. You, as an adult, are much like the teenagers you were speaking about/to yesterday.

    I rarely comment here and honestly, I can’t add anything to your thoughts here that would help any of your readers any more than you already do but I wanted you to know that I think you are just awesome!

  12. Kaitlyn says:

    check out this program:
    It’s all over the states and starts at age 8. It’s completely focused on teaching girls the importance of self-esteem, how to debunk media images and the importance of sticking together instead of allowing ourselves to be pitted against each other.
    Girls on the Run is ages 8-12 (I think) and then there’s a Girls on Track for Jr. High girls.

  13. Steph says:

    When I was in high school I fit in everywhere. I could mingle with any group or “clique” (if you will) in the school. The problem is I’m a “fixer” so I became closest to those who would have major issues in their lives. That caused problems for me. I am still friends with most of them but not close like we once were for one reason or another. I have realized lately I have a zillion and ten acquaintances, some made in recent years and some from kindergarten. I don’t however have but one true “friend” and I have discovered I don’t fit in right now. My husband makes friends effortlessly, my brother always has as well. I used to, but now I am more choosey about who I become close to and I dislike drama immensely and what I’ve learned is that people don’t outgrow drama, they just get snarkier in their older age. I recently had an experience with a “friend” that really left me feeling like I need to re-evaluate who I can and can’t live without in my life. Unfortunately this person I can’t cut out of my life, but I can limit my interactions. I have always had decent self esteem despite a life long battle with my weight, but for the first time in a long time I don’t and it’s really been an eye opener for me.

    Thank you for your post!!

  14. whall says:

    I dunno… every time /I/ dressed up as a cheerleader, we had to move out of town.

    Must be nice!

  15. Alexandra says:

    you stand out b/c you tell the truth, and it doesn’t matter to you if people decide to unfollow you for it…That is something rare.

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