A few days ago, my four-year-old daughter looked at me and said, “Mommy, you’re gorgeous. You don’t need mascara or lipstick.” I wish I could say I fully believed her.
But I didn’t. And I haven’t, for a long time. At 35, I’ve been hating aspects of my body for at least 25 years. And although I’m learning to change my self-perception, and working every day to see myself through a lens of love and gratitude, 25 years is a hell of a habit to break.
It’s a challenge I’m up for, though. I owe that to myself. I owe that to the girl I was. And I definitely owe that to my daughters.
I remember when the self-body-shaming began. I was about 10 years old and suddenly it dawned on me: I have thighs. At nine, I had legs. Like everyone else on the planet, male, female, adult, child. But now, at 10, the same age I developed my first crush on a boy, I realized I didn’t have legs. I had thighs. And I didn’t like them. Add into the mix that with puberty came hair, and now my thighs were not only too big, they were too hairy, and I, an introvert who very easily falls prey to feelings of shame, was doomed. I hid my thighs, hid my spirit—and so began my teenage years.
From that point on, subtly hating my body started impacting my decisions. When I started a new school in ninth grade, I was given an option: dance or PE. Even though I loved music and dance was intriguing, one small fact got in the way: dance required wearing a leotard, which required exposing said thighs. I said no, and chose PE, and followed that up with a few years of basketball, which I hated and was terrible at. All because I didn’t want my thighs to see the light of day.
And the micro decisions continued. Choosing a one piece instead of a bikini. Slouching forward instead of standing straight. Wearing a low-cut blouse because my boobs were amazing to distract from other parts of my body. Did my friends and family know I didn’t love myself? No way. Most reading this will probably be surprised to hear I felt this way at all. Because it wasn’t overt. It was subtle. And as a result, this pattern of feeling less than dangerously continued, undetected for weeks and years and decades.
The thing is, my thighs were never a problem for the outside world.
My own subjective self-judgment was enough to condemn myself to 25 years of feeling unworthy, unwanted, unlovable. After having twins in 2012, I came to realize just how beautiful my body had been back then. In my twenties, I was 25 pounds thinner, my thighs svelte, my stomach flat, my lean, strong, and flexible body able to fit in a size 2 or 4, no problem. But back then, it wasn’t enough. I didn’t have the elusive thigh gap, there was always someone around who was thinner, and I never, not for one moment, paused to relish my healthy, profoundly graceful, and covet-worthy body.
And so now, at 35, with two daughters to raise, I’m faced with a decision: Do I continue to hate my thighs and pass on to my children a legacy of self-loathing? Or do I embrace them? Do I love every inch, so that they will love every inch, regardless of how many inches it is we’re talking about? Can loving myself today make up for 25 years lost?
The answer is, I’m not sure. I want to say that loving yourself is like a light switch, where once you flip it all is well. But if you’ve gotten this far, you know, and I know, that loving yourself is a wave. You rise, you fall, the trick is only that you keep going.
I will love myself, my face, my body, and especially my thighs, so that my 10-year-old self can know that her suffering wasn’t in vain.
I see her and I’m ready to love her—finally. I only wish I got here sooner.