Being the mother of a daughter comes with a special sort of responsibility, well, being the mother of a son does too, but it’s daughters I’m talking about here and building their self-confidence and body image so that they have a true notion of their intrinsic value and beauty and as the model of womanhood that they grow up with then that surely comes from us.
Have you seen that article doing the rounds about a little girl who knows she looks like her Mama and thinks her Mama is beautiful, so therefore she is beautiful? Only the mama in question criticises herself so if her Mama isn’t beautiful, how can she be? You can read it here. If you haven’t, then you should. It’s an eye-opening insight into how we, as mothers, can shape our daughter’s body confidence through the most thoughtless of comments, without ever saying anything about how she looks. Yet, we’re so self-critical, often out loud to our reflections or our friends, and how can they not pick up on this?
I took steps to try and change the way I spoke about myself, even before I had a daughter. I don’t want my son to look at women critically any more than I want my daughter to look at herself that way. I made sure to admire the strong legs I used to carry my babies, the stripes they wrote onto my belly as they grew, the creases round my eyes put there as I stayed up all night feeding and soothing them and the lines at the corners they caused with their smiles.
Over time I even came to believe in these truths. I like my thighs in a way I never used to and getting older holds less fear when I think of the history that will be written into my face with the wrinkles. But these only address the superficial, not how I felt about myself underneath it all.
Then my daughter was born. Now, my son looks like a little Man-mini-me. Everyone who’d met my husband would comment on how much my son looked like his daddy until I began to feel more like an incubator than a DNA contributor. Not so with our Girl. She’s a perfect blend of both of us, though some days she looks more like him and some, like today, she looks so much like me it’s as if a baby photo of mine has come to life a la Harry Potter.
I gaze at her and think what every mother has felt since time immemorial “My God, she’s so beautiful. I mean so so beautiful.” I’ve not seen anything so beautiful since my son was born and when she smiles I feel as though something heavy is pressing down on my chest as it tightens with love so hard it feels almost like pain. But she looks like me. She looks just like me. Now either I can indulge in the kind of cognitive dissonance that allows me to think she’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen and that she looks like me, but I’m not beautiful, or I can just accept a new view of myself.
That’s the gift my daughter has given me: to see myself as beautiful right down to the bones for the first time since I started to criticise my reflection in the mirror years ago. A fair exchange for the gift of life I think.
How does your daughter make you feel?