My self image has never been particularly strong. Never marveled at the reflection that stares back at me from the mirror. Never felt extraordinary. I have always watched movies- you know the ones- where the main character enters a room from the top of a winding staircase with a breeze gently rustling her hair, and the room freezes. The crowd parts and everyone holds their breath. I longed to be that girl growing up. Maybe part of me still does.
Instead, I grumble mean comments to myself under my breath as I pass mirrors. I feel decent in my skin until I see a photo. Or look down at my feet and catch my belly protruding out in my peripheral vision. Now that pool season is approaching, I fret over the marbled skin that is exposed in a bathing suit.
I am in love with the body positivity movement- I just can’t get my own self image on board.
I don’t celebrate my body for what it does. What it’s accomplished. Instead, I berate myself for not making more time- more time to work out. More effort to continue to slim down and tone up. For not looking like I did 15 years ago. For not ‘bouncing back’ after building a perfect, frustrating, exhausting tiny human. For wearing the signs that my body did a miraculous thing.
It’s second nature to speak my thoughts out loud. To not only think the damning thoughts, but to utter them into the world. I would never think to speak to someone else the way I speak to myself- yet there is no filter of kindness that my words pass through when directed inward. There is no focus on the changes I have made. No appreciation for the ability to still throw my toddler into the air at his request. No comfort in how holding him- jostling him around during a tantrum in an attempt to break the stream of protests- feels natural and I don’t have to struggle. Just the focus on what I am not. What I wish I was.
I have started catching the words as they fall out of my mouth with abandon. Not for myself.
It should be for myself. It should be in the effort of self love.
But I am brutally honest here- why change that now? I have never thought to be kinder to myself. I have never made an effort to fully love my body- my appearance. I have only ever criticized and judged. “Ordinary” is the kindest adjective I use when describing myself- and that is a recent amendment. So my effort to be more conscious of my words isn’t for me. Not to improve my self image. My sudden resolution to filter my words is for my son. Because my words will help shape his view- of himself, of others. I don’t want his inner monologue to mirror that of mine. I don’t want him to only see what he hates when he looks in the mirror. I don’t want his memories of me to be self condemnation.
Magazines and the media get a lot of the blame for women trying to fit into a “perfect” mold. Don’t get me wrong, airbrushing and models that have had three kids and bear no signs three weeks after bringing their infants home do not minimize the expectations I put on myself. But it isn’t fair to place all of the blame there. Because it had to start somewhere. The standard of beauty was created somewhere- with some idea that was universally held. Magazines just capitalized on that idea. Use it to make money. Because women purchase their materials in hopes to acquire that secret knowledge that will get them what they have been searching for- acceptance. And I don’t mean to imply that women are searching for acceptance outwardly- though some are- I think most of us are searching for self acceptance. We are searching for that moment- that body type- that will make us like the reflection in the mirror. That will give us confidence. That will help us love ourselves a little bit more.
I can’t begin to postulate the origin of our particular beauty standards. Mostly because they seem to change from decade to decade. But I feel like I am helping to perpetuate it. I am passing my views and standards to my son- through my words. Because right now- if he had the words to say it- my son probably thinks I am beautiful. For no other reason than I am his mom and he loves me. When he looks at me he doesn’t see my stretched skin. He doesn’t see the extra weight I am still carrying. He doesn’t see the bags that linger beneath my eyes on some days or the grey hairs that have grown at my crown the last few years. I bet, if I saw myself through his eyes, I would see arms that feel like home-a safe refuge. I would see the wrinkles that appear at the corners of my eyes when he makes me laugh- a physical sign of the joy he brings me. The unruly curls that frame my face- reminding him of his. I would see love- and the beauty that reflects. I don’t want my words to alter that view.
If I continue to allow these judgments to escape my lips, I will.
I will effect his view with mine. Instead of seeing me as beauty, he will see the weight I grumble about. He will no longer think of me as strong, he will see me as fat. My own adjectives will change his. Which would be heartbreaking enough on it’s own, but I don’t think the corruption will stop there. I think it will change how he looks at himself.
Right now, my son looks in the mirror and smiles. When he sees my phone sticking out from my pocket, he points and says “Moose” for he knows that is where the collection of photos and videos of him reside. Videos that he loves to watch over and over again. He loves seeing himself. He loves seeing himself with me.
I cannot protect my son forever from the concept of judgement – of standards that he may strive to conform to. But I can damn sure do my best not to be the person that introduces it to him. That begins with stopping phrases like “Ugh, mommy needs to lose weight” from slipping into our atmosphere.
I may not be modifying my words for me, but that doesn’t make it any less important that I do. As a parent you want your kids to be better than you. Stronger. Smarter. More equipped for the world. Today, that starts with me being a little kinder to myself. And honestly, I cannot think of a better reason to.