Someday, my daughter is going to look in the mirror and think she is too heavy. Or too skinny. Decide that she is beautiful, or decide that she is not. Today I reached the painful realization that my daughter is going to hurt.
Today I studied my daughter’s beautiful face. Her blue eyes sparkling, her little mouth in a perfect “O” as she points at something with excitement. I looked at her blonde wispy hair and her soft, perfect skin. I had envisioned my first child a girl with dark hair, eyes, and skin like her daddy. Instead, she is just like me.
I think about all the features she has of mine that I have hated in myself. The muscular legs, pale skin, light features. Things people have tried to tell me are beautiful but I didn’t care to hear. Things I find simply perfect on her. I think about how I want to undo every negative message I have been sent (and soon thereafter internalized) about how I look so that I can be the model of self-acceptance for her.
But I don’t have a magic wand, and I can’t undo things I have heard and seen and had ingrained in my sense of self. This leads me to the frightening conclusion that someday, my daughter might hate these things about herself too. This leads me to the frightening conclusion that someday, my daughter is going to hurt.
At times I have heard that I am too thin. Other times I have heard people talking about how I have obviously put on weight. I have been told I am too pretty to be taken seriously. I have been told to try and look less attractive. I have heard I am pretty, but not as pretty as so-and-so. I have heard that I am downright ugly. I’ve spent hours in front of the mirror hating what I see. I have known in moments that I am beautiful, and believed it. I have felt imprisoned by the way I look, good or bad. Imprisoned by the pressure to always look perfect. The shame that follows if I don’t.
She is just perfect the way she is. Wild hair, sleepy eyes, and button-nosed. Innocent. Content with pointing to some glittery letters and hearing my voice say her name. She isn’t burdened with the baggage that comes from simply being alive as a woman.
I can teach her the truth: that what we are on the outside is fleeting. People can gain weight, they can lose weight. People can have plastic surgery. Everybody ages. Beauty is so truly in the eye of the beholder, a matter of complete personal taste. I can teach her what I have learned: that most of the hurtful things you will hear will come from people who are hurting, who are working through their own painful demons.
It has become part of my psyche that beauty is required of me. Not that beauty is appreciated in me, it is required. There is a definite difference between appreciating beauty, which is healthy and lovely, and expecting perfection in every moment. I fight with this idea, an idea that has been entrenched so deeply in me. I swing between being openly defiant of this idea to the next week scolding myself for looking like a mess for my husband when he gets home. Days come where I feel really, truly, comfortable and beautiful in my skin, and days come where I am on the verge of tears because I just want to look pretty again.
Here is one thing I do know. What is the correlation between how good I look on the outside with how good I feel on the inside? Zero. The times I have been obsessed with the way I look have generally been times of personal struggle and unhappiness. Some of the times I have looked my very “best” I have been the least satisfied with myself. I think objectively, I am probably not my most “perfect” on the outside today, but I am at a much better, happier, more whole place right now than I was at my thinnest, tannest, most perfectly put together. I have seldom thought about the way I look when I am playing with Gia, laughing with my girlfriends over drinks or lunch, reading a good book, having a deep conversation, or on a drive with my husband. In short, all the best moments in life have pretty much nothing to do with my outer appearance.
I can blame some of my inner struggle on the media, on society, on harsh comments I have received. But I am not the victim of this story. My daughter will not grow up with a mother who blames everyone else for the way she feels. I will fill my life with more of the good stuff and less of the stuff that causes me to look in the mirror at my appearance with a disapproving eye. I don’t expect it to be easy, and I don’t expect myself to be perfect in my quest to be happy being “un-perfect”. And when that little blue-eyed, wispy blonde haired little angel grows up, I hope she will be so full of the “good stuff” there isn’t room in the mirror for hurt.