As I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook this morning, I saw this post. It came from a friend of a friend of a friend. I'm pretty sure I have no connection to the person who originally posted it, and I don't think we will ever meet. Yet there it was in my newsfeed.
"Please share My niece came to me crying saying she was getting bullied at school kids are telling her she is ugly and fat can you please share and like this pic of her or even comment to show her she is beautiful lets see how many people think she is pretty lets make this go viral. STOP THE BULLYING✋✋✋✋✋✋"
It included a picture of an elementary aged girl and had hundreds of commenters assessing her appearance. I didn't read the comments. I assume that most of them were favorable.
And, despite the fact that I take almost nothing I ever see on social media seriously, this post bothered me. The teacher in me wanted to proofread and edit it a bit. More importantly, the mother in me wanted to challenge the underlying messages. If I were acquainted with the original poster, this would have been my comment to her:
It is a shame that your niece is being bullied. I wish with all my heart that people would be kind to each other. What a wonderful aunt you are to offer support in this difficult time. This little girl is beautiful, but I wonder how helpful this kind of approach is. If her self esteem is based on a tally of how other people feel about her appearance, it will always be fragile. Hopefully she will be able to find more people who think she is beautiful than who will tell her she is ugly. But what if the day comes that she can't? And what happens if she looks in the mirror and just doesn't feel like she looks beautiful? In that case, it won't matter how many internet strangers will compliment her appearance. She will still feel badly about herself and believe that people are only lying to her.
Far more important than convincing this girl that a lot of people think she is beautiful, is teaching her that her value has nothing to do with her appearance. She is not an object that exists simply to decorate the world. Rather, she is a human being deserving of dignity and capable of accomplishing great to things no matter how she looks.