Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Mothers Bare All

Girl Before a Mirror by Pablo Picasso
 The other night I stepped out of the shower right as my seven year old rounded the corner into the bathroom. She stopped short and gave me a long once over. I involuntarily cringed and then sighed. Here it comes, I thought, bracing myself.

Let's talk about the "it."

In the last few months I've listened to several mothers lament the tragic landmark when their sweet child, usually between the ages of five and seven, sits up and notices specific attributes about their mother's body. And not just the "I'm a boy, you're a girl" sort of awareness that comes much earlier. I'm referring to the compare and contrast, loudly vocalized, matter-of-fact observations that many mothers are less than excited to hear. Some examples.

A six year old boy tells his sister he doesn't have nipples. His mother says, "Yes you do, they just don't grow big into breasts. The middle part of my breast is my nipple, same as yours," she explains. The boy considers this and then says, "Yeah, well my nipples don't point to the ground."

A six year old girl is hiding behind the door as her aunt tries on various pairs of jeans. The woman has a newborn baby and is desperate to be done with maternity clothes. The little voice behind the door finally calls out, "Hey, maybe if you wish upon a star you won't be too fat for those jeans."

"Mommy, your tummy looks like it is growing a baby in it," says the little girl as she gently pats her mother's stomach. "Well it's not," answers the grumpy mother.

"Your just a little fat mom. Not really fat, just a little. But that's okay because mommys are supposed to be snuggly." 

After hearing all these stories can you blame me for bracing myself for the worst?

A long pause followed my daughter's stare and in rapid succession these are the thoughts that went through my head: Why am I cringing here? This feels like the wrong reaction. She's going to be a grown woman too someday, and that almost guarantees some sort of issue doesn't it? Short legs? Flat chest? Awkwardly large chest? Curvy hips? Round bottom or too flat bottom? Who knows what my daughters will struggle with, but in today's world doesn't being a woman almost guarantee that they will struggle with something? Isn't it my job to show them how to make it right?

Sidenote: I read a memoir last summer where the author kept obsessing over a one inch patch of cellulite on the back of her left thigh. It was the only part of her body that wasn't exercised or surgically repaired to perfection, and so it gradually became a sort of nemesis. A one inch patch that signaled her failure. I wanted to write a letter to the author and say, "Oh honey. Didn't anyone tell you? It could be one inch of cellulite, or a yard of flub, and if you let it to invade you, it will sour your soul, and make the rest of you ugly too."

Standing stark naked in front of the discerning eye of my daughter I had a split second decision. I could get embarrassed and cover up, hoping she wouldn't nitpick Or I could drop the towel and stroll into my closet, easy as you like, with my shoulders back and chin lifted. As a personal rule I try very hard not to allow other people's standards or opinions infect my self-image. How you feel about yourself is the thing that matters, so why would I change my rule for a seven year old? I wouldn't.

Naked as a jay bird I walked past her and went into my closet to get dressed. Her little voice called after me, "You're pretty mom." And there you have it. Solid proof that you are as pretty as you feel.


  1. Lauren, I love you! Thanks for making me smile.

  2. You get the "most courageous mom" award. It's big and shiny. Wear it with pride -with or without the clothes.

  3. Great thoughts-it is so important to teach our kids-especially our girls to have positive thoughts about their bodies. It definitely starts with how we talk-or don't talk about our bodies! A favorite quote-"Who you are is on the inside & there's not a mirror in the world that can show you that." :)


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