As adults, sometimes we forget how much impact our words can have on the children in our lives. But most of us can recall things that were said to us as kids, positive or negative, that stuck with us. Some of those words may have influenced how we see ourselves our whole lives, for better or for worse.
Elyse Myers is a popular TikTok user who has a knack for storytelling. Most of her videos are funny, but one of her most recent ones has a serious—and seriously important—message for us all.
"It is no secret that as a child, and specifically as a middle schooler, I was a little bit…round," she said. "That would have been one way to describe me. Other ways that would have been more appropriate? Funny, cute, has curly hair, determined, sarcastic, witty, smart, talented, musical—so many ways to describe me, but the one thing that people loved to latch onto was the size of my body."
"Was I ashamed of that?" she asked. "No. Other people seemed to be. You would be shocked at how determined other kids and adults were at making sure that I knew that they knew that I was larger than other kids my age."
Myers then made a statement that millions of people, especially women, can identify with:
"I was made aware of the size of my body long before I was ever taught how to love it.”
Your words are powerful. #coffeetalk #theadhdway #words
Myers is dead on. Her story about a male substitute teacher going out of his way to "save her from herself" by telling her in so many words that she should give up the idea of being a cheerleader because of her size is appalling, but unfortunately not uncommon.
"The audacity of a man to walk up to a 7th-grade girl, in front of her friends, and comment on her appearance in any way is disgusting," she said. "I met that man for one hour when I was like 11, and I am 28 and still undoing the damage that that one sentence had on my life. So if you are an adult, if you are around children—if you are around humans in any way—I want you to understand how powerful your words are. As easily as they can tear someone down, they can build someone right back up, but it's going to take a hell of a lot more work to build them up after you've torn them down."
In reality, it's always far easier and faster to break something than to build it. In fact, research from The Gottman Institute found that in a happy, stable relationship, couples had an average of five positive interactions for every one negative one. Couples who had a smaller ratio than that were less happy, and a 1:1 ratio, meaning evenly balanced between positive and negative interactions, equaled an unhealthy relationship "teetering on the edge of divorce."
It takes far more positive words to create a positive experience than it does negative ones to create a negative experience, which is why it's so important for us to choose our words carefully. And because children are so impressionable, what we say to them sticks.
“I was taught how to perceive my body through the eyes of other people that didn’t love me, that didn’t care about me, that thought they could just make a passing comment and move on with their life, and I carried that forever," said Myers.
"We have to teach people how to speak kindly about themselves, how to love themselves, how to see them as beautiful and worthy and more than just what they look like. If I had as much attention poured into the things that I was good at, and I cared about, and I loved, I would have been a completely different kid."
Right on, Ms. Myers. Thanks for the reminder that what we say matters more than we might think.
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