“Mirror, Mirror on the wall. Who’s the fairest of them all?”
Not me. Ever. So I’ve believed most of my life.
Growing up I was not considered pretty. I had a bad perm and acne. I also had extra weight on me. I was teased and rarely dated throughout high school and college. I grew up thinking I was ugly. I still struggle with thinking I’m ugly.
Until my daughter came along.
She is a beautiful girl. Often I wish I had her beauty.
I have no problem seeing her beauty, yet struggle to see my own.
But how can I not? Everywhere I turn I see thin, beautiful females. Of all ages! On the covers of magazines. TV. In movies. On cartoons even!
Guys on the other hand are shown as fit or having a beer belly. They have a full head of hair or are balding or have a receding hairline. Doesn’t matter; all are acceptable. Show a size 14 woman and she’s labeled “large”. Show a woman with well-defined muscles and she’s “too muscular”.
As females we are surrounded by so many things that push us to be thin and beautiful. Diet products, exercise programs, beauty products galore!
I have to constantly try to avoid these traps from deteriorating my view of myself. Many times I fail. Now I also have to compete with it as I try to raise my daughter to have a healthy body image.
To counter this when she was little I was careful with the words I chose. I exercised not to lose weight, but to get stronger. I tried to avoid mentioning the number of pounds lost or that I wanted to get skinny. Foods I chose to eat were not to lose weight but to be healthy to give my body the nutrients it needs.
Yet I still failed.
My daughter has always been fit and strong. Physically and mentally. She is active and chooses healthy food on her own without fail.
Yet, at age 10, she asked me if I thought she was fat. My heart broke.
Now I’m not totally fit; I have a bit of cushion on me. I like my hot cheetos and chocolate. So I asked her, “Do you think I’m fat?”
Her eyes bugged out. “No!” She declared shocked I would ask such a thing.
“Then why do you think you’re fat?”
“Good point,” she responded a bit humbled.
Fast forward two years. The conversation finds its way back to us.
The other day she asks me, “Mom, do you think I’m fat?”
Surprised I exclaimed, “Why would you think that?”
“Well look,” she grabbed her stomach and pulled at the skin and then jiggled her thigh, “There’s fat.” Oh boy.
My now 12 year old daughter has biceps that could crush a can and quads and hamstrings that ooze pure strength and speed.
“Honey, it’s healthy to have some “fat” on your body. If you didn’t you would literally just be skin and bones. You’d be sick and frail. Not to mention fat also protects your organs.”
“Really?” She was completely surprised by this.
Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder
Let’s face it. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Which means there’s no constant. No similar form of measurement. To the fashion industry beauty is a size 0. How is that even a size? To a child it’s their mother, whatever shape or size she may be.
So what do we do? How do I help my daughter strengthen her self-image?
I strengthen my own self-image
Words are powerful and make an impression on one’s heart. We need to consciously create more impressions of love to bring light to ourselves and our precious girls and less darkness.
I look at how I treat myself and try to be more conscious about how I talk about myself and my image. Both in the presence of my kids and when I think they’re not listening. Trust me. They’re listening.
I talk more about being healthy. Longevity of life and what that means. I explain that what we do as kids to our bodies catches up to us when we get old. I stress that making healthy choices as a kid makes it so much easier to do so as an adult. When I turn down dessert I explain it’s not because I don’t want to get fat. It’s because I don’t have the opportunity to use up the energy like they do. At 41 I don’t need as much food as they might at 8 and 12 to keep going through the day.
I use close family members with health issues as examples of what we don’t want to do. Their health issues also serve as examples that our choices in our younger years impacts our older years. I ignore the “size” on clothing and go off whether or not it fits and is flattering.
It’s too easy to become immune to negative images and words. I’m guilty of it. So many times I think what can I do? I’m just one person fighting against sophisticated marketing schemes. What impact can I possibly have?
So here’s my crazy idea. I want to start a ripple effect.
I start by checking my own behavior. I am a firm believer that how you behave is what formulates people’s opinion of you. So I try to be thoughtful in the words I choose to describe myself. I aim for balance in all things, food included. And when my children call me out, which they never hesitate in doing, I accept it with grace and take steps to improve.
I help my daughter to view her body more positively, then hopefully she’ll pass it on to her friends. I point out the marketing schemes, biases, and double standards. I ask questions to get my kids thinking.
I catch and point out negative self talk. They now do the same to me. They’ll do the same to others. And in turn others might do the same in their other social circles.
Suddenly a ripple effect just became a wave.
And soon the waves start rolling in. Pounding the surf. Pounding against the marketing lies.
So have a conversation. Ask questions. Point things out. Challenge them. Challenge their views. Drops of water in a bucket quickly become a bucket full of water.
I have a confession.
I still have trouble seeing myself as beautiful. Thought processes are hard to change. But I am now comfortable in my own skin. And that is a beautiful thing.
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