Last week, I took my 3 year old swim suit shopping. When we got back with her new suit, she couldn’t wait to try it on. As soon as I finished helping her into it, I told her I wanted to take her picture to send to Daddy! She began dancing, making funny faces at my camera, and playfully spinning around. And then suddenly she stopped. She looked down at her swim suit, stuck out her tummy, rested her hands around it, and stared silently.
–For a moment, I couldn’t read her thoughts, and I panicked. Was she actually studying her stomach? Had she noticed me looking in the mirror with disappointment before?–
Finally, she looked up at me, and back at her belly before smiling and saying, “Awww! Look at this cute little belly!” And I breathed a sigh of relief. Immediately, my mind went to thinking about how to preserve her positive self image. When you’re three, complete strangers tell you you’re adorable, cute, and beautiful all the time. It’s sweet and wonderful and it makes my daughter smile (and usually nod in agreement!), but at the same time, as her mother, I am left thinking about all of the other beautiful qualities she has. I am left thinking about what her inner voice will tell her about herself as she grows older, at times when outside voices aren’t as kind. Of course I want her to feel confident in her body, but far beyond that, I want her self worth to be placed on more than the outside view of strangers.
As I began to think about how I can instill self worth and confidence in my daughter, it occurred to me that my actions are her best teacher- which is, admittedly, terrifying. I have always struggled with body image. Since I’ve had her little eyes and ears in my life, I have made an effort not to criticize myself in front of her, and I have tried to hide moments of insecurity about the way my mommy body looks in a swim suit, but the more I thought about it- the more I realized that wasn’t really enough.
The best I can do for her is to not just tolerate, but appreciate my body. My stomach has been stretched and there is absolutely evidence of that. The bags under my eyes are evidence of my toddler being comforted, anytime, day or night since the day she was born. My hips were widened to push a little human out of them, and have grown stronger because that little human has found rest on them for more than 3 years. My body is soft, but it has given life and sustained it. Bottom line: I am happy and healthy, (though it’s possible I do have too much ice cream in my life). Lyla won’t remember my dress size, but she will remember how I mothered her, and how I felt about myself while I was in the trenches.
Beyond that, I have made it a personal goal to talk less about my daughter’s physical attributes, and more about her beautiful soul. I hope she knows I think she is absolutely beautiful, but even more, I hope she knows how much I love her honesty, her silliness, her sweetness, and her absolutely wonderful spirit. I compliment her daily, but instead of using words like “cute” and “adorable”, I’m making an effort to use words like kind and gentle. I’m placing daily importance on the fruits of the spirit (love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control), and focusing on the condition of Lyla’s heart, because hers is honestly one of the kindest I have ever known, and I feel a strong conviction to protect it.
Moms, this summer, having a “swim suit ready body” is as simple as putting your swim suit on your body. Beyond that, for this upcoming season, my hope is that I can be a truly healthy example of a woman whose worth comes from inside. My hope is that I can acknowledge the wonderful qualities and actions I see in others in front of my daughter, and that my compliments to other mamas at play groups and Bible Study will go beyond “cute shoes”, all the way to the strength and heart of that mother. I hope my daughter internalizes the unconditional love I have for her- wholly and completely, from the inside out.