Maggie loves to play with my hair. The other day she was standing behind me, pushing my hair in every crazy direction she could. When she finished, she walked around to the front of me, held my face between her two soft little hands, and said, “NOW you’re beautiful!” And I stopped. Because I knew that right here was a moment where I could decide to perpetuate the norms of outer beauty equalling worth, or start teaching her that beauty is something you feel, not something you are.
I sat her down and tried to explain this huge, weighty issue in words that a two year old might latch on to. “Maggie, I am beautiful always. I am beautiful with no makeup and with makeup. I am beautiful when I wake up and when I go to sleep. I am beautiful in gym clothes and in dresses. And you are beautiful always, too. Everyone is.”
Do I always believe these things about myself? Absolutely not. But do we have the power to help our next generation believe them and feel them more thoroughly than we do? One hundred percent YES.
Later that day, I started thinking about where that notion might have come from for Maggie. We do have a morning routine of always washing faces, brushing hair, and brushing teeth. But we never equate it with beauty for our kids. We equate it with self-care, cleanliness, and respect for our bodies. So I thought more. There have definitely been times when I got Maggie dressed or put a bow in her hair and said, “You look beautiful!” Or “How pretty!” And then I started thinking of all of the times that we or other people have subconsciously given our kids feedback that worth comes from how you look. And it’s a lot.
Even Ryan and I, as we try to be super conscious of not perpetuating those types of thoughts, fall into that trap sometimes. I like to think that more often it comes from outside sources like extended family or people we see out and about. But I can’t say that we’re totally innocent of it.
So instead of dwelling on the realization that these thoughts are already present in an abstract way in my toddler’s head, I started focusing on how to model radical self love. And hearing myself through my kids’ ears has opened my eyes to how very much I diminish, berate, and criticize myself, out loud. I just imagine Henry or Maggie, hearing me say, “I feel fat today.” Or “Geez, I’m so dumb.” And how that must roll around in their heads. To have one of their protectors, their main role model, their most trusted person spew those discouraging (and meaningless) words about herself must be confusing at best.
Watch a kid’s face the next time they see an adult criticize themselves. It’s heartbreaking.
This modeling of self-love for our next generation is definitely a work in progress for me. But it’s work that every person deserves to do. And the fact that my babies inspired it in me makes my heart even more determined towards it.
So how can we model self love?
Speak about yourself as you would speak about your best friend or partner.
Say it out loud when you are proud of something you have accomplished.
Take time for yourself and your own self care. Get a massage. Go for a solo walk. Stretch. Drink water. Do this in front of young people.
Assume that you can, before you assume that you can’t.
Move and appreciate your body.
Exercise your mind. Read books. Do puzzles. Talk with children about the things that are important to you.
Lift others up, always.
Does this ring true to you at all, whether or not you have kids? Do you find yourself demonstrating more self love, or more self criticism? There’s no right or wrong answer to any of this; just a conversation that I feel is worth having. It’s always the tough questions that yield the most awesome opportunities for growth. Leave a comment and let me know. xoxo