As a young girl, I was sprouting breasts and hips earlier than all of my friends. Around the age of 12, I started to hate my body. I was bigger and taller than all of my friends, and I wanted to shrink to a “normal’ size. I had a terrible body image.
It certainly didn’t curb my love for shopping though. My mother and I would take long shopping trips and I would secretly wish to find that magic outfit or bathing suit that would make me look the way I thought I should look. At the time, I didn’t realize how unrealistic it was. I didn’t know about airbrushing and all the things they put models through in those glossy magazines in order to get a flawless picture. I just knew I felt I should look like that.
My mom would wait outside the dressing room while I tried on clothes. I would open the door to model a dress or pair of jeans, and she would go on and on about how beautiful I was and how I should feel so lucky to have the figure that I did. I would smile thinking, No, I wish I had tiny boobs, slimmer hips, protruding hip bones…
The list never seemed to end. With such a negative body image, I didn’t see the same things she saw – not even a little bit.
Last weekend I found myself on the other side of the dressing room door. I was in a popular denim shop with a bunch of other mothers my age. We were all standing there, swiping through our cell phone screens in between looking at our beautiful daughters and convincing them how truly great they looked in every pair of jeans they tried on – because they absolutely did.
A woman looked at me and rolled her eyes as her daughter closed the dressing room door after telling her mom she didn’t like the way the jeans pulled at her thighs. “They have no idea just how firm and perfect they really are. And they won’t, either. Well, not until they are like, our age.” We exchanged a nervous laugh because there was so much truth and sadness in her statement.
My 12-year-old daughter stands at 5’4″. She is in-between girl sizes and women sizes, but we were able to find a few pairs that looked fantastic on her. I could tell by the length of time she took trying on each pair, and the reluctant way she opened the door, she wasn’t happy with what she saw in the mirror.
It’s hard being on the other side of this trying to convince our daughters they are perfect just the way they are, and should appreciate the bodies they have, because they’re the only ones they will ever get. Not because it takes effort – it’s our job as mothers to teach them these truths. It’s painful because we want them to notice it themselves.
But then I think back to 30 years ago. I remember the 12-year-old girl who stared at me in the mirror. I wanted so much to like the way she looked, but I didn’t. I wanted so much to not put so much importance into my appearance, but I did. There wasn’t anything anyone could have said or done to make me feel as beautiful and strong as I truly was then. Not my friends, not my sisters, and not my mother.
We are aware the same feelings run through our own children. As difficult as it is to witness, we don’t give up on our kids. We keep encouraging them. We are always there to cheer them on. We continue to build them up. It doesn’t matter if they are nervous for a test, a big game, or on the other side of the dressing room door.
It’s just what we do.