I have a confession to make. I've never been completely happy with my appearance. What woman has? (Maybe Tootsie?)
"I've never been completely happy", is actually a mild way of putting it. I'm pretty hard on my reflection. It would make my husband crazy. I'd look in the mirror and go, "Ugh, look at this ponch on my belly. With the stretch marks, it's like a deflated balloon." He'd try to reassure me, and I'd just cross-examine him like some vicious defence attorney.
Me: I hate my hair.
Him: What do you mean? You look beautiful.
Me: Are you really looking at my hair?
Him: Of course.
Me: You can't see all this friz? Admit it, my hair looks frizzy.
I know I'm not alone in this. I'm friends with dozens of beautiful women. Women whose faces are some of the loveliest things I've ever seen. I honestly don't have one unattractive girlfriend. But I can only think of a small handful whom I've never heard disparage their own bodies.
And why? Why can't they see their own beauty, which looks plainly obvious to me? Why can't I see my own? There are those impossible beauty standards we see in magazines and advertising. But I don't think it ends there. There seems to be some gene inherent in all womankind that makes us think, "the normal way to feel is to hate my body." It's passed from seventh-grader to sixth-grader and mother to daughter. (Not my mum, though. Maybe because she's so pretty. ;) Thanks mum!)
So, a couple of years ago, I decided I was going to change the way I think about my body for two reasons. Emma and Sophia. I'll be damned if I'm going to pass on my self-loathing to my daughters.
I started off just trying my best to refrain from making negative comments about myself in front of them. And let me tell you, it hasn't been easy. If they're awake, they're listening to me. (Well, not listening per se, but they're hearing me, anyway.) They could be chasing each other around the house or completely absorbed in their favourite book, but if I even mutter something under my breath, they'll go, "What did you say, Mommy?"
Girls: Mommy! I said, 'What did you say?!'
Me: Nothing girls, I was talking to myself.
Girls: But what did you say?! Tell me, Mommy! TELL ME!
There have been so many times that I've caught myself squeezing my belly flab in the mirror, and just before I bust out an, "Ugh, I'm so fat!", I notice one of them playing nearby, and I shut up.
I've been working hard to lose weight since my third baby was born (my son, Raymond), which has meant a lot of exercising and dieting. I present it to the girls as trying to be healthier. Exercise is good for you. Fruits and vegetables are good for you. A crap-load of sugar and fat? Not good for you. (I didn't say no sugar and fat at all. Just keep it under a crap-load.)
Sophia likes to do my work out videos with me. One day she was in my room while I was changing into my exercise clothes. So far I'd gotten on my stretchy pants and my sports bra. She looked up at me with big ole baby doll blue eyes, wide as the ocean, as if she'd just seen the most fantastic Christmas present delivered directly to her hands by Santa Clause himself. "Mommy. You should just wear that without your shirt so you'll look like Jillian Michaels in week three."
It took every ounce of willpower I had not to respond, "Honey, I look absolutely nothing like Jillian Michaels." The words came to my mouth and stopped just short of my lips. I looked down at my stretch-marked stomach, and I said, "Hmm. You think I look like Jillian Michaels in this?"
She nodded, eyes still wide. Well, it's not like I was going to the gym. I was working out in my own living room. Nobody could see me but my Sophia. So I figured, what the hell? I'll do it for her.
That day I discovered something. A 'fake it 'til you make it' approach to self-confidence. I started making a conscious effort not only to refrain from hating myself in front of them, but to say positive stuff about myself in their presence as often as possible. "Doesn't Mommy look pretty in this dress?", "Look how strong my muscles are." "Don't you loooove my new haircut?"
After several months of trying to convince my daughters that I loved the way I looked, I actually started to convince myself. I won't lie. Losing weight has helped a lot. I've lost 35 pounds since I started that fitness and dieting kick I was talking about. But honestly, I've been this thin before. I've been thinner than this. And I've always thought I was fat. Not anymore.
I used to look at other women and think things like, "I love her outfit, but I'd look terrible in it." Now I think, "I bet that dress would look great on me."
There is still that little evil voice in my brain that jumps out every now and then to remind me of my cellulite and love handles. I'm not in punch drunk love with myself. I'm just better at smothering the little demon before he does too much damage.
And look, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with wanting to lose weight, get clearer skin, de-friz your hair or anything else women try to make themselves prettier. I'm just saying, do we have to hate ourselves in the meantime? Because I'll tell you a secret. If you think you're fat, ugly, frizzy, zitty, whatever, there is no one who is harder on you than you are on yourself. (No normal person, at least. If you're close to some jerk who says you're ugly, please do me a favour and kick said jerk in the butt, take pictures, and send them to me.)
But seriously, start telling someone that you're beautiful. If you don't have daughters, tell your husband. Tell your boyfriend. Tell your mum. Tell your sister. Pick something good about your body that you can say with a straight face, run straight to your best friend, and say it. My butt rocks in these jeans. Doesn't this colour bring out my eyes? Check out this dress I bought for my cousin's wedding. I look gorgeous in it!
Just fake it 'til you make it. I promise, it feels much better to love the way you look.
Do you have any tricks to build your self-confidence? Let me know in the comments section below. I'd love to hear from you!
This post first appeared on Nicole Roder's blog, Where the Heart Is.