My first baby shower was absolutely amazing, if not a bit embarrassing. When I was seven months pregnant with Stella, we traveled to visit family in Austin, Texas, where friends and kin not only gathered together, but went to impressive lengths to create an incredibly moving video of the day. It’s the kind of keepsake that demands a level of thanks that you can’t quite reach.
Each guest was covertly escorted away from the hubbub of the party. A camera rolled as they each answered questions about me and Cody and their wishes and wisdom for us as parents. Later, it was all edited together into the amazing, aforementioned treasure trove of loving advice, recollections and encouragement. I cry every time I watch it, especially during my parents’ segments. My dad said empowering things about how to raise girls, noting that no way did he decide what to do with us based on our gender. We did everything, from “helping” him work on cars to sharing motorcycle rides. My mom recalled something I said when I was two. She’d asked me what bees were made of. In typical over-thinking Amber fashion, I sat there, with my fingers on my chin for a long while, and finally said, “Bees and paper.” Then, as the video closed, my mother expressed her wish that my baby bring the same happiness into my life that I’d brought to hers.
And no, I did not escape questioning. There I am… happy and lovely, because I loved being pregnant and was proud of my shape. But also bloated, uncomfortable, sweating, and wearing an unflattering, frilly and floofy white tank top designed, apparently, for a five-year-old girl. I don’t do frilly or floofy. It’s not me. Why I suddenly decided that such a look would work, precisely as my torso went from ruler to beach ball, is beyond me. My feet were too swollen for my sandals, raw pinky toes escaping through the side exits, but I refused to take them off because damn it, I bought them just for this very special occasion and I was sticking to them! (Literally, my feet were stuck in the shoes.) Emotional, exhausted, and coasting on an unbelievably horrid night’s sleep thanks to a granite futon and third-trimester discomfort, I did my best to answer some poignant questions.
What stands out most from my interview is my reply when asked about my biggest worries and fears for Stella, our then-unnamed, unborn daughter. Perhaps foolishly, I didn’t answer with concerns about her health. (Though, of course, her health is an immeasurable gift and not something I took for granted!) I said, without a doubt, that I was most concerned about how to raise a confident daughter. I know firsthand how devastating a lack of confidence can be. I was able to fight my way out, but it could have easily gone the other way. I’m lucky, and fully aware of it. I am deeply knowledgeable about the huge importance of self-esteem in girls, and determined to help minimize the struggle for Stella.
So, earlier this month, when I saw before and after pictures of Heidi Montag’s ten plastic surgeries, all performed simultaneously like a symphony of mutilation, I was upset. Floored and upset. Anger came quickly. Because she gave up. She didn’t choose to fight the good fight. To learn to love herself, to realize how truly beautiful she was. By not only undergoing extensive plastic surgery, but celebrating it in any media outlet that will shove a camera at her now-triple-D boobs, she’s happily promoting the at-all-costs pursuit of an unrealistic, inhuman beauty ideal . She’s endorsing the idea that to be truly beautiful, women require fixing.
Then, the anger subsided and I felt sad for her. She was naturally beautiful, but clearly didn’t think so. Somehow. Despite the fact that she’d wound up on TV in large part because of her looks. The level of insecurity required to choose such extensive and painful surgeries–10 procedures at once–is mind-boggling. Apparently, no one ever planted that idea within her–the belief that she is perfect and lovable just the way she is. Even if you lose your way and your worth due to all the bullcrap images and messages that surround us, with that kernel nestled somewhere below the surface, you can find your way back to sanity. Thankfully, I possessed it all along, and was eventually able to nourish it. If someone did plant such a seed in Heidi, it didn’t take root. Or perhaps Hollywood, or the attack-dog blogs that nip at its heels, crushed it.
After further processing of Heidi’s surgical madness, I had another, slightly more hopeful thought. Maybe, in a way, Heidi’s doing us a favor. We know that plastic surgery is rampant among celebrities, but it’s hidden and denied if at all possible. By speaking out openly about it, she’s exposing the insanity (and it really is insanity). Without realizing it, she’s illuminating the fact that it’s all gone too far. Sure, she says she’s not addicted, but she’s not fooling anyone. Because where does it end? The aging process will be terrifying for her, rather than empowering, as it should be. More procedures, in the name of “maintenance” if not “enhancement,” are surely to come. And we’ll likely hear about it–even though we don’t want to.
To get to the heart of the matter, all I have to do is think of what Heidi must have been like at Stella’s age. Seventeen months old. Back then, the world was Heidi’s oyster. I bet she loved ice cream to the point of squealing. She liked to play in the dirt, and maybe even taste it once in a while. Reality TV didn’t exist–only Sesame Street. The sight of her own reflection made her whole face light up–she’d tilt her head and smile ear to ear at the friend looking back at her. My heart breaks for that little girl, whose features and spirit no longer resemble themselves. I can only imagine how Heidi’s mother feels.
Heidi, you say you’re just doing what makes you happy. But this is just superficial stuff, and that’s not how happiness works. You haven’t done the real work. For your own sake and that of daughters everywhere, I hope you will.
I think every parent wants their children to have confidence. I have just started reading “The Ego Boom” by Steve Maich and Lianne George. It is a really interesting book and it has got me thinking about self-esteem and its role in society.
Part of the problem is that much of what parents and schools do to try and boost self-esteem only boosts narcissism. Kids are being told they are perfect just the way they are, which is true. But it is missing the point when trying to build their self-esteem. Self-esteem is overcoming obstacles, learn new things, working hard and succeeding. Self-esteem is learning that sometimes you will fail, but just because you failed today doesn’t mean you won’t succeed tomorrow. Schools where students can’t fail a class or get an F on their assignment don’t help students self-esteem– it hinders it.
