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14 Ways to Build Self-Esteem in Brown Girls

Before becoming a mom to two little girls, I remember having a conversation with a friend about girls and self-worth.  My friend said, “We should not tell little girls they are ‘cute,’ instead we should tell them that they are ‘smart!’”  She argued that because we tell girls how cute they are at a young age, their value becomes wrapped up in their looks and not their brains.  Fast forward to 2012 and President Barack Obama tells his daughters, Malia and Sasha they are strong, smart and beautiful but he gets criticized for saying they’re ‘beautiful.’

But feeling beautiful is an important part of self-esteem for every woman and little girl.  There are products, media and people trying to define what beauty is and is not.  When I see how skin bleaching is becoming so mainstream, and how beautiful brown skinned women struggle with self esteem, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to tell our daughters how beautiful they are, every day. Of course, we do not want our daughters to be so wrapped up in their beauty that they cannot appreciate anything else, but in all things there needs to be balance.  We can raise smart confident girls who know they are beautiful.

When I think about building up the self esteem of my two girls, I hear the phrase in my head, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  If your daughter is struggling with self esteem issues, by all means address them.  But do not wait for that to happen, do all you can to build her up so that her testimony can be I always loved myself.


So how do we build self esteem in little brown girls?  Here are my humble suggestions:

1. Daily Affirmations.  Give lots of praise through words and actions.  Tell her every day the things that make her beautiful, and have her say it as well.  You are beautiful.  Your eyes are beautiful. Your hair is beautiful.  Your skin is beautiful.  Your nose is beautiful.  You are capable of doing great things.  You are intelligent. You are loved.  Have her repeat it:  I love myself, I love my eyes, I love my hair, I love my beautiful brown skin, I love my nose, I am capable of doing great things, I am intelligent, I am smart, I am loved.  I love this video of a father building confidence in his daughter with these affirmations.  Teach your daughter to say daily affirmations.  When we speak words they have power.

2. Surround her with beautiful images of black people in books, media and art around your home.  Need a list?  Like to hear it, here it go.....

3. Sing songs that affirm black beauty like, James Brown’s ‘Say It loud’ or Sesame Street’s ‘I Love My Hair’.

4. Speak well of yourself!  As previously noted on Baby and Blog,  self esteem can be passed down from mother to daughter, so remember to avoid negative talk about yourself, for the sake of your daughters!

5. Speak well of other women!  Nothing screams low self-esteem like a woman who is always speaking negatively of others.  If you are always gossiping or putting down other women, this will rub off on your children.  Women who love themselves and are confident will find more praise to give than negative gossip to spread.

6. Let her hear the stories and testimonies of black voices who speak on self love and self hate.

Kathleen Cleaver-Natural Hair 

Martin Luther King–Black is beautiful

Lupita Nyong’o’s Black Women in Hollywood Acceptance Speech

7. Listen to your daughter, even when she is saying things that do not seem to be important, and especially when she is saying things that are difficult for her to express.  When kids know you are paying attention to them, it makes them feel important. And if they always feel that they don’t have your attention, it hurts their self-esteem. Let her voice be heard, and show her that her voice is powerful, important and meaningful to you.  Engage your daughter in conversation, encourage her to speak her mind, let her know that her opinions and thoughts are important.

8. Limit media. There are so many images of women that are over-sexualized and promote unrealistic and/or Euro-centric ideals of beauty.  Make sure that you monitor her access to these images because they can permeate the mind.

9. Teach your daughter how to dissect the media and analyze it. There will come a time when you won’t be able to control her media consumption, and she will seek out her own information and entertainment. Make sure she is armed and prepared to negotiate and, if necessary, resist the images, narratives and ideals she will encounter.  Media literacy and critical thinking are very important for teenagers these days. We consume so much media and we need to have discerning minds as we take it all in.  A good video that I used to share with my high school students is Killing Us Softly.

10. Get her involved in sports. Studies have shown that girls who are involved in sports have greater confidence than those who are not. Sports gives girls the opportunity to develop confidence in their bodies’ strength and performance rather than its appearance.

11. Challenge your own notions of beauty.  Question the things you laugh at.  The Talk co-host seemed to be caught off guard when attacked by the natural hair community when she joked about saving natural hair.  But sometimes to core of our joke is the root of our self esteem problems.  

12.  Stand up and intervene when others try and tear down your daughters confidence.  This video of Venus' father gives me life every time I watch it.  

13. Introduce them to role models, here is a list.

14.  Give her space to be honest.  Sometime when children tell us of their hurt feelings, we are quick to cut them off and tell them they are beautiful.  Give your child the space to express their feelings without judgement.

What tips would you add to this list?  How do you encourage your daughters self esteem?

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