Why Reading 'Matilda' As A Child Gave Me Such High Self-Esteem
For a lot of young people, reading Matilda as a child was a life-defining experience. Matilda encouraged us all to start reading; the novel gave us a fantastic female role model; the story showed us that it's possible to achieve your dreams — and to escape the crappy hand life dealt you. And for me, reading Matilda gave my self-esteem a serious boost. In a world that encourages people, especially women, to hate themselves, my high self-esteem is my favorite thing about myself — and a large part of that is thanks to the scrappy little bookworm invented by Roald Dahl.
I was a rather strange child, to say the least. I had a very overactive imagination, I loved being alone, and I was smarter than average for my age. Writing this now, it's easy to see that none of these qualities are inherently negative — but when you're six and nobody wants to play with you because you're the weird one, being told that you're clever isn't much of a consolation.
But then I read Matilda. And right there on the pages I found another strange, lonely little girl like me — and she was awesome.
Matilda didn't need any support or flattery to believe in herself. Her parents constantly tell her she's a waste of space; her headteacher calls her an "unhatched shrimp." Her father tries to put her in her place by firmly saying, "I'm right and you're wrong... and there's nothing you can do about it" — but still Matilda continues to believe in her abilities. She knows she's got something special — and no amount of verbal abuse from her horrible parents can take that away from her.
Now, I grew up in a very different household to Matilda's; my parents were not the Wormwoods, and so I was never short on praise and affection at home — but school was a different story. My early childhood diaries, in which I describe lonely playtimes being shunned by the more popular students, make for pretty heartbreaking reading — up until the moment I read Matilda.
You can see the exact day that everything changed: suddenly my angsty diary entries (I was surprisingly emo for a child barely old enough to hold a pencil) were replaced with happy scribbles. One page is particularly telling: I've filled the page with math problems and solutions, and captured it "I'm a clever Matilda with no magic." (There's a fine line between high self-esteem and arrogance; I may have crossed it at this point.)
After this, any teasing I received washed straight off me; I no longer felt that other people's judgements reflected on me. When people were mean to Matilda, they were obviously wrong — so maybe they were wrong about me too. This mentality has stayed with me into adulthood: I still listen to criticisms and try to take them on board, but I've never based my self-worth on other people's opinions.
Of course, the best thing Matilda did for me was encourage me to read (even more than I already did). Through books I met flawed characters, scared characters, misfit characters — who all had the capacity to do great things. Just like Matilda herself I travelled all over the world, making friends with fairies, giants, and princesses. The more I read, the bigger I was able to dream, and the more potential I saw in myself. That's not to say I don't have insecurities; hey, I'm only human. But thanks to Matilda and all my other literary friends, I never felt I wasn't good enough for other people — and to this day, I still don't.