Happy 13th birthday, my girl.
There are so many letters of advice I could write as you head into this new phase of life. You’ve always had a great wisdom about you, and I think you’re ready to hear more about what lies ahead in the years that will shape you.
But some of what I want you to know, I would rather not tell you. There are important lessons that will mean more if I show you.
I had a fancy event to attend, and you had a rare afternoon with nothing to do. Your dad suggested we spend some time together by visiting my favourite boutique downtown. You like a lot of the clothes there now, too, and we laughed about you giving me fashion advice (since we both know you’ve already started to).
We split up and meandered through the store picking pieces that appealed to our respective tastes, and then we met up again at the changing rooms. You came into one of the rooms with me, and we chatted while I made my way through the pile.
I chose a shorter-style dress than I would normally wear, because it had a beautiful fabric. I could tell you were surprised that I was going for it, but we were having fun. I wanted to hang on to the vibe in the room.
You were standing in front of me, partially blocking my view of the mirror.
As I pulled the zipper up, I watched the expression on your face flicker. And then suddenly you were a dancing starfish, waving your arms over your head and jumping from side to side so my view of the mirror was completely blocked.
“That bad, huh?” I asked you.
You didn’t answer. You just kept dancing. You were trying to protect me, I know. You were worried I’d feel bad about what I saw.
And I could have taken it off and thrown it onto the “no” pile. But there was something I wanted you to see. So I stepped around you and took in the unflattering cut of the dress. I saw the way it clung to the roll of flesh that sits stubbornly above the smile-shaped scar where you entered the world 13 years ago.
You obviously saw it too. I looked for your face over my shoulder in the mirror’s reflection. And I was 13 again—standing in front of a mirror, wishing away parts of myself, wanting to be what I thought would be a better version. And I knew my reaction would play a part in whether you wished away parts of yourself someday.
I hesitated for a brief moment before reaching down and taking hold of the roll of flesh above that smile-shaped scar. I disregarded every word I’ve ever read about drawing attention to my physical flaws in front of my daughters, and I trusted you would understand.
Because I know what kind of family you are being raised in. I know you are surrounded by confident and powerful role models. I know I have never criticized my body or another person’s body in front of you. I know I have done my best to show you that I think I’m beautiful.
And I knew you were watching me as I told you a roll of flesh doesn’t rob me of that beauty. I saw it in your face when it broke into a wide smile with the likeness of that scar. I heard it as our peals of laughter filled the space in the changing room where we stood. I felt it as I joined you in a jumpsuit-clad starfish dance.
It was there with us—the body confidence that took me years to find.
I hope you won’t take so long to find yours.
The contours of your body will change with the landscape of your story. Never forget how much beauty there is in that scenery. And if a dancing starfish steps in front of your reflection, promise me you’ll find your way around it, so you can see your beauty looking back at you.