When I was pregnant with our daughter, I read all of the required mothering material (and then some), coming across one line that stuck out to me. It went something like this ― make sure your little girl’s father tells her often that she is beautiful…it will set the stage of confidence for the rest of her life. I let my husband in on this discovery, and to this day he continues to tell her that she is beautiful. Now, after all these years of hearing it, she will simply nod and respond with, “I know I am.” It is completely true, she is beautiful. What is wrong with knowing it? Some may think it’s packing on the ego. But honestly, who doesn’t need that extra boost of self-esteem going into school and life beyond that?
Growing up, most little girls are introduced to societal standards of beauty while playing with Barbie dolls, dressing up in colorful gowns and jewelry and wearing clothing that calls them “Princess.” It’s a perception of beauty that is built from a young age. As they near adolescence, the princess fairytale unfolds into fashion magazines and commercials, introducing a standard that is entirely too difficult to grasp. This does not stop them from imitating it. They quickly learn a lesson: you need to add something to yourself. Peer pressure feeds the insecurity that they are no longer enough.
By the time adulthood arrives, our own reality is painted with what we are told to feel to finally be beautiful. If we are lucky, we break out of this deception in our later years. Focusing on what is within. People we love, and who love us in return, help compass the right direction. Finding that girl before she pulled out the glass tiara.
On the way to work one morning, I was flipping through radio stations and landed on a conversation about beauty. I was drawn into a recent news story on a local lingerie store. LiviRae had launched a campaign featuring women in all shapes and sizes ― “Real bras, Real women, Real stories.” Previously, the windows of the store had displayed photos of air brushed models in sports bras. With this new campaign, the window was now decorated in real beauty, celebrating every type of woman. Real customers had been included, women in wheelchairs, survivors of breast cancer, and plus-size women.
The property manager had been shocked when he saw the photos of the real women wearing lingerie. He decided to respond to the scene on the storefront with a fiery email. He wrote the owners of LiviRae to tell them that the photos used in the new campaign were in “poor taste” and they would now need prior approval before placing any ads on the window storefront.
Public outrage soon followed, and despite the request from the property manager, the window display has remained intact. Proudly showcasing the beauty of all women, celebrating the representation of real bodies and not photo enhanced ones. Since the incident has gained more attention, the property manager has retracted his previous statement. The local lingerie shop is happy to report that their doors are bursting with new customers and supporters. Including me.
Suddenly, I became aware of how we, as a society, think of beauty. How normal it is to look at women on the cover of magazines, commercials and storefronts, and becoming desensitized in the process. Redefining what makes someone beautiful. A glazing over of what is acceptable, trademarked and alluring in business. Our own perception of beauty is flailing because we are constantly being handed information about our own bodies.
Guess what? Real beauty walks around with stretch marks and scars. They are pushed in wheelchairs and have prosthetic legs or arms. Or both. They have double chins and skin that moves when they wave ‘hello.’ Real beauty has one eye green and the other blue. They don’t have original teeth and hair that isn’t grey. They have moles and freckles. Real beauty is real you. And that’s something. That is why we must tell our little girls AND boys that they are beautiful. So they live in a world with real people on magazine covers and store windows. They can look up and out with fresh eyes, and already feel they are enough. They have had it within, and have always belonged.
In many ways, I have been transformed by inner beauty and the way it shines outwardly. Watching people smile when they are excited. How they speak about their passion or about people they love. This type of beauty transfixes us all. It is deep and beyond what we see on the surface. I wanted to explore how people feel living inside of their own bodies. To see how the two connect and if societal influence has as much to do with our inner conversation. I asked a random sampling ― how do you feel living inside of your body?
“I feel like I have I endless flow of wants, needs, and aspirations that I would love to have known just for the sake of having them heard. However I have this calloused introvert driving.”
“For it’s the constant wonder ‘Am I doing what I’m meant to be doing...’ also the strange space of not feeling like you know your ‘new’ body after every child…”
“I feel fat mostly. Like I’m constantly being judged for my weight. I feel happy with the character of who I am. I feel scared by everything unknown about my body as I face uncertain diagnoses. Then I put on makeup and I feel beautiful... sexy even. Then I don’t feel like my weight is what people notice. I feel like people actually see me. Like the outer beauty matches the inner beauty. It might sound silly, but that’s how I feel inside.”
“I love living in my body, it may not be perfect but I love it. My husband loves me for me and that makes me feel more beautiful than anyone in this world. I was given this body and I’m going to live in it to the fullest! There are days I feel my body is failing me….as I would love to become pregnant and it just doesn’t seem to be happening. Maybe my body is telling me no for a reason and my mind is being stubborn. And there are days my body is saying “no way, you are too old for crap” or “what were you thinking?” But at the end of every day, when I look in the mirror, I still love myself and wouldn’t change me for anything!”
“I feel good inside my body for the most part. Then I feel betrayed by my body when I get sick so often or when I get sick from stress. It makes me feel weak. I don’t like feeling like I don’t have control over my body in those situations. Otherwise, I feel like my mind is the most important factor in feeling good about my body, and about being me in general. Positive thinking and empowering myself has helped a lot over the years. “I am stronger than I think. I am capable of anything.” Being my own cheerleader and #1 fan has helped me to not rely on other people’s approval or care as much about other people’s criticisms. I just do me.”
Tonight I hug my little girl as I tuck her into bed. Looking at her once more before the light goes out. “Sweet girl, you are beautiful,” I say. She looks at me with those deep green eyes and smiles widely. I’m expecting her usual response. She sits up and hugs me tight, whispering in my ear, “Mommy, you are beautiful.”
More than anything, I hope you know, that you are too.