Erika Petrelli
Erika Petrelli

At not-quite-four years old, my daughter has already acquired an awareness of a well known horror: “the mean girl”.

At her pre-school, there is one girl in particular who has really gotten under her skin. Nearly every night she’ll recount some “mean” thing this girl has said or done.  Recently, it went something like this:

Her: Mommy, XX told me that I wasn’t beautiful

Me: What?! Of course you’re beautiful. Just don’t pay her any attention

Her: Yeah, and she told me I was nothing.

Me: (after a few moments of silent. immature thoughts of just what my response could be to that young girl) What do you mean, she said “you were nothing?”

Her: We were playing ‘family’ and she said I wasn’t anything – not the mommy or the baby or anything.

Oh. Okay.

But still.

Already, at just four, these young girls and boys are aware of how others can “tell” us how to feel about ourselves. As adults we know this too well, don’t we? Tell me ten fantastic things you think about me and I’ll shrug them away, but toss a sarcastic comment or stinging bit of criticism my way and I’ll carry it heavily for days.

Not too long ago I listened to a few wonderful TED talks by a research professor named Brené Brown ( who spoke about vulnerability, shame, and courage. She talked about courage as being the ability to “tell the story of who you are with your own heart.” I thought that was so beautiful – in the face of everything else, can you tell the story of who you are with your own heart, rather than with the voices of others?

As adults this is hard enough to do.  So, imagine our young people.  Just think of the battles they must be waging in their own minds against the voices of those who are telling them that they are “not beautiful”; that they are “nothing”. And so, while we can’t completely stop the tide of negative messages that people receive, we can certainly ensure that those aren’t the only messages they are receiving.  Because we are all beautiful, in our own way, no? Sometimes we just need a little help remembering it – a little help to find the courage to tell the “story of who we are with our own heart.”

The most important thing I can do for my daughter is remind her that I think she is the most beautiful, smart, creative, funny, clever four year old I know. I can also teach her how to walk away from the negativity; how to say “that is not true for me” in response to those zingers, those stingers, those words that do, in fact, hurt – sometimes more than sticks and stones. And I can remember to do that for myself, too.

Whose beauty can you highlight today?

Erika Petrelli

By Erika Petrelli

Erika Petrelli is the Senior Vice President of Leadership Development (and self-declared Minister of Mischief) for The Leadership Program, a New York City-based organization. With a Masters degree in Secondary Education, Erika has been in the field of teaching and training for decades, and has been with The Leadership Program since 1999. There she has the opportunity to nurture the individual leadership spirit in both students and adults across the country, through training, coaching, keynotes, and writing. The legacy Erika strives daily to create is to be the runway upon which others take flight. If you enjoy these blogs, you should check out her interactive journal, On Wings & Whimsy: Finding the Extraordinary Within the Ordinary, now available for sale on Amazon. While her work takes her all around the country, Erika calls Indiana home.