My daughter is my best friend, she is my 4-year-old shadow and my mini mime. She does everything I do and says everything that I say. She knows big words like exceptional and what they mean because she hears me say those kinds of words often. When she was a bit smaller I would catch her out of the corner of my eye watching my every move and copying my actions with the utmost precision, it was the most precious thing I had ever seen. If I put on lipstick, she puts on lip stick. If I am wearing polka dots she wants to find polka dots to wear also. She loves me and wants to be just like me. In our house full of boys, she and I are the only girls. The world around her is full farts, nerf wars, stinky socks, sweaty brothers, giant messes, and sports objects in every corner. My precious daughter leans on me for all of her knowledge of the world of being a girl and a woman. At her young age when she is true a sponge absorbing everything around her I need to make sure I am careful to help her absorb the things which will be for her benefit.
I thought I was doing a great job teaching her about true beauty. I don’t just talk to her about how pretty she is but I am quick to point out that she is kind, smart, brave, loving, responsible, and a great helper. I tell her these things about herself often and I point out to her when other people are those things. I tell her how being pretty isn’t just about what you look like on the outside but that more importantly it’s about what you are like on the inside. I take every opportunity I have to show her all the beautiful people around her. I have tried to teach her that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes and colors. My own mother was terrible at this. I can remember her telling me more times than I would like to admit, that I was not beautiful. It was always something different that made me not pretty. The way I stood, my hair color, my smile, my crooked teeth, the tiny bit of baby fat I had, the way I wore my hair, among many other things. I heard her tell me I was fat so many times that I believed it. I was 105 pounds at 5 foot 5 inches in High School. I wore size 0 pants, but I was still told I was fat frequently. You hear those things enough as a kid you begin to believe them, you take it into your soul and it becomes part of you. It became very difficult to think otherwise. I swore from a young age that I was NEVER, EVER going to do that to my daughter. I tell her about her beauty often. I let her wear her hair the way she wants and the miss matched outfits she loves because they don’t define her, she is still beautiful, no matter what she looks like on the outside. I thought I was doing a great job at teaching her the things that make you beautiful.
(my beautiful Sister in Law and Niece)
Today I realized just how wrong I was, and how terribly I have failed her in this area.
The door bell rang and the mail lady sat the package by the front door. My fantastic little sponge ran to the door, picked up that package and waved to the mail lady while she sweetly yelled, “Thank you!” like she has seen me do a million times. She lifted the package as best she could, the rounded edges of the package were much bigger then her tiny little hands, and hobbled into the house trying desperately not to drop it. As soon as she gets to where she can sit it down she runs to the kitchen to get some scissors so she could open it up. She never waits for me to open the package, she always knows that whatever comes in the cute little wrapping is usually clothes for me or her. After she oh so carefully opens the package up, she starts to pull out the clothes and oooo’s and ahhhh’s over each piece. One of the pieces I notice is not like the rest, it’s obviously much smaller than it’s supposed to be. I scoop the piece up and head to my room to try it on, knowing without a doubt that it WILL NOT fit me. Just as I’m finishing pulling the pants on my angel walks into the room, stands right in front of me, looks me up and down and exclaims, “You’re Fat.”
I can’t even begin to explain to you what a shot to the heart, hearing those words come out of her darling mouth, was for me. I stood there trying my best to compose myself and not let the tears that were threatening to come, flow down my face. I responded to her that yes, I was indeed bigger then I used to be, I don’t fit into a lot of my clothes and I haven’t lost all the weight I gained when I got diagnosed with Thyroid Disease a few years ago. I told her that my weight was okay because it came from being a mom and having 5 babies (one of which is barely 4 months old). I looked her in the eyes and said “I don’t mind the weight if its means that I can have each of you and finally be healthy. Being fat isn’t a terrible thing. It doesn’t change who a person is. Mommy is still pretty, right?” And that’s when it came, the moment that would cause the tears that I had so carefully held at bay begin to stream down my cheeks. After a long pause, where I could tell she was thinking very hard, she responded “No, you’re not.” The look in her eyes was that of sorrow and pain. I could tell that the words stung as they came out of her mouth and that she really didn’t want to say them but that she wanted to be honest with me. “So mommy isn’t beautiful?” Again the pain filled her eyes and I could tell that she was questioning her answer “No!” The hurt and sadness was swelling within me. Does she not understand what beautiful is? “Who is pretty?” That’s when the answer came that caused me to rethink my own self image. “I am. And daddy is, and my brothers, and my friends, and you friends, and people.”
