I watch my 14-year old daughter stand in front of the mirror, bemoaning the barely-there circles under her eyes and the perceived thinness of her eyebrows. She works concealer under her eyes and darkens her eyebrows with I-don’t-even-know-what.
She was not born critiquing her looks. As a little girl, she danced around gleefully in the backyard, with sticky-from-a-popsicle hair, dirty, uneven fingernails, sporting a tutu and mismatched socks. She would smear makeup all over her face, not to conceal anything, but just for the fun of it. For the vibrant colors. For the artistry.
When did my daughter begin to doubt herself?
When did the self-doubt seep in? Was it because of too many glances in the mirror? Apps with too many filters? Too many subtle lies of perfection on TV? Fourteen years of passing comments that piled up into an insurmountable summit of collateral damage?
I remember being 14. Despising my body for everything it wasn’t. Crying every time I tried on a bathing suit in the store. Hating my flat chest and flatter butt. Hating my bad eyesight that required glasses or contacts. Disgusted over my pimples and pasty white skin.
I wanted different hair. Either straight or curly, blond or black, not this dishwater blond, wavy, weird in-between. I wanted bright blue or rich brown eyes, not these unremarkable, nondescript ones.
I wanted a darker complexion, thicker ankles, thighs that didn’t have a gap.
I wanted boobs. My friends all had boobs. Filled out bikini tops. Had cleavage. Had boys chasing after them. I so desperately wanted that same attention: to be desired, pursued, asked out.
I had my own insecurities as a young girl
I don’t remember when these obsessive insecurities started making familiar, comfortable tunnels in my brain. I don’t remember when it all began–the feelings of not being normal–mounting like a wave under my skin and creating far-reaching ripples.
The pressure would quietly threaten me for decades, ready at a moment’s notice to crash over my head and yank me under.
The worst was hearing rumors that people thought I was anorexic. Realizing that my being underweight was not just something I hated about myself but was a catalyst for rumors–others judging me for something just past my fingertips, just out of my reach.
I wore these words.
Words scrawled in imaginary Sharpie all over my body. Words from my own mouth and others’. Words like ugly, unattractive, worthless, anorexic, skinny, gross, flat.
Words that took years of mental scrubbing and a hot sinkful of tears to erase.
I realize now, now that I have a 14-year old daughter who I am desperately trying to teach to love her body just as it is, that I must learn to do the same for my own.
I must make peace with my body if my daughter is to love hers
I must look in the mirror and notice the sparkle in my still-nondescript eyes that comes from pursuing my passions and being creative and has less to do with physical attributes and more to do with the fire I carry inside.
I must lovingly stroke my soft little belly, the prior residence of my two extaordinary babies, a belly that doesn’t look quite right on someone with such a small frame, and I must stop trying to suck it in and accept it as it is.
I must appreciate my breasts that took 4 decades to grow and giggle at my childhood self that wanted more than anything to just be able to fill out a bra.
I must stop concerning myself with traits I see in the mirror of a 40-year old woman–wrinkles and sagging and gray hairs popping out–and examine the beauty that exists on opposite side of my skin. My brain and healthy organs and the way I piece together words and love with my entire being and live this life with all the energy and positivity I can muster.
I need to love myself the way I want my daughter to love herself
I can love myself the way I want my daughter to love herself: every flawed, ever-changing bit.
I can’t cover up my daughter’s mirror with a sheet or open her eyes to see what I do when I look at her. I can’t throw out her concealer and beg her to not conceal a single thing, physical or otherwise, about herself.
I can’t force her to feel any more magical about her image that I felt about mine as a 14-year old girl, or even a young adult. I can only pray that she discovers it sooner than I did.
I can embrace my own reflection. Here. Now.
I can accept myself: my imperfect, miraculous, beautiful masterpiece of a self, and recognize that it is exactly the woman God created me to be.
And this feels like a little bit of redemption and a whole lot of freedom.