LUCY: Mommy! You’re all wet and naked!
ME: I know. I just took a shower.
LUCY: A shower? With soap?
ME: That’s right.
LUCY: Did you wash your pits?
ME: Of course.
LUCY: And your boobies?
ME: Lucy, not appropriate.
Lucy is momentarily silent as she intently stares at my boobs.
ME: Lucy, seriously, stop looking at my boobs.
LUCY: But I like your boobies. They’re all jiggly!
ME: Yep, they are.
LUCY: And, your tummy is jiggly too.
ME: Yep. That’s partially because you and your brothers lived and grew in my tummy.
LUCY (now pointing at my stomach): Hey, what’s that mark?
ME (touching a stretch mark): This?
LUCY: Yes. You have lots of pink marks on your tummy. Are they boo boos?
ME: No, those are stretch marks. They’re from having babies in my tummy too. Remember how big my tummy got when Baby Will was in it? My skin got all stretched out, and it left these marks.
LUCY: I remember. Your tummy was really, really big! So, that’s why you have those marks?
ME: Yes, baby, that’s why.
LUCY: They’re like stripes.
ME: They sure are.
LUCY: Like a tiger.
ME: Maybe Mommy is a tiger in disguise.
LUCY: Am I a tiger too? ROAR!
Lucy, at three years old, is supremely confident. She has no question about her beauty or worth. As far as she’s concerned, she can do anything. And, she's absolutely right.
My greatest fear is that, by watching me, she will start to become critical of herself. After all, isn’t a young girl’s first and greatest role model her mother? And, here I am – a woman who is deeply unhappy with her body and is lacking the motivation to change it.
I’ve never been one hundred percent comfortable in the skin I’m in – I’ve lost and gained hundreds of pounds over the course of my thirty-nine years. And, I have to admit that I’m especially unhappy with my body right now. You see, before I got pregnant for the third time, I had lost a significant amount of weight and was just beginning to feel good about how I looked. Then, as I celebrated the health of the baby and fully embraced eating for two once again, I managed to gain most of that weight back. Now, months after the baby was born, I still don’t fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes. And, even more upsetting, when I look in the mirror, I simply don’t like what I see.
To survive each day, I wear a false confidence and a sense of humor like armor, protecting me from the judgmental looks and words of others. I will laugh first at the fat joke. I will ignore the snickering kids. I will rise above any snide comment. But, I can’t protect me from myself – and I am a harsher judge than anyone else could ever be.
Then Lucy looks at me – even when I’m at my worst – and tells me that I’m beautiful. To her, my stretch marks are a tiger’s stripes. My body is her place of comfort. My imperfections make me her perfect mother. And, I know that I have to start believing her and trusting what she sees, before she begins to doubt herself.
So, when I get on the scale and she’s in the room, I tell her it says that I’m just right – that I’m just how Mommy should be. When she stands on the scale after me – always a mimic – I tell her it says that she’s perfect. I don’t want her to grow up with her sense of self tied to a meaningless number on a bathroom appliance. She, after all, is perfect to me exactly as she is.
When she looks at my flabby arms, thick thighs, or poochy stomach, I tell her that my body has served me well. When she asks me if her body will look like mine, I tell her that her body is strong and healthy. That, as she grows, she might get scars and marks on her body too, and that they are a record of a life lived fully. I don’t ever want her to look at herself in the mirror and wish she was someone else.
And, when she sees me trying on clothes that don’t fit, I tell her that Mommy just can’t make up her mind what to wear. That, like her, I have lots of clothes and sometimes it’s hard to choose. Then, I take her shopping with me and let her help me pick something beautiful that fits well, regardless of the size on the tag. I want her to know that size is just a number and that clothes can be replaced. What is irreplaceable is self-worth and self-confidence.
Perhaps these little lessons, causally shared in the bathroom stall or dressing room, are some of the most important that Lucy will learn. That life isn’t measured in inches and pounds – your weight won’t be etched on your gravestone. That happiness comes from the inside out. That examples of strength and beauty can be found in all shapes and sizes. That the true picture of yourself is what is reflected in your daughter’s eyes.
And, maybe instead of just teaching these lessons, I can once again start living them too.