Photo Credit: IGNAT/bauergriffinonline.com
In her blog for the iVillage blog series CelebVillage, actress Katherine Heigl writes about about the importance of helping her 3-year-old daughter Naleigh live up to her potential in life.
I’m not much of a reality TV watcher. I tend to stick mostly to the comedies and dramas that I love, but I recently happened to catch an episode of Dance Moms and watched with open-mouthed amazement as girls as young as seven were encouraged to dress provocatively and shimmy around a stage doing a dance performance that could just as easily been a burlesque routine. I kept thinking all these girls were missing is a pole! I was also horrified by the way their instructor spoke to them when she felt they weren’t up to snuff. It was demeaning, belittling, and downright unkind.
My daughter was in the room at the time as was my mother and I kept looking over at my perfect, innocent and beautiful child wondering how can I protect her from what the world is becoming. My mother was outraged and -- never one to hold back an opinion -- vented that it was not even remotely necessary to speak to a child the way the dance instructor was, that no one during the course of my performing and early years as a child model and actor had ever talked to me like that. She insisted that the tough-love attitude was totally misguided and not what makes anyone succeed -- and certainly not a child. She reminded me that I was loved, encouraged, and held through the journey of my career and was never demeaned, berated, or told I was not doing my best and look how well that has worked for me.
She is right, of course. My mother worked hard to build up my self-esteem, to protect it from those who did not, and made it her priority to see me grow into a young woman who had a sure and steady sense of herself that could not be torn apart. The example my mother set for me is what I hope to achieve and emulate on behalf of my own daughter. I think we all know through experience that the world gets tough enough soon enough. I strongly believe there is no reason to break anyone down in order to prepare them for inevitable disappointment or unkindness. There is no reason to diminish anyone’s self-esteem in order to get them to try harder next time. Especially not a child’s.
I believe a significant part of my role as a mother to a daughter is to shelter and build up her self-esteem. This is not to say that I will sit around and tell her she can do anything and everything and is perfect in all that she does. We all have our strengths and weaknesses and when I came home from school with a bad grade on another math test, it was apparent that algebra would never be my strong suit and my mother didn’t pretend it was. I was told I needed to pass the class but I was also told it was okay that I didn’t excel at it, that there were other things I was good at. That’s the direction I was encouraged to follow.
My hope is that Josh and I will help Naleigh find her strengths, support, inspire, applaud, and shelter her as she succeeds and fails in them and work diligently and persistently to build and protect her fragile self-worth -- because it is fragile and in the world we live in today, it doesn’t seem to be enough of a priority for our young women.
It terrifies me, the amount of value we place on a woman’s looks, body, and ability to drop it like it’s hot on the dancefloor. It’s one thing to walk into a club and see twentysomethings embracing their sexuality and having some fun, but it’s another thing altogether watching seven-year-olds shake their booties, bellies, and nonexistent boobies on a stage in a room full of adults and be handed a trophy for it. What in the world are we telling them? That sexy is the prize and is the talent they have?
I used to perform in a local dance academy when I was growing up and we did jazz routines that were fun, imaginative, high energy, hip and age-appropriate! The young girls on Dance Moms are wonderfully talented, spirited ladies who should be encouraged to perform since they seem to truly have a knack for it. I just wish they were being inspired, instructed, and supported for their gifts as I was when I found my creative path. I wish they were being shown and taught by example that they are wonderful, unique and valuable for far more than their bodies, and their ability to be perfect at all times.
I pray that I reach my daughter and am able to guide and support her growth as a woman and hope with all my heart shows like this don’t get to her first. It is a true challenge we parents have ahead of us and the stakes are very high. We will have to perpetually battle and kick against the values mass media prioritize and emphasize those that truly matter. We will have to find a way to convince our children that what they see in the world around them is not always right and true even when it’s far more prevalent than what we tell them is right and true. We will have to hope, pray, and beg them to trust us and commit every moment to earning their trust so that we can ensure their emotional, spiritual, and physical well being and self-worth.
It breaks my heart that the task of raising well-rounded, happy young adults has been made to be so very challenging, but I will rise to the challenge because Naleigh deserves the same shot at living up to her potential as I got. My mother taught me strength, courage, discipline, and faith so I will rely on those lessons now to teach my daughter the same.