“Mommy, come quick!” my daughter shouts at me from the upstairs bathroom. I fly into the room expecting to find a child half-drowned in the bathtub. Instead I find my five and a half year old standing on the stepping stool and staring at her underwear-clad body in the mirror.
“I tilted it down and now I can see my whole body,” she exclaims as she twists side to side and smiles at her reflection. She flexes her arm and comments on her growing muscle. “I’m super strong.”
To my eyes she is perfect. She is perfect in her own eyes as well.
Someday though, someone will tell her that she is not perfect. As this thought crosses my mind, I feel the anger of a thousand voices welling up inside me. Someone, some asshole is going to come and tell my perfect child that her feet are too big and she has her father’s nose. They will look at her skinny torso and suggest that she should eat more or they’ll look at her little thighs and suggest she eat less. Someone is going to come in one day and change the way my daughter sees herself forever.
As she sashays in front of the mirror, my mind is racing as I try and think though who it might be.
She has a gaggle of girlfriends at school and some of them have older sisters. Will it be one of them? It’s so hard to imagine. She’s at the age now that the worst insult possible is “I won’t be your best friend ever again”, a situation generally resolved within twenty four hours. Telling one another “I don’t like the way that you look” is not even in their lexicon.
It won’t be the TV…Dora dresses like a third grade boy, Caillou practically is a third grade boy and even Minnie Mouse manages to keep her assets covered. No, I don’t think that the nefarious confidence-sucking body image vampire is going to come in on the television cable.
I step over to my gorgeous child and give her a hug. “Look at us, mommy,” she says, pointing up towards the mirror. I stare up and absentmindedly begin fingering the grays in my hair. As she primps and poses, I frown and poke at the bags under my eyes and reach to try and smooth my forehead. I hear a giggle and turn to see my daughter copying my crazy faces. Then she looks over at me and says, “Mommy, you’re beautiful.”
It turns out that I’m the asshole. I’m the jerk that is teaching her about what society thinks. I’m the one introducing the ugly thoughts. She tells me to flex and I start moaning about arm fat. She tells me to wear my black pants and I tell her that my butt is too big. She says, “You’re beautiful, mommy!” and I say no and start pointing out my faults. I will be the one to tell her that her definition of beauty is wrong. I’ll start her second-guessing. I’ll be the one to bring the magazine definition of attractive into the house and tell her every single way I don’t measure up.
“I want to grow up and look just like you, mommy.”
She isn’t seeing the same person I see – a haggard, middle-aged mom who constantly belittles herself. She wants to look like the wild-haired goddess she sees – who scares away the bad men, holds her close and showers her with love and affection.
I extend my mental fingers and claw the negative thoughts right out of my head. I will not be the one that sucks away her self-confidence. I will not subject her to a death by a thousand cuts…the never-ending stream of judgement and doubt that runs through my brain.
I will wake up tomorrow and tell her that we are beautiful. And I will do it again day after day after day until I believe it as firmly as she does. Someday, someone may tell her that she isn’t perfect. But dammit, I swear that this person will not be me.