Last week, I read the transcript for a speech given by actress Gabourey Sidibe at The Ms. Foundation’s Gloria Awards, which doubled as an 80th birthday celebration for Gloria Steinem. And I must admit it made me uncomfortable.
Uncomfortable — like listening to a preacher give a sermon with such brutal Biblical honesty that it stirs something inside you, and makes you want to repent right there in your seat.
Only this taste of brutal honesty was served at an awards banquet, right to the critics who questioned Gabourey’s ability to be confident.
Those heard, and unheard.
Those seen, and unseen.
It was an indirect confrontation that was bound to happen — the “how dare you ask me such a thing because I’m not a size 2.”
And I understood her point.
It’s rare that you hear stereotypical beauties being asked about their confidence — because many people just assume they are naturally confident. Meanwhile, it’s expected for the rounder, the flabbier, and the more awkward of us to be beaten into a perpetual state of low self-esteem due to mocking from others.
It shouldn’t be that way.
That shouldn’t be the expectation.
But it is.
And it doesn’t help when parents don’t do anything to counter those behaviors.
In her speech, Gabourey said her mother berated her with comments about her weight, and neither of her parents told her what she did well. What made them proud of her. In fact, she only learned she was smart when she heard her father talking to her brother about his apparent lack of studiousness.
So she had to tell herself she was smart.
Only that developed into an “I’m smarter than everyone” arrogance, and the creation of a “snobby, bossy, know-it-all” persona that made many people hate her.
Still, all that just masked the pain she felt when she went home every day.
Gabourey said, back then, she found the strength to keep going when she lived with her aunt, and saw a picture she had taken with Gloria Steinem:
“Side by side they stood, one with long beautiful hair and one with the most beautiful, round, Afro hair I had ever seen, both with their fists held high in the air. Powerful. Confident. And every day as I would leave the house… I would give that photo a fist right back. And I’d march off into battle.”
Gabourey said eventually she didn’t care what other people thought about her. She found herself showing up to places dressed up when people wanted her to cover up and leave, and having fun when people didn’t want her to — because she dared to.
Remarks that mock and ridicule can reach the core, and sting. And the pain can last so long that all you can do is push through the hurt to give the appearance of confidence, and fake it til you make it.
That’s what Gabourey had to do.
That’s what many of us have had to do.
But I don’t want my child to do that, if I can help it.
Instead, I want her to build the foundation for her confidence at home. A confidence that sets its roots alongside respect and humility.
So I am committed to doing these seven things to start speaking life into my daughter now:
1. Say I love you everyday
I never want my daughter to question my love for her. Even if she doesn’t know what the words mean now, I hope she will find comfort in them, and their weight, as she gets older.
2. Talk about her positive qualities to her, and speak to others about her in a positive light
Anywhere we go, if asked about her you’ll here me or my husband talk about how funny, happy and cute she is, how she smiles all the time, and how vocal she is. We also tell her those things. It’s all to make sure she knows there’s nothing wrong with possessing those qualities.
3. Smile at her, and laugh with her.
She can’t speak to me now, but I can show her that she is a joy and a blessing to me.
4. Play with her
I will be the mom who rolls on the floor, bounces her on my knee, and sings the same song 20 times a day –all to see her learn, giggle and grow.
5. Be understanding of her place in the world
I will acknowledge the fact that she is growing and developing, and doesn’t understand the things that may get me frustrated. I will also realize that as I continue to teach her, she will learn to do better (I hope).
6. Avoid taking my outside frustrations out on her
Even if I have a bad day, I will try not to let it affect my time with her. I will continue smiling, playing, and cuddling with her because she is still my joy and my blessing.
7. Pray for her
Among other things, I pray that she will come to know God’s love and her self-worth, and find rest in that knowledge when she is weary. After all, I believe God is able to turn our silent prayers into the loud echoes our children hear within themselves, and ultimately live out.