I stand in front of the bathroom sink going through the motions of preparing to brush my teeth. My eyes stay fixed firmly on what my hands are doing even though I’m sure I could do the whole ritual with my eyes closed by now. In one smooth motion my toothbrush goes into my mouth with my gaze following along, never losing focus of the toothbrush, my eyes following the toothbrush as I move it across my teeth.
And then it happens.
I lean over the sink to spit and as I straighten up my eyes take in my reflection in whole. All the self identified flaws flood my brain. My eyes bounce from flaw to flaw as a ripple of disgust flows through me. As quick as they slipped my eyes regain focus on my toothbrush except now I’m seeing the not white enough teeth, the flat edges my dentist says age my smile.
Searching for something safe I fix my gaze on the sink but the seed of self loathing has been planted and now in the sink I see the toothpaste marks from the kids and the water spots on the faucet. I doubt myself, my abilities to do something so simply adult as keeping the bathroom pristine. The simple act of brushing me teeth has sent my self confidence spiraling down.
I grew up with a Mother who was never good enough for herself. I cannot remember a single time my mother complimented herself. Her nose was too big, eyes and lips too small, her legs too thick, hips too wide, arms too flabby. And in her mind there was nothing she could wear that her body didn’t ruin by being too fat. Even her ears were too pointy.
I, of course, thought my mother was beautiful. I envied the beautiful blue of her eyes, the narrowness of her nose. Her body radiated strength and she gave the most comforting hugs. She was perfect and I could never see the flaws she was so adamant she had. I didn’t know it at the time but my inner voice, the way I talk to myself, was being shaped by her words.
As hard as she was on herself I don’t recall my mother ever talking negatively about me. As I got older and more self conscious I remember her scoffing when I would say I was fat and telling me I wasn’t. But how could I believe her when my body was shaped like hers, like the one she’d so openly hated my whole life. How could I believe her when she told me I looked good when my nose was so much bigger than hers. Surely if her nose was too big to be attractive than mine must be overwhelming.
My mother’s doubts about herself tainted her compliments to me. Her inner voice took a stronger hold on mine.
I don’t blame my mother for my lack of self esteem. Most women know the pangs of feeling inadequate; of feeling too fat, or too small chested or not conforming to whatever the days societal beauty standards are. I’m just another one of those women, as was my mother before me.
And while my mother’s voice about my body was always gentle and kind, I can’t say that she had the same from her mother. So no, I don’t blame my mother for me adopting her inner voice. She tried her best to build me up with knowledge and tools she had. But I know better, so I can do better.
I compliment my children every chance I get with an emphasis on non physical traits. Their creativity, independence, compassion, dance skills and more are all up for praise everyday. I want my children to know they are more than their looks. Of course as their mother I think they are the cutest beings ever, and I let them know that too. I also try my hardest not to talk about my body or what I see as flaws in myself when my children are around.
Children don’t see your flaws the way you do. I always thought my mom was beautiful despite what I heard her say about her appearance. And my children are the same with me. When my four year old helpfully told me my butt was jiggly and preceded to smack it while giggling, he wasn’t saying my butt was fat or that there was anything wrong. He was making an observation; he could make my butt jiggle by hitting it.
So while I crumbled inside at his reminder of my imperfect body, I laughed alongside him and said yes it is. Because it was, and that is entirely okay. Children are brutally honest but completely nonjudgmental unless taught otherwise.
I need to take myself back to seeing myself through children’s eyes. Too see the scars on my body, the way it is shaped as nothing more than fact. To detach an emotional response from my physical appearance. I need to remember all the storms my body has weathered to get to where it is today, and to be thankful it had the strength and ability to walk those storms. So my journey of self acceptance goes on. Not for me, but for my children.
I have always wished my children could see themselves through my eyes, even for just a minute. To see themselves as radiant and perfect like I do. So for my children’s sake I will be kind to myself, I will speak only of my strengths and nothing of my flaws.
I will build myself up and in doing so I will build up my children. And when my inner voice inevitably becomes theirs it will be loving and kind.