Over the past couple of weeks, I have thought of adolescence as a time where your self-esteem is probably challenged the most. You either love the way you are or you do not.
A healthy self-esteem, on the Kids Health site is seen as “a child’s armour against the challenges of the world. (Teens) who feel good about themselves seem to have an easier time handling conflicts and resisting negative pressures. They tend to smile more readily and enjoy life. These (teens) are realistic and generally optimistic.
In one particular television advert a product is promoted through the phrase: “I want to be beautiful like you mummy”. This young girl aspires to look as good as her mother. She longs to be “beautiful”, and she affirms herself through the beauty she sees in her mother.
This week I have been distracted by a documentary I saw of a young girl in South Africa, Ontlametse, living with a rare condition, Progeria (Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome). According to the Progeria Research Foundation, this is a “rare, fatal genetic condition characterised by an appearance of accelerated aging in children”. This means that young Ontlametse who is 12 years old has the organs of a 60-year-old and is much smaller than children her age.
The condition begins to show from around 18-24 months of age, with children experiencing problems with growth, loss of weight and hair, ageing skin and other dysfunctions.
The saddest thing about Progeria is a child then dies of heart disease at the age of thirteen.
In spite of these negative signs, and impending doom, Ontlametse glows with hope, cheerfulness, smiles and wonders what she can do to make you, feel good about yourself.
In the documentary, you see her joy and laughter as she participates in class and plays with her friends and family, but above all, the wisdom when she speaks, makes me wonder how she does it.
She is at peace with her condition. Being in her shoes, not all of us would stand up, some would crumble as people stare. Some would give up, or simply distance themselves from life and everyone.
She admits people have a tendency to stare at her and take pictures. However, instead of wishing the ground could cave in on her or pitying herself she forgives these people for their ignorance.
Ontlametse says: “Accept who you are, and you will live a long life.”
She believes many people are dying inside and her goal in life is to encourage such people. Rather than letting people feel sorry for her, she would rather give back and add a smile to someone’s life.
Ontlametse has been raised by her mother, who I will commend for not looking down on her child and losing hope. Her mother has affirmed her self-esteem and may even be learning more through Ontlametse.
Why this touched me is sometimes young people go through life thinking: “I am too fat.” “I’m ugly.” “ I’m dumb.” “I’m poor.” “I have no friends.” “ Nobody loves me.” Yet others deal with helpless circumstances and still have something to smile about.
Ontlametse is aware of the life expectancy of 13 years, but she would rather go through life enjoying herself and helping others see themselves as truly significant.
Today my challenge to you is to start changing the way you see yourself and the situations around you.
You really have to look inside and find your inner strength, and say: I’m proud of what I am and who I am, and I’m just going to be myself. — Mariah Carey
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