I screwed up this weekend. My daughter told me a story, and all of my learning, all of my grownupedness, and all of my feminism went out the window, and I was a teen again, living in my insecurity. I know better than that. I expect better than that. She deserves better than that.
The story: My daughter is 13 and went to the town center to hang out with a friend. While they were walking around, a group of teenaged boys (according to her, much older) walked by, and one said, “My friend thinks you’re cute,” laughed, and kept walking.
Here’s the part where I screwed up: She was upset, and I said, “So what, that’s nice.” Oof. The look she gave me. In her eyes, I could see my failure as a parent and woman. It wasn’t until later that I understood where my comment came from.
My daughter and her friends have a more positive relationship with their bodies than I did at their age. (Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock)
Like most girls, I was hugely insecure in middle and high school. I hated my looks. I looked like a child in middle school while other girls were already womanly. I was tiny (not even 5 feet yet), flat and straight, my hair wouldn’t perm, my nose was too big, and my eyes took up my whole face. In high school, I suddenly grew curves and a C cup, and thank God grunge was in, and I could hide it all under huge shirts. No one could want me. I was sure of it.
None of these thoughts are or were unique to me.
And then I got a boyfriend and suddenly found my body and saw it was of use, and it became my everything. It was the thing that was attractive about me. Because it couldn’t be my mind, or my ideas, those hadn’t changed. My body had. So I lapped up the attention. I broke up with boys and dated others.
I laughed when men made comments on the street. I wore tight tops, hoped for comments, and was saddened when they didn’t come. I put all of my hopes in that body of mine. My mistake came in thinking my body had given me control.
But I gave that body away so quickly. To their comments, their leers, their wants, and needs. I thought I would gain something by giving it up, though even now, I can’t tell you what. I starved that body. I worked that body into shape. I dressed it up and put it out for the show as though the rest of me was useless.
I thought that if a boy or a man loved my body, he loved me. So I gave it away again and again, looking for love. But when I finally met the man who would be my husband and the father to my children, I had put that girl behind me. I had put my passions toward teaching and theater and friends. I had grown tired of separating body from mind and found a way to work them equally, sometimes even like them both.
I became terrified that I would have a girl when I was pregnant. With all of my past harboring squatting rights in my heart, how could I raise a daughter? How could I strengthen her and keep her safe? How could I let her know her beauty without making that beauty all important? There are so many minefields. How would I avoid them all?
Now that very daughter is going to high school next year, and she looks just like I did, and God, she is beautiful and strong, funny, insecure, intelligent, and so much more worldly than I was at 13. And I am terrified. But I have brought her this far. We have almost finished middle school, and I have walked that fine line just above the minefield, only occasionally setting one off.
But there is no right answer here, as much as I want one. I will make my mistakes, and she will make hers. And we will keep walking that line, hopefully together, for as long as we can.
She and her friends, her generation, have a different relationship with their bodies than I did as a child in the 90s. They wear sports bras to school and show off their midriffs, but it is not for the boys. I believe her when she tells me that.
She is comfortable with her body in a way I never was. She thinks it’s gross that a boy, three years older, would look at her or say she’s cute. Her body is not for him. It’s for her. She is already so far ahead of where I was, and while it doesn’t mean I have nothing to fear in the future, she’s undoubtedly starting in a stronger place. I think that’s all I could ask for.
Cost of Beauty: A Dove Film | Dove Self-Esteem Project
More Great Reading:
Tips for Body Positivity: Ways to Feel Better About Our Bodies (The Jed Foundation)
Dear Mom of High School Freshman
Middle School Survival Guide for Parents from a Teacher and Mom of 4
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