It is a lack of this type of self-esteem that leads to people who focus on their looks as a source of happiness. People focus on what they have, not who they are. And, I agree, it is very sad.
My hope for my daughter is to develop a strong sense of herself that leads her to be a hard working, compassionate, conscious of others, and accepting of both her strengths and weaknesses.
Hi – I found your blog through Kathleen. Love it!!
Love this post too. Heidi’s self mutilation really bothered me too. I can’t imagine the superficial world she lives in where she thought she had to do all that to herself. Talk about insecurity! Wow.
I think the best way to raise a confident daughter is to be a confident mother by example. Also never criticize your daughter’s appearance. I know that can completely destroy a person for years (from my own experience).
I can’t wait to delve into your blog and read more about you and your gorgeous daughter Stella.
Your comment reminds me of the current backlash against overparenting, which should help improve genuine self esteem. Overparenting has got to be extremely damaging to kids’ sense of self. I will check out that book, which seems relevant and fascinating. Thanks for mentioning it.
I specifically said I worried about “confidence” above the other crucial qualities you mention (though “strong sense of self” is an essential part of real confidence), because for a long time, I didn’t have it, and all my good qualities (including compassion) didn’t get expressed as a result. I was a doormat. Others came first and not in a healthy way. That’s a big danger for girls.
I’m particularly interested to find out more about how schools are now influencing self-esteem as you mentioned. No teacher told me I was “perfect”–that’s for sure! My experience in school was lots of sexual harassment, insults about my body, and indifference from teachers sitting close by.
With girls, there is a very real need to instill a belief that they are beautiful and in a sense “perfect” the way they are, because boy, are some people quick to point out that they are not. However, I totally, totally agree that this idea absolutely can not be the FOCUS at all, or else it backfires in a major way.
I played basketball from middle school through college–my abilities and effort, not just appearance, were more important than what I looked like. I think that saved me, and it was thanks to my parents’ strong modeling and message about the importance of hard work.
Your daughter is lucky to have such a strong and thoughtful mother and I have no doubt that she will display all the qualities you mentioned!
I think that it is ironic and sad that despite years of ‘over parenting’ and ‘self-esteem’ programs in school, (where the aim is to protect children from pain, failure and struggle), there is still
1) harassment going on in school like you described experiencing
2) girls growing up not thinking they are beautiful just the way they are
You would think, if over parenting and a ‘me’ focused approach would be effective in anything, it would be confidence in ones appearance. That is the way in which our kids are ‘perfect’ just the way they are. Whereas ‘who’ they are necessitates struggle and learning of the kind that over parenting misguidedly shields kids from, making it more difficult for them to develop true confidence. Yet so many girls and women have such poor body images. Myself included. I feel I have self-esteem in regards to ‘who’ I am, but still struggle regularly to like how I look.
But I do think that the more we are aware of these issues the better we can support our daughters to have stronger body images, more confidence and true self-esteem. I think we are both on the right track in that regard. 🙂
Wow Amber. You’re blog rocks! I am in total agreement with your blog about self esteem, and truth be told, if I was asked that same question at my baby shower (and we knew we were to have a girl; we didn’t know what Connor was), my answer would have been without a doubt, self-assurance and self-esteem. Sure, health would have been in my mind an obvious number one, but that is so so so important for girls, women, what have you. I hope to have a girl someday to teach her what it means to truly be happy, and obviously to teach her some mad bball skills! ha! Seriously though, you make me happy with all your writing. Keep it up!
Thanks very much, Dawn. That means a lot to me! Thank heavens for sports, ay? I gotta get back on the court so Stella can see me play sometime. Do you still play basketball?
I think about this a lot. I was actually really relieved when I found out I was having a son, b/c as much as I wanted a daughter, I think it is so much harder to parent a girl. I hope that if/when I do have a daughter, I can be as good a mom to her as you are obviously going to be for Stella. The fact that you are thinking these things so early on is incredible and speaks volumes about your sensitivity and love for your child.
Being a woman in our society is ridiculously difficult. Nearly every woman I know has had an eating disorder or has agonized over their appearance in some way. Granted, I was an actress for 2o-some years, and live in LA now, so maybe my peer group skews in a certain direction… but I fear it is a pretty universal problem, at least in the US.
My consolation has always been that once we hit our thirties or so, and find success in love, in our careers, with family, that the obsession with looks subsides. But just the other day, a mom-friend confided in us that she still battles the “fat demons” daily – and I DO think it is affecting her baby daughter, b/c she isn’t feeding her the way that she needs to be (she’s so scared of her having eating issues or becoming overweight like she was as a kid that she deprives her of fruit – “it has too much sugar”). Seeing that cycle repeat itself makes me sad. And worried. And angry.
Anyway. Not sure where I am going with this. I’m no fan of Heidi. Or Speidi, for that matter… but I hope your silver lining POV is correct and people like her will showcase this particular breed of insanity in a way that makes us all wake the fark up.
Wow, thank you. I am soaking up your comment and feeling pretty great right now. 🙂 I’m so glad you commented on this because I figured you would have great insights, given your location and past vocation.
This issue does seem impossible to escape, I agree. Perhaps some areas focus on it less, but it’s still there–our culture is just awash with unrealistic standards for beauty.
Couldn’t agree more about the shift in priorities that comes with some extra years, experience and perspective! I got chills–a bit of a sickened feeling–when I read your description of that mom’s behavior. She is creating the very problem she fears. Definitely. I’m so sad for both mom and child. Must be hard to witness, as a friend. I don’t know what I would do in that situation except urge that woman to go to counseling if she hasn’t already. Helped me so much.
Here’s to everyone waking up from this insane nightmare! All we can do is lead the way with our own attitude and confidence. You’d be a great mom to a daughter for that very reason.