My daughter is still small and cloaked in innocence. At six, she proudly proclaims beauty in herself and others. She is a noticer, always remarking at eye color. Often taking stock of shapes, sizes, and variations in physical features. This ongoing character study is free from preference or judgment for now. Just an untouched wonder and curiosity for the difference.
I know this beautiful perspective will take on unwelcome influences before long.
Her own confidence radiates. She is a tiny sun with messy hair and muddy hands. She grins wide and proud, showcasing missing front teeth. Her self-image does not waver with mismatched socks and much of her dinner on her shirt. Instead, she blooms brightly, on her own and beside her friends, where comparison and critical self-awareness are not yet rooted. She is light and carefree with play eyeshadow poorly drawn on her lids. She is my beauty — mind, body, and soul.
I can’t know for sure when the brain connections will be made for her. The ones that will lie and change and distort her image of herself. There is no way for me to run defense for her forever. Or to moderate those damaging playground conversations that will come. Even if I could, I’m sure she wouldn’t want me to. At some point, peer opinions will begin to rank more highly than my reassuring words and hugs. And some of those opinions will most certainly be unkind, underserved and at worst, irreversible.
If I can’t stop that day from coming, I will prepare my daughter’s armor as best I can.
Approaching 40, my own appearance has seen many changes over the years. Deep chicken pox scars and fine lines stare back at me in the mirror. Rosacea traces a hot path across my cheeks. I feel the familiar tug and burn when I smile — the scar a reminder of the tumor that claimed a piece of my lip years ago. I’m able to look at these things mostly impartially now. Both because I’ve grown as a person, and also because I must. As a mother, the example I set every day through my words and actions is the foundation of my daughter’s lifelong relationship with herself.
My captive audience will not learn body shame from me. I cannot let it happen. And as much as it’s my job to protect my daughter, she continues to protect me, too. How is it possible to feel bad about a body that your child loves so much? A mother’s body is her child’s home. The short, sturdy, muscular legs that I spent countless years at odds with are now her treasured nest. With her head resting softly on them, small arms wrapped gratefully around, my legs, like the rest of my body, are loved, valued and unapologetically imperfect.
They say the parent’s voice today becomes the child’s inner voice tomorrow.
So, I will continue to fill that script with gratuitous self-loving kindness, as long as she will hear it. Built very much like me, my daughter is strong — mind and body. Her powerful legs have propelled her to early walking, confident climbing and the authoritative gait of a strong (tiny) woman walking. When that notion comes that she is somehow short of beautiful, and I know it will, I hope that inner voice I have tried so hard to build for her will speak loudly then.