It’s happening. My five-year old is picking up on “beauty standards” and it’s damn near heartbreaking. About a week ago she expressed to me that she wanted us to buy her a painless hair removal tool she saw on a commercial, “no” I said, “you don’t need that.” “But it won’t hurt me, the commercial said that it is painless” she replied. I let the conversation fade out with a quick word on the natural tendencies of our bodies to grow hair, not just on our heads. She expressed resentment at the thought of it. I wished there was someone I could call and scream at to make that commercial disappear forever. I thought of all the other little girls sitting there, being indoctrinated into beauty culture on that very day, by that same stupid commercial… or by the hundreds (thousands… millions?!) of other commercials or media they may be exposed to. Maybe it would happen tomorrow. Maybe it had happened already. Either way, one thing I know for sure is that it will happen. My children will have images of unrealistic standards shoved down their throats and there is little I can do to stop that. Hours later, it dawned on me. That little painless hair remover may not physically hurt you, but it will hurt you! It will hurt you, it already has.
The way many of us feel about ourselves is not the way we should feel. It’s the way we have been made to feel. It’s the way we were suggested, even pushed, to feel. The way we think we should feel. And seeing it happen to someone so perfect and pure, someone so innocent, is beyond disturbing. I can remember how it felt in middle school to realize that my hips, legs and thighs were double the size of my friends. Somewhere around the age of thirteen, I can remember the way I lied about my stretch marks during camp when a boy pointed them out. The way I bled and cried and cried over the curse of it. The way I tried so hard to pick the right outfit to cover, shape, hide. I can vividly remember how it felt as a freshman in high school to look in the mirror and truly hate what I saw reflecting back to me. During that time it felt like I couldn’t measure up because my measurements were not near small enough. Trying to fit in genuinely felt exhausting. What I would give to go back and tell that girl how perfect is an illusion, and how enough I already was.
As I reached the end of my senior year of high school something finally clicked, and I was able to work through some of the negative aspects of my self view over the next few years in college, just in time for me to become a mother. Somewhere along the way it sunk in that there are entire industries built off of our insecurities, business models that hope we will continue to feel like we can’t cut it as is. Escaping that mentality wasn’t easy so the fact that I did makes me feel lucky. I know that so many others (men included) don’t get past the idea of the ideal until much later in life, if ever.
When I had my children, I knew that I could love what was to become of my body after because I had already stopped believing that my worth was directly connected to the size of my jeans. But what I did not expect was just how strongly becoming a mother would make me realize how much I really believe in spreading self-love. Because now I deeply believe that if I can love myself fully and without inhibitions, maybe my children can do that too. Maybe they can skip the hard years. A momma can hope, right?
Even though it has been years since I felt ashamed of this body of mine, I’ve still found myself hiding it. Covering the natural curves of my hips. Being sure to downplay the truth of my body shape, in hopes that I don’t offend those around me, that I don’t willingly “mark” myself, make myself a target for the unwanted looks and whispers. I love my body, but I still fear it at times. And in owning that, I am able to own the fact that there is still work to be done.
Loving yourself fully doesn’t mean not taking care of yourself. Often times people believe that the “self love movement” is all about being okay with treating your body however you want, for better or worse. For me, it’s all about knowing that my value as a person is not relative to how I appear at any given moment. It’s making choices that feel good and right for me, regardless of if the people around me would make that same choice. It’s about honoring and loving my own body above other bodies, and listening to it, allowing it to grow and change as it needs to.
I want that inherent knowing for my children, I want that for me, and I want that for you.
And now this part is directed to my girls (who I know will find these words somehow) and to anyone else who needs to hear this:
When you see a picture, or a video, or a movie, or even a Snapchat (or whatever you have in the future) take it with a HUGE grain of salt, because the truth is it takes a TEAM to make that happen. It took all hands on deck to get the body sexy enough, to get the hair to fall just so, to get the makeup that perfect. There’s someone whose sole job is to keep it all in place, someone who knows exactly when to snap the picture and exactly when the light is hitting them at the perfect moment. And then after that there are people who EDIT that shit. Even after all that hard work, they still fix the tiny imperfections so you would never even know they were there.
What you’re seeing over and over again, it’s not real. It’s not even close. YOU are real. And there’s nothing wrong with you, it’s okay to love you. And if that feels really hard to do, find me, and let me be the one to tell you the truth of your REAL perfection.