8 Keys to Improving Self-esteem for Teenage Girls
Experts on facial expressions are not fooled by the big smiles of teen-age girls. It is evident
when a girl is truly happy inside, because she has a “Duchienne smile.” With this smile the
involuntary muscles around the eyes are wrinkled. And those muscles do not lie.
On the other hand, fake, superficial smiles reveal a smiling mouth only, there is no twinkle
and not a wrinkle. Looking at many of the photos in today’s magazines where the models
often reveal fake smiles with sad eyes. BUT, this is not what teen girls notice. They focus
on the perfect figure, airbrushed skin, hair and slick image. Then, unfortunately, they want
to emulate that MYTH of happiness.
Dr. Linda Miles has spent over thirty years as a psychotherapist dealing with such issues.
In addition she has discussed this subject numerous times on national radio and television.
She has a passion for helping girls and women “de-program the myths” of our beauty
She herself, as a teenager, bought into fake personalities at Leon High in Tallahassee ,
Florida . Faye Dunnaway writes, in her autobiography, about her trauma at the same
school, where your worth was based upon your looks and money. Ironically both Faye
Dunnaway and Dr. Miles were “popular” and won beauty contests, yet they both knew they
were faking happiness.
Dr. Miles dedicates her work to her 12 year old grand-daughter, Merritt, in hopes she can
help her keep smiling from the inside-out, because, according to long-term research based
only upon yearbook pictures, teen-age girls with Duchienne smiles grew up to have more
fulfilling lives, better jobs, happier families and more successful marriages.
Dr. Miles’ 8 keys for teenage girls to help improve self-esteem include:
1. LIVE PASSIONATELY AND NOT FOR PASSION: Mother Theresa wrote our best
protection is a joyful heart. Ironically, research shows that teen-age girls laugh more
around boys than with one another. Too many girls buy the “Cinderella fairytale” that they
need the perfect Prince to be happy.
2. WAKE UP WITHOUT MAKE-UP: Girls need help to ask the questions and find the
answers to- Who am I? and Why am I here? They need help and understanding as they
discover their gifts and talents, and learn to share them with the world. While adolescence
forces pull them toward following peers, they need help to learn how to be their own leader
who follows their internal values.
A young girl of 17 was recently arrested in North Carolina for armed robbery and murder,
because she helped her boyfriend rob a convenience store. Violence is increasing for girls
as they are influenced by peers and media images. We can provide the tools and guidance
to help them wake up from feeling worthless; a state that prevents purposeful leadership
3. STOP THE WORTHLESS DANCE: Girls decide they are worthless for many reasons,
some are - comparison games, childhood traumas such as sexual abuse, the cultural beauty
queen trance, or abandonment. Many young women that Dr. Miles has worked with
decided they were worthless when their fathers left the family, their mothers were overly
critical, they had a more beautiful sister, etc. It is important to re-trace when each girl first
decided she was worthless and work on healing that lie. They need to see how they made
this decision and why they developed false selves and made that real.
4. WHATS THE BRAIN GOT TO DO WITH IT? There are huge changes in the
adolescent brain as information it does not need is pruned and other connections are
strengthened. The brain does not fully mature until we are in our twenties leaving teens
with too much acceleration and not enough brakes!
A Duke neuroscientist once shared with Dr Miles that although he was a tall adult he still
thought of himself as short because he had been so short in middle school. Girls who liked
themselves in elementary school often develop a false shell against the middle school
assault on the developing brain. They need help to focus their brains in the direction of
their purpose and dreams. To accomplish this Dr. Miles uses many techniques from
journaling, self-hypnosis and affirmations.
5. DO NOT DESPISE, VISUALIZE: Dr. Miles has young women visualize their ideal life.
Using a practice of meditation to relax and connect with the inner self to affirm what each
girl wants, she has the girl focus on development of neural pathways toward high self-
esteem. The unconscious mind is filled with negative thoughts. Many girls have few
models of confident women who live with a higher purpose. A famous neuroscientist once
observed, “In the brain practice makes perfect.”
6. SWEET INSPIRATION: Since the brain does not fully mature until age 23, teens are
drawn to high levels of stimulation, yet lack the experience to deal with life situations. We
need classes like Life 101 or Relationships 101! Instead, we spend more time teaching our
children how to drive a car than how to have healthy relationships and lives!
Maya Angelo should be required reading as a role model who talks about her mistakes and
how she grew. She has a wonderful story about getting fired at 16 and how her Mother
explained “fired “was just a word and she needed to get back out there.
7. PRACTICE THE PRESENT: Dr. Miles has girls ask themselves what is real in the
present moment. She recalls wasting hours wishing she was having a good hair day! The
fact is that her hair was not going to change unless she cut it off during Home Economics.
Self-esteem is a construct built on the absurd…I SHOULD be thin, have straight hair,
green eyes, blah, blah, blah. Girls need to be helped to deal with, What is, and NOT, What
if. Dr. Miles writes in her book, The New Marriage, Transcending the Happily Ever After
Myth, about her near death experience at age 52. She felt peace and self-acceptance as she
KNEW the only thing that mattered about her life was how much she had loved.
8. LOVE THE SPIRITUAL AND IT WILL BE DIFFICULT TO DESPISE THE
EARTHLY: Young girls need to develop a spiritual practice to focus them on the forces
greater than themselves. Readings , prayer, meditation can be done alone or shared.