“Oh my God, I am sooooo fat,” I moaned in front of the mirror, pinching my stomach and sucking in my cheeks. Out of the three people around me, I fully expected someone to interject with a simple: “What? You’re so skinny!” or “You look gorgeous!” I would have even settled for a half-hearted: “No, you’re not.”
But nope – my lovely family members were all blissfully minding their own business, oblivious to the fact that I was in the middle of a mini-meltdown and in desperate need of a quick boost to my self-confidence – even if they’d be lying through their teeth.
Later that evening, a funny thing happened. My beautiful little daughter stood in front of a full-length mirror, clutching her tiny, adorable little belly and said, to no one in particular, “I’m soooo fat! Look at my huge stomach!”
Horrified, I ran over and reassured her over and over that no, she’s not fat, she’s beautiful and perfect and healthy and her tiny little stomach isn’t huge at all.
But for a while after the incident, long after she had forgotten all about it, I had to keep reminding myself to watch, not only my language and my tone of voice around my daughter, but also – the way I speak about myself.
Because it’s not just about building her self-esteem, complimenting her, telling her how beautiful I think she is. The biggest lessons she learns from me are the ones that I never intend on teaching. And when she hears me complaining about my body, she internalizes it and thinks that it’s okay (or perhaps even expected) for her to do the same thing.
The best way I can help my daughter love herself and her body is not by forcing her to view herself the way I view her – which is absolutely gorgeous; it’s by showing her that I love myself and my body. I want her to see that if Mommy can accept and love herself the way she is, flaws and all, then she can accept and love herself too.
Because the truth is that, although we are inundated by messages and images of perfection in the media, we are also inundated by messages and images of perfection – within ourselves. I know I am. If it’s not my face that’s annoying me that day, it’s my body, or my hair, or my skin, or my height, or what I’m wearing, or the shoes I’m wearing, or my voice, or…. or…
Need I go on?
Which one of us hasn’t experienced days when absolutely nothing fits, and when the face staring back at us from the mirror is the face of some strange, ugly person whom we don’t recognize? Which one of you can honestly say that you feel absolutely beautiful, 100% of the time? Anyone?
So let me tell you that there are days and there are nights – okay, who am I kidding, mostly nights – when I really do feel beautiful. When my hair is straight and my skin is clear and I’m wearing that dress and I got my heels on – and hell yeah, I feel sexy.
But a lot of the time… well, a lot of the time – I don’t. I don’t feel pretty when I’m just out of the shower, for example, and my face is red and blotchy and nothing is being supported by anything. I don’t feel attractive when I go running in my old workout clothes and I see all the toned, beautiful bodies around me and somehow, their skin is radiant and glowing while mine is just covered in sweat.
It’s hard to feel attractive all the time. But I think it’s important to remember – even on days when we think we look like shit – that in fact, we really are beautiful. People are beautiful. Women are beautiful. You are truly beautiful. You with the frizzy hair, and you with those extra few pounds. You with the big Jewish nose, and you with the crooked teeth. Your unique little flaws are part of your beauty – my flaws are part of my beauty.
When I look in the mirror now, here’s what I see:
I see stretch marks –physical proof that I brought a life into this world.
I see untanned, untoned arms – the same arms that my baby runs into when she’s sad or when she falls.
I see bags under my eyes – the same eyes that cry about the things that only mothers can understand.
I see pain, and love, and hope, and flaws.
But I also see beauty, beauty in my imperfections.
Because people are beautiful. You are beautiful. Whether you keep hearing it from others or never at all, whether you believe it to be true or you need some convincing, for your children’s sake, but mostly for your sake… please keep reminding yourself: You are truly beautiful.