Becoming a parent and having a daughter really shifted my perspective in every way.
You see, I have always been quite concerned with my image, even before I realized it. There was a brief stint in my childhood (from ages 7-12) where I lived with my family in a tiny town in North Dakota. I have done my best to block out the pain of those years and can honestly say I remember very little from that time in my life. The bits I do remember are on either end of the spectrum. I loved the happy times with my pony and riding my bike around our vast property. I remember playing in the mud, catching frogs and playing school for hours on end. My favorite thing was frolicking along with my favorite dog of all time, Rudy the German Shepard.
But there are dark memories too. Some too much to share on a public forum, but lots of bullying and pain. I was a petite child and had also skipped a grade, so I was a year younger than my classmates. In a class of only 14 (give or take a few throughout the years) it is easy to stick out. I was smaller than the other kids and different. I hadn’t grown up with the other children, who had all known each other for years. My mom is English and I had been with my parents and English family in Colorado until that time. So, you see, I didn’t fit in and I was an easy target.
Here’s where the body image comes in. I was teased for being short, my shoe size was too small, my clothes were wrong, my ears stuck out (I was called an elf, a monkey, told never to wear my hair up and my ‘friend’ said once “you’ll never get your ears pierced will you? Because that will make them more obvious”), etc. Kids can be cruel. And when I returned from a trip to Colorado to visit my family in 6th grade, I found that only 2 of the kids in my class were speaking to me because a girl had started a vicious rumor about me when I was away. That girl was one of my ‘best friends’. I was crushed.
We moved back to Colorado the summer before 8th grade and even though I was nervous to start a new school I was thrilled to be away from the personal hell I was experiencing. I made friends right away in Colorado (including my very best friend to this day). Around this time strange things started happening…I blossomed. I got braces, went through puberty, got a perm (you know-that REALLY helped my appearance) and suddenly I wasn’t viewed in the same way by others. I went back to North Dakota for a visit and those same vicious peers had changed their tune, saying I was ‘hot’ and wanting to be my friend. Without realizing it at the time, I learned that looking good makes you valuable and not looking good makes you invaluable.
Fast forward to high school and just after. My self worth and identity was largely based on my appearance. I was beautiful, young and confident on the outside. But inside I believed that if I was no longer beautiful, I would no longer be valuable. It was a sad and lonely place, truly believing the only thing I had to offer was my looks. Because here’s the thing about looks that we all know, they are temporary. Despite the outward conversations about this not being true with my family, boyfriend (now husband) and church family, my inner dialogue was louder… “You are only as good as you look.”
When my daughter was born I worried so much about losing the baby weight and felt very, very uncomfortable being so ‘chubby’. As she started growing out of infancy I realized that she really emulated me and was (still is) my greatest admirer.
Something clicked. She was always going to be perfect to me. No matter what. No matter her shape, size, hair color, sexual orientation, wardrobe choices or college degree. She would always be beautiful. She would always make me stand in awe. That wasn’t going to change when she had a baby or gained 5 pounds or let her roots grow out.
So how was I going to instill that in her? I had to look at myself. What a slap in the face that was! I needed to change my own self image to give my daughter (and now also, my son) a good one.
I will spare you the details because I’m sure you have more to do today than read my life story, but basically I started doing the hard work of accepting what I was being told. Appearance really doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t. It’s a hard balance because I really do love clothes and pretty things, but I can love them and not need them to make me worthy. I can enjoy make up without teaching my daughter she needs it to be pretty. I started going to the store in yoga pants. I stopped wearing makeup every time I stepped out. And guess what? I didn’t feel worse about myself, I felt better. I felt free and my husband still loved me. I wasn’t a worse mother, friend or daughter! I realized and for the first time truly believed that my self worth is more than my appearance. It is a constant battle in our society. I have vowed to never call myself fat in front of my children and do everything I can to teach them they are loved and valuable no matter what they look like. I want them to know that others are, too.
I would love to hear your thoughts, is this something you’ve felt or ever dealt with? The more women I talk to the more I find have the same deep rooted insecurities, many still without even knowing it.
Not only were those people cruel, but they were wrong. I wish I would’ve known at the time that I am more beautiful now with stretch marks, extra weight and pierced ‘monkey’ ears than ever before.
Because I am a mother.