On a recent trip to the Midwest to visit family, we took a slight detour to a state park to stretch our legs and explore a new place. Platte River State Park in southeast Nebraska has a sweet little waterfall a short hike from the parking area, which provided us the perfect diversion to break up our trip.
While there, my husband snapped this amazing photo of our oldest daughter sitting atop the falls.
There are so many things to love about this picture. My daughter is actually looking at the camera and smiling, my younger daughter and I are also in the photo (and we all know how rare it is for Mom to be caught on camera), and we’re all in focus. The setting is beautiful and serene, and it captures a lovely memory for our family.
And you know what my very first comment was when my husband proudly showed it to me? “I look pregnant.”
I did recognize all of those other wonderful things, but immediately dismissed them as I zeroed in on myself, scrutinizing my appearance and the way that my shirt falls, making it appear as though I am pregnant (for the record, I am not).
Why do I do that? Why do women do that? I could tell that my husband was a little hurt by my initial comment–which of course made me feel guilty on top of feeling fat–but I couldn’t help myself. He hadn’t noticed my stomach at all and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t also focused on all the beauty the picture contained.
As women, it is ingrained in us from an early age to be critical of our appearance. Blame society, blame the media, blame our own feelings of insecurity. Whatever the cause, it is hard to overcome. But now that I have daughters of my own, it is imperative to stop this impulse before it starts, or at least delay it as long as possible.
I have a relatively healthy body image (although I do confess to automatically sucking in my stomach for nearly every picture), but what kind of message am I sending my girls if the woman they consider to be the most beautiful in the world has nothing but disparaging things to say about herself?
I had a revelation one day about how much power I possess when it comes to my daughters’ future sense of self and what it means to be comfortable in their own skin. My older daughter was watching me get ready as she sometimes does, playing with my make-up and making funny faces in the mirror, when she picked up a set of tweezers and started to pluck at her hair. When I asked what she was doing, she said, “Picking out the gray hairs.”
Boom. I vowed then and there to stop that habit. I also began to be very careful with how I talk about beauty. When I actually wear make-up, I tell my daughters it’s not to make myself look beautiful. Rather, it’s to make myself look fancy and less tired. When my girls are present, I try to use the mirror as a tool to ensure that my clothes match and not a torture device to nitpick every imperfection.
Now I just need to work on practicing what I preach. When I get that rare compliment (see? I’m doing it again!), I will try really hard to not dismiss it and just say “thank you.” Beauty is in the eye of the beholder…even when that beholder is me.