This morning I read this piece about a woman who had a fat mother whose shame about her body changed her daughter’s ideas of beauty, and not for the better.
I am fat. I am fat enough that I notice that people stare at me and avert their eyes uncomfortably when I make eye contact with them. People cast their eyes downward at me on airplanes if they realize I have to sit next to them. Believe me, I am the uncomfortable one, having to somehow fit my plus-sized form into those tiny commuter plane seats and then have to fasten my seat belt while six pairs of eyes stare at me to see if I can.
I am also a mom.
My daughter tells me nearly every single day that I am beautiful.
A few years ago I would have answered her praise in much the same way that the author of this piece’s mother does. I would have downplayed the compliment and would have used my weight as the reason for it, and in the process I would have disregarded my daughter’s praise and her feelings.
Now I acknowledge my daughter’s feelings and say thank you.
I’ve been overweight my entire adult life. I was one of those kids who hit adolescence overnight, from one day to the other I went from being flat as a board with a body as straight as an arrow to being a D-cup. I was curvy but people just said I was fat, and because I wasn’t super thin and small breasted like most of my friends were, I felt fat even when I wasn’t.
As I got older I went on the diet roller coaster, losing and gaining, losing and gaining. I wore a lot of leggings and tunics (still do) and while I never had trouble getting dates beyond high school, I still, like many of us fat girls, secretly wished to be thin. I tried to be thin through dieting and failed, and each time, felt even fatter and more like a failure. If only I could be thin, I lamented, all my problems would be over.
After a while, though, I started to realize that many of my most beautiful, thin friends were even more insecure about their bodies and their looks than I was. They also had problems with the way they looked, they had problems sustaining relationships and having their lives exactly where they wanted them. It started to dawn on me that beauty is a head game we play with ourselves.
As women we are conditioned to feel insecure about our looks and it is often the most physically beautiful among us who are the most insecure and unhappy about their looks. I thought back to my own mother, who was thin, with a beautiful body, who often was complimented on her looks and her figure. She shook off every single compliment, saying Oh please, if only my nose were smaller or my skin clearer or my hair curlier. It dawned on me, we women, we do this to ourselves, this is how we are conditioned, to not like our own features, to shrug off compliments.
If it is in our own power to shame ourselves, it is also in our own power to exalt ourselves.
We have the power within us to make ourselves beautiful and that has nothing to do with hair, nose size, or weight. I could make myself beautiful, not by losing weight. I could do it, by shutting out all those other voices and appreciating the attributes about myself that I really do like.
Just like that, I learned to accept my body for what it is and that beauty is more about confidence than your size, shape, hair, makeup, whatever.
So, I embrace my beauty. I wear nice clothes and present myself with confidence. When I was single, I never had problems getting men’s attention and who really cares if it was my body or my sense of humor which drew them in? I have a husband who loves me no matter what size I am, whose eyes still shine after nearly 12 years, when I come down the stairs dressed up for a date night. This is the man who sees me in sweats, with no bra on, with no makeup and my hair in some crummy ponytail most of the time, and you know what, his eyes still shine, even then.
Not that I don’t have my moments of insecurity. I do, we all do, but luckily for me, I have learned that they are just moments.
I also feel really lucky that I am ballsy enough to confront ignorance when it happens to cross my path.
At a fashion show a year before my daughter was born, a woman at the same table as me (not a stranger) said, “Oh Dana, you are so beautiful, if only you weren’t so fat.” In the millisecond of astonishment and shock that ensued, I was able to retort, “If I am beautiful, I am beautiful.”
It’s all I need to know.
It doesn’t matter what we look like if we take care of ourselves and impart that to our daughters, instead of obsessing that we have bad hair or are overweight or wish our noses were smaller or our eyes further apart. If we show them in everything we do and say that we accept ourselves for whatever our particular attributes are, they will grow up, not only thinking that we are beautiful, but they will be able to accept whatever physical flaws they have and accept their own beauty, too.
And so I take my daughter’s compliments and store her admiring gaze into my heart and I hug and kiss her when she says she wants to look like me when she’s older.
Because really, what’s so bad about that?