Thursday, July 23, 2009

Modeling Beauty

My daughters are two-and-a-half. They are gloriously comfortable in their little bodies. Damian has just learned how to take off her clothes and pull-up all by herself (Yay! Potty-training is closer to reality!), so now she "wants to be a naked baby" nearly every waking moment. And of course, what one sister does, the other mimics.

Baby pudge, tan lines, marker stains, sticky fingers, smeared faces, dirt in their hair - they are fundamentally radiant, and they are confident.

I don't know when my own self-consciousness activated. I remember strangers and family comparing me to my own sister in my hearing. Even my father once told me of my sister, "She has a classic beauty, but you are beautiful." He may as well have called me "special." Then again, he also might have shown both my sister and me how beautiful our own mother was rather than chiding her to be ever thinner and more attentive.

Then there were the girls at school who developed earlier than I, the boys who made fun of my nose, my flat chest and my freckles, the endless, mindless celebrity critique in the media and, more importantly, at home. This actress had gained a few pounds. That one looked better in an earlier movie. Another could stand to change her hair, or her nose, or her height. The constant negative commentary directed at people who made their livings being beautiful built a mountain of self-doubt in a mostly ordinary girl.

It took years for me to become comfortable in my own body, my own face. Then I carried and birthed my own daughters. My body is changed. But, rather than seeing it as alien because it doesn't match mainstream magazine covers, I choose to grow comfortable with it again, to see it as a natural evolution. I want to live with my stretchmarks and soft skin as vainly as I did my tight belly and perky 34-Bs, now proud of what I am capable. And I want my daughters to see this - not me hiding in one-piece swimsuits with skirts or conservative pjs. I want them to know that real women don't look 16 forever.

I won't discuss comparative size or physical beauty with my daughters or around them. Everyone we know and love is beautiful to us as they are. For my toddlers, I creatively edit or avoid stories that speak of girls as pretty or graceful. Who says these hereditary crap shoots are the quintessential traits of a woman? What about bluntness and intelligence and courage?

Funnily, it's my daughters who are showing me how to be the woman I want to model for them. Baby pudge, freckles, breasts that have known their purpose and rarely-brushed hair. When I am at the beach with my girls I'm not worried anymore about whether my belly is sticking out too far, or my shoulders are sagging, or my hair is askew, or my swimsuit is up my butt with 2 lbs. of sand. Instead, they have taught me the joy of abandoning self-criticism in favor of jumping waves, watching fish, running after seagulls and sitting in wet sand digging for shells and clams.

My daughters have taught me that when we engage our surroundings, we aren't looking, and we don't care who is. That's a beautiful place to be.

- for Shape of a Mother