Big “a-ha” moment this week.
I was in my bedroom. Hubby and baby girl (4 months) were also there. I was trying on some of my pre-pregnancy pants for the first time since giving birth (insert applause here – every woman deserves it. Wowza). I had been feeling pretty good, and so expected to slide those pants right up and effortlessly hook the button through the button hole, smoothing my hands down my legs like a woman in a Special K commercial. You know the one…
Anyway, you can probably see where this is going. It didn’t go to plan.
I heaved and pulled, and finally got them up. Sort of. Then I “did up” the button, and that was just not pretty or comfortable. Disappointed, I released the pants of their irrational task and put them back in the farthest recess of the closet. I said something to my husband to the effect of, “Ugh, I look like crap”, which of course he disputed as a good husband does. In that moment, my eyes caught my daughter’s.
She was smiling up at me from her swing, big brown eyes and gummy mouth. She shook her little monkey toy at me and babbled something of great import. In that instant, my heart sunk and I not only looked like crap (in my eyes), I felt like crap.
I’ve spoken about my experience with eating disorders before (Juggling (or Dropping the Ball)), and how important it is to be aware of our words and how they impact others. As I looked down at my beautiful, babbling baby girl, my heart sunk at the thought of what I was teaching her with my words. Of course, I know that at 4 months she doesn’t understand me, but if I started now…
I can tell you the instant I developed an eating disorder. I can tell you exactly who said what, what I was wearing, the time of day… you get the picture. A seemingly innocent comment that set off a chain of behaviour that left me very ill, depressed, and in need of clinical help. Of course I don’t blame that person. I was clearly vulnerable in some way, and a predisposition had been brewing under the surface for a long time. However, I think it is crucial that we stop and think before we speak. Always.
As a mother, I want to be a safe place for my daughter. I want to be the love, support, warmth, and encouragement for her. I can’t control what others say around her and to her, but I can control what I say around her and to her. And I can control how I react when she comes to me with issues, concerns, tears, anger, frustration, and questions. My stepdaughter (who incidentally is a long, lean athlete, not that it matters) once said that she knew she was chubby. My heart started fluttering fast and I felt a hot flush creep up the back of my neck. Instant anxiety. Needless to say, I ruined an opportunity to have a meaningful conversation with her and instead said firmly, “No you’re not! Don’t say that!” I don’t want to impose my experience on them as young girls and women, but rather I want to use that experience to help them navigate the judgmental parts of society they may (will) encounter. I owe it to them as children. As women. As beautiful babies who are vulnerable to the words of others. Particularly my words.
So I made a promise to myself that day, looking in the mirror and then back at my daughter. I will never speak negatively about myself or critique my body in front of her. I will celebrate women and girls for their intelligence and personalities first, over their bodies and physical appearance.
I owe it to her to do that.
Because society will do its best to counter that – to make her insecure, fell less than, feel that men know best what she should be. Society will knock her down in order to sell her something that will pick her back up. I will do my best to help her build her strength, confidence, self-assuredness, and empathy for others. To build her up so that she will not be knocked down. And so that she may pull others up with her.
I owe it to her.
Who do you owe it to?