(One of my very beautiful best friend and her two fantastic daughters)
My daughter may not have a problem with seeing the beauty around her, she may only have a problem with understanding my beauty. A million thoughts began to race through my mind and at the forefront of those thoughts were bright bold neon flashing lights. Those lights read, “Ugh! I look so fat and ugly in this.” “Seriously, I look so gross, how can you think I’m pretty?” “I’m so tired of looking ugly in everything I try on.” “Nothing looks good on me, I’m just ugly.” “How come everyone else looks pretty in this and I look so terrible?” Those were all things that I have said on more occasions than I would like to admit, to my husband. I complain to him about my looks on a regular basis. I whine about gaining weight. I complain about my eyes bulging because of my Graves Disease and say how ugly it makes me. I bash myself and body shame myself daily, multiple times a day. My sponge, the incredible little girl, that I have tried so hard to teach about the beauty in the world, can’t see the beauty in her own mother, because her mother can’t see her own beauty. Talk about ironic, and sad. I taught her that I’m not pretty. She would have never come to that conclusion on her own at such a young age. I have never said to her “Mommy’s not pretty.” or “Mommy is so fat.” but saying those things to her wasn’t necessary because she has heard me tell them to other people plenty of times.
I know that boys and girls are different. My boys tell me how beautiful I am and when they hear me say that I look ugly or fat, they are quick to correct me and tell me that I am the most beautiful mommy ever. They aren’t learning their self-image from me, they aren’t learning how to be boys from me, they are learning lots of things about beauty, but maybe just not those (that’s another post for another time)… my daughter however is learning all about the world of being a girl from me, and me alone.
(My stunning best friend pregnant with her first daughter)
I learned a valuable lesson today, one that I wish I had truly learned years ago, and one that I sincerely hope didn’t come too late. I don’t need to just stop saying those negative comments about myself where she can hear them, I need to stop saying them and stop believing them all together. It’s much easier said then done, especially when you are an adult woman who is bombarded on a constant basis with images of how you should look, what you should wear, and what you should look like wearing it. The world says that unless you are perfect, you aren’t beautiful. And of course that is simply not true, in fact it’s so not even close to being true that sometimes we forget what is true. We can talk till we are blue in the face, and teach our daughters that true beauty is on the inside. We can show them all different kinds of women and teach them about each ones beauty and individual worth, but will it do any good if we aren’t internalizing that ourselves? If we can’t truly, and I mean with every single part of who we are, see our own beauty, then how are our daughters supposed to trust what beauty really is? When my daughter grows up and has her own babies and potentially battles with health trials, or weight gain will she think she is not pretty because I thought I wasn’t pretty due to all of those same things?
I tell myself regularly that I am not good enough, that I’m not pretty enough but I get upset when my daughter says that to me? I taught her that. Me, and me alone. I need to work on seeing my own beauty. I need to tell myself the same things I told her and BELIEVE them. I see others beauty, that’s something I think I am very good at. Everyone is beautiful to me, so why is it so hard to see my own beauty? Why is it so hard to look in the mirror and say, “Look at you, you have beautiful bags under your eyes because your sweet, miracle baby didn’t sleep last night. You are a gorgeous rock star.” I don’t have any problem saying that about other people and seeing the beauty in the things that I’m sure they too dislike about themselves. I need to fix my self-image. I need to work on my self-esteem. Then and only then can I truly teach my daughter about what beauty really is.
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