How to Foster a Teen Girl’s Self-Esteem

Stephanie D. Lewis

Nine colorful satin and taffeta prom gowns litter the fitting room floor. It looks like someone beat up a rainbow in here, I think and watch a fresh batch of tears make rivulets down my 17-year-old daughter’s still baby-faced cheeks. I must think fast.

“This designer runs small. His size 12 is normally another brand’s size 6,” I say, but not soon enough.

“I’m huge. I’m a fat, grotesque beast. I shouldn’t be allowed to eat for a month. I want to take a butcher knife and slice off my stomach and chop off my man shoulders.” Her eyebrows perspire as she utters her last sentence in a whisper, “I want to vomit up the frozen yogurt you just bought me. Please?”

I flash on how she used to spit up infant formula when I accidentally overfed her. I feel warm and queasy myself, recognizing how familiar her violent language is to my own ears. Perhaps I’ve spewed phrases about a surgeon’s scalpel instead of a butcher’s knife and maybe the target was my humongous breasts rather than broad shoulders.

Body hatred was never one of the girly rituals I planned to share with my daughter when I adopted her 16 years ago after birthing all sons. I knew enough about eating disorders and cultivating a healthy self-esteem to squelch the typical critical female scrutiny and judgment about my own figure when she was nearby while I was looking in a full-length mirror.

Where had this come from?

I taught all my children that the number on the scale was really none of their business. As long as they ate healthy and exercised, whatever they weighed was absolutely perfect for their body type. Starving because you have a goal to drop five pounds is as absurd as jumping up and down to subtract five inches from your height.

I have always been all about acceptance and gratitude, and now these absurd prom dress size labels are threatening to become a new disapproving form of measurement, giving her fresh ammunition with which to berate herself. I glance at the tag inside a frilly lavender gown. Listed below the blatant size “LARGE” is the fabric content with a combination of cotton, rayon and silk. Mentally I rewrite the tag to say:

40% self-worth
35% healthy role-model

Delicate care required. Do not turn inside-out. Don’t wring hands with worry, problems will iron out. No stain is permanent.

Back at home I have an idea. I grab a pair of scissors and cut off the original label in her new peach floral prom gown. I replace it with a custom tag of my own which I staple inside the dress.

“Never label yourself. You’re not a number, a size or a grade. You are You-nique!

I make dozens of others and go through her closet systematically swapping them out.

“Tag!  You’re it.  Loveable, kind, healthy, smart and beautiful. That’s you!” “Step away from the mirror and look for another reflection, like the one in the eyes of the people who love and admire you.”“Everyone’s a star and deserves to sparkle!”

My daughter comes home from school smiling widely, recounting how she showed her friends in the girl’s locker room the surprise label inside her gym shorts.

“Today you’ll have stamina, speed, strength, and skill. But don’t forget spirit!”

It’s just a small thing, these self-esteem enhancing clothing tags, but every little reminder helps our teenagers embrace and accept who they are. And in turn, empowers them to teach others by example.Before I retire my scissors and stapler back to the craft drawer, I head upstairs to my own bedroom. There’s one more closet full of clothes that might benefit the owner greatly to have some confidence building labels.

Head to the Front Porch


How to Foster a Teen Girl's Self-Esteem

 This post was written by Stephanie Lewis exclusively for BonBon Break Media, LLC.

Stephanie D. Lewis pens a humor blog at Once Upon Your Prime, along with featured writing on The Huffington Post. Her work has been seen on Bluntmoms, In The Powder Room and XO Jane. Her novel Lullabies & Alibis (Motherhood, Marriage, Mayhem & Mirth) can be found on Amazon. She is a single mother of six kids residing in San Diego, California.