How my daughter's body acceptance taught me to accept mine, too
My daughter is nearing 10. She’s not quite a tween, and the term “child” is beneath her. Her teenage years are ahead, but she doesn’t mind that I still purchase items meant for “girls” (and she’s okay with it — sometimes). But her body is already beginning to change, much like mine did when I was 9 years old.
A tall girl with big, swallowing eyes and a booming voice that carries far past our small town, she’s never been one to shy away from being unique and authentic. When she was younger, I was constantly awestruck when she’d sing along to a toy keyboard at the top of her lungs, not a care in the world. So confident, so free. I wished I had a fleck of her confidence, and honestly — still do.
I’m 34 years old. Two kids have developed in — and exited — my body. Even before that, I had my share of weight fluctuations, never feeling at home in my own skin whether I was a size 4 or 24. When I look in the mirror, I see a body that’s worn and ragged. It’s been through war. There are battle scars and stretch marks. There are discolorations. Things sag and sway. Even on a good week, the number on the scale isn’t what I wish it would be.
I know most women share these insecurities, but as my daughter matures, I’ve been taking longer glances at the person in the mirror. I wonder: if my husband and children see me as beautiful, are my views of myself askew?
I ponder the thought as my daughter dresses herself for the day, selecting wildly mismatched coordinates. We love it; we revel in it. But in recent months, I’ve noticed her tops are too small for her chest and her belly puffs out a bit over her shorts. It’s that awkward phase — I remember it from my own childhood. Only, she doesn’t wince when she looks in the mirror.
We’ve spoken about bras, and at the moment, she is revolting against them. She’s 9! Of course she’s not excited to wear one — I wasn’t. I try my best not to push the subject, noticing that her growing body hasn’t yet changed her perception of herself. She’s still so confident and free.
She sees past the insecurities I see in myself, and she sees past the insecurities I thought she’d notice in herself.
Then it hit me: She won’t grow up with the discomfort I felt in my skin because she’s too busy navigating her own body, thoughts, and feelings. So simple. And yet, I hadn’t embraced the fact that she’s her own person, not dictated by what I feel to be true about me. It’s her body. Not mine. Hers. And this is a beautiful thing — I can be her mother, and still help her make decisions about her own body early on.
After our more recent conversation (which happened to be about periods), I stood before the mirror again. This time, I looked through my daughter’s eyes, and tried to see what she sees.
She tells me I’m pretty, nearly everyday. She thinks I’m smart when I help her with homework. She says I have muscles and I’m strong because I run. She loves me, she and wouldn’t be able to understand why I wouldn’t love myself. To imagine her bearing witness to the many hateful things I whisper to myself about my body — it makes me cringe.
I don’t want her to learn self-hatred when she is so full of love for herself. It is my duty to preserve that love, to cultivate it — not steal it.
Looking at my reflection this way, I began to view things differently. My daughter is right. I do look pretty today. I do have some muscles that make me strong. How can I teach her self-love if I don’t apply the same?
In that moment, I forgave myself, and I celebrated.
I celebrated the two gorgeous kids that grew inside my body, blessing me with scars, discolorations, and stretch marks. I celebrated the weight fluctuations that built my character and taught me what it means to be healthy. I celebrated the worn and ragged body that sags and sways, no matter the number on the scale, because I’m doing the best I can to take care of myself.
My daughter has always understood how to do that, and now, I’m starting to understand.
Because of her.