My 7-year-old proudly held up my phone and showed me the picture he took of me when I wasn’t looking. It was blurry and overexposed, and all I could see were the things I don’t like about myself: double chin, wrinkles, the weird angle of my profile, the perpetual coffee stain on my shirt.
If I’m being totally honest, I was planning on deleting it when he wasn’t looking. That’s the problem with modern technology, digital photography, smartphones and filters — we can instantaneously erase anything that isn’t “perfect.” We can keep reviewing and critiquing and recreating a picture over and over again until we get what we want.
That’s not always a bad thing, but we lose something along the way. We lose a little bit of who we really are.
The more I looked at this picture, the more I liked it. Because it’s one of the few candid pictures of me that exists. I’m usually the one behind the camera. And when I’m in front of the lens, it’s often a posed picture. A group shot at Christmas. A night out on the town in fancy clothes.
I love all of those pictures, but I love this more. Because this is what my children see when they look at me.
They see all my bad angles when they’re watching me cook from the sofa in the den. My double chin is at their eye level when they are curled up next to me reading in bed every night. They see my wrinkles when I lean down to give them a kiss or look across the kitchen table. They see the coffee spilled on my shirt and the weird faces I make without even realizing it. But they’ve never noticed any of those things.
As a mother to only boys, I thought I didn’t have to worry about the minefield of body image issues like mothers of little girls.
We are awfully good, we Gen Xer parents, at railing against the artificial image of beauty that is portrayed in the media. There are powerful campaigns and ads and articles aimed at boosting girls’ self-esteem. There are viral Facebook posts about showing our daughters we are proud of our imperfect bodies.
But we undermine all of that when we forget to do the same in front of our sons.
No ad campaign or amount of makeup-less celebrity selfies will combat the beauty myth in the minds of boys if we, their own mothers, criticize the way we look.
We are part of the problem.
If I wrinkle my nose distastefully at my imperfections, they will start to do the same. And those imperfections will become the first thing they see in me — and in others.
If I dismiss the beauty they see in me with their young eyes, they will stop seeing it.
The way we talk about ourselves becomes their inner voice. The lens through which they see others. I don’t want them to think that beautiful is perfect skin and size 0 designer jeans. I want them to think that beautiful is being loved — and loving in return.
So I looked again at the picture my son was proudly showing me. I took a deep breath and tried to look past what was wrong with the image and instead see what was right.
This is the me they know. This is the me that sits at the kitchen table doing homework. This is the me that throws the football with them in the backyard. This is the me that tucks them into bed at night.
This is the me they love.
I owe it to them, to me, and to all the girls they will meet in their lifetime to see the girl that they see and to love her as much as they do.
And I do. I love the lines that have come from too much laughing, the weight that has come from impromptu trips to get ice cream, the stains that have come from playing in the dirt. It is all an accurate reflection of the person I am. Of the mom I am.
This is the me they know. This is the me they love. This is the me that I love too.