‘Who Calls Us Beautiful?’: Self-Esteem in Foster Care

This is a small vignette about self-esteem in group home care. It is a true account that I present as fiction to protect those involved …

I knew this meeting would be pointless as we all glared, confused, at Candace, the group home counselor’s smiling face. This is Joy & Care Group Home. No one ever smiles that widely here.

“Ladies! Today is a very special house meeting.” Her excitement garnered more eye rolls and yawns of disinterest than anything else. Shai, Mona, and Lupe all sat down on the couch while I stood near the stairs, determined to showcase my disapproval of this stupid meeting.

Normally, all it entailed was 15 minutes of going over new rules, disbursing the small bits of allowance we received, reiterating the staff/resident power imbalance, and chastising ill behavior. But watching Candace pass out pens and paper alarmed us all that this wouldn’t be a speedy gathering.

“So, I learned a new activity at the retreat I attended and can’t wait to share it with you all.” She handed me the utensils and when I refused them, she placed them on the stairs next to me, glaring before refocusing on the other girls. “I want you all to describe three things you like about yourself, physically.”

My face immediately twisted in anger. “Are you serious?”

“I’m very serious and if you keep being disruptive, you’ll lose a level, Jameria,” she said. I rolled my eyes before crumbling the paper into a ball. This was unbelievable! Out of all the things she could be doing, like grocery shopping since the refrigerator had been bare all week, we were talking about this?!

After the girls did everything but write, Candace inquired about the lack of participation and was met with silence.

“Because this is dumb,” I responded from my corner and garnered snickers from the other girls.

“You just lost a level, Jamie. Keep talking and you’ll lose your entire allowance.”

Since she’d basically just reduced my already low allowance to a measly $4, I figured I didn’t have much reason to feign participation in this pretentious gathering. As I rose from my seat, little Shai lifted her arm, timidly.

“I don’t think I like the way I look.” She frowned at the floor, trying to sniffle in tears.

Candace walked to her and strained to pat her shoulder, looking unsure about whether that crossed the line of appropriate touching. “Shai, surely you know you’re beautiful?”

“Says who?” Shai responded, innocently curious.

“I hope I look okay,” said Lupe. “But most times, I ain’t sure.” Lupe picked at a pimple on her cheek before hiding it with her palm.

Candace glanced between the girls, slightly perplexed and failing at hiding it. “You all know you’re beautiful, right?” She looked for confirmation and after receiving none, she continued, “You’ve heard it before, right?”

“You must be new at this.” I replied, amused. Most of us had lived here for over a year and not once had the staff told us we were pretty or imparted any other nice epithets our way. Candace was a new counselor. She didn’t know the way things worked around here. “Who the hell you think gon’ call us beautiful?”

“Jamie, do you think you’re pretty?” Shai’s young eyes narrowed in on me, hope etched all over them.

“I think I’m hungry,” I replied, glaring back and then refocusing on Candace. “And tired of these dumb-ass questions.”

Candace’s face turned beet red in anger before being caught off guard by Mona’s declaration of her beauty. She instantly relaxed and smiled in triumph, asking Mona to stand and talk about her high esteem.

Mona grinned and walked confidently to the front of the living room, next to Candace. “Basically, everybody knows that I’m beautiful. My man calls me beautiful all the time. In fact, he changed my name to Beautiful so that’s what everybody know me as now. Tricks, the block, everybody calls me it.”

Candace’s smile slowly lessened to a small lip curve then to a slight frown as Mona continued talking about her man’s insistence on her only answering to the name ‘Beautiful.’

“Well, that’s all. Is the meeting over? I got somewhere to be,” Mona said, leaning on one leg with her hand on her hip, waiting on Candace’s response.

Flustered, Candace nodded, allowing Mona to stalk past her and right out the door. Candace glanced after her in delayed realization then horror, which deepened after seeing our facial expressions. Young Shai, self-conscious Lupe, hell, even my hungry self stared with envy.

Wishing we were told we’re beautiful, too….like Mona.

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