|left: me, age 2 | right: Natalie, age 2|
One night I stood in the doorway of the playroom and I watched her. It was just the two of us home and she had my undivided attention. She stood in front of the mirror touching her reflection and then touching herself as if she was finally connecting the dots that she was seeing herself. She looked at her reflection so warmly. She attempted to fix her hair, making sure her bow was just right. She smoothed her tutu. She turned her foot to see how her over-sized heels looked. And then she did something that caught me so off guard, she hugged her reflection and gave herself a kiss. She turned to me "I so pretty, mama" and I told her, "yes, baby, you're so pretty". She turned back to her reflection and was simply elated with how she looked "Oh I love you, Natalie" she told herself with a smile.
That love of her appearance and her body? She doesn't get that from me.
Later that night after my shower I looked in the mirror hoping to have even a fraction of the self-love my two year old has, but I don't. Not even a little bit. In the mirror I saw the reflection of a tired, worn down mom. I saw the sprinkling of gray hair that I was warned would come so early. As I put on my moisturizer, I saw weight in my face that I have been assured isn't there. I looked at my reflection awhile longer. I saw arms that could benefit from more working out and toning, if only there was more time. I saw another 10 pounds around my midsection that I could stand to lose. I saw thin, white stretch marks on my midsection that, although a reminder of the life I carried inside me, I find so unattractive. I saw so. much. cellulite on my thighs that I could feel the tears prickle in my eyes. That night, as I do every time I look in the mirror, I found a million flaws in my reflection.
A few days prior to these events I had a terrible encounter with a former boyfriend as I was picking up lunch for a date with my sister. It was an encounter that, weeks later, still feels as fresh as it did then. He was a guy I dated in high school (yes, high school) whose words held such a power over me then that they played a detrimental risk to my health. A person who, unbeknownst to me until that day in Panera, still held some kind of power over my self-worth. This former beau had the audacity to let me know that it seemed apparent that I had not made an effort to lose all of my baby weight. Ouch. The reality is that I was down twenty pounds from my pre-pregnancy weight. He proceeded to tell me that while I looked good, I didn't look as good as I once did. Double ouch. As I left Panera, I replayed the encounter over and over again. I sat in my car and I cried. I felt like I was sixteen again, never good enough.
In the wake of my encounter with my ex, I spent hours pouring over diet plans and exercise regimes that, if I got up an hour earlier at 4:15, I could possibly incorporate into my day. I, once again, began secretly counting calories and calculating grams of protein. I cut out my Starbucks dirty chai, doubled up on water, and I opted for a plain, dry english muffin instead of a breakfast sandwich. I couldn't help but allow myself to believe that, just maybe, he was right. Once again I was placing my self-worth in the hands of someone else. It's a scary thing.
While he might be right, I don't look as good as I once did, I don't deserve to be made to feel this way by someone else. I am terrified of Natalie ever feeling this way. More than that, I am terrified of someone else making Natalie feel this way, especially if I am that someone. I try to watch my words with her when I talk to her about her body and how I talk about my own body in front of her. I wish my own mother had done this. So much of my mother's negative body imagine is engrained in my brain, passed down from one generation to the next. It needs to stop with me. I don't want to project my poor self-esteem on Natalie and strangle her happiness and stunt the self-worth she has so easily developed. I don't want Natalie to ever measure her value based on someone else's opinion of her appearance.
When Natalie looks to me to learn how to forge her way as a woman in this world, I need to be the best role model that I can be. I need to show her how to be brave, confident, compassionate. I want her to always think of me as someone who did her best to live a healthy lifestyle, someone who was confident in herself and her abilities, someone who tried to be a genuinely good person, someone who loved her daughter unconditionally, someone who allowed herself the Monday through Friday indulgence of a venti dirty chai.
Natalie gets so much of who she is from me, but I don't want her to develop negative feelings about her body like the ones I have about mine. I need to be better than that because I refuse to ruin the sweet little girl who loves the person she sees in the mirror. While I might struggle with loving the body I see reflected in the mirror, I have to try my hardest to make sure she doesn't get that from me.