There are so many messages thrown at us each day.
This is sexy!
This is beauty!
This is healthy!
This is harmful!
From the commercials we watch, the ads we drive past, the magazines we read. If we sit back and really take it in, we realize we are truly bombarded. We are consumers. And every single thing we buy tells us something: about the way we eat, the way we sleep, the way we parent, the way we love, the way we live. Whether it's the ingredient list or the person pictured on the front, it is part of what forms our conscious (and subconscious) ideas, beliefs and perspectives about the world and about ourselves.
As a parent, I've come to simultaneously realize that we are bombarded with messages and that my daughters are sponges soaking up those messages. It's kind unnerving. If I innocently put on a TV show, the commercials between episodes tell my kids they need things.
Daughter: Mom! We have to buy a Stuf-It!
Me: A what?
Daughter: A Stuf-It!
Me: What's a Stuf-It?
Daughter: It's this stuffed animal thing that opens up and you stuff things inside it!
Me: First off, that's weird. Second, you've lived this long without a Stuf-It. I doubt that in the past 30 seconds it has become an actual need in your life.
It's not just commercials. It's the pictures of happy "healthy" kids they see plastered on sugary dye-filled fruit drinks. This message tells them that this drink makes you happy! And healthy! And not at all hyperactive!
It's the radio ad (that I don't always have quick enough reflexes to turn off before it begins) about laser hair removal that will make you more beautiful. It's the ultra-thin models donning the outfits we are told to buy.It's the astoundingly short skirts marketed toward 6 year olds at Target.
But the loudest, most profound messages they hear most of all?
The ones coming straight from my mouth.
I am so, so painfully aware that my little sponge girls pick up on everything I say. Whether it's the accidental curse word that flies after burning my hand on the stove or watching the kind of humor that makes me laugh - they note it. They start laughing at things that they've learned I consider funny. They say things like, "What the HECK?" after hearing one of our friends say it during a visit.
Raising girls is tough in this world of messages. Boys too, for sure. And all these messages affect both genders alike. Being a girl myself, though, I know exactly how the messages we receive day in and day out affect females. So while I can't catch everything that comes out of my mouth, there are certain things I refuse to ever allow to grace my tongue. I have vowed to never let my daughters hear me say:
Or any derivative sentiment:
"I hate the way I look today."
"I need to go on a diet - look at me."
"I'll never look the way I did in college."
"Ug. I'm feeling ugly today."
"I can't eat this because I didn't go to the gym today."
I won't say these things.
And friends, that isn't easy.
Because, hello, I'm a woman. So you know I have my fair share of image issues. I struggle just like the rest of you with what I see in the mirror. I'm trying to change my own self-image, to embrace the beauty that is there in all of us. But I fail daily, and I am internally haunted by the thoughts that arise about how my jeans fit, how my hair is laying, and wondering why I can't get rid of the weird gross phantom hair that appears every few weeks on my cheek.
I wrestle with these thoughts and I'm working on processing them (and I'm becoming more victorious each day!), but I wrestle with them outside of earshot of my girls. Because I remember growing up and hearing the women in my life agonize over the person they saw in the mirror. I heard their disparaging remarks, the off-handed comments about their weight or looks, their defeat against self-worth.
And it affected me.
Everything is a learning process with children. They take the things they see and hear, and it helps them build and understanding of the world. As a child, when I heard those comments, it taught me to be critical of the way clothes fit, of the person I saw in the mirror. We all experienced comments like these as a kid, and whether we realize it or not, it was part of how we came to understand our own self-image. How we defined beauty and being healthy. This is the breeding ground of poor self-esteem, of eating disorders, and of a general distortion of what beauty and health truly are.
While it is hard sometimes, I speak only positively about myself in front of my girls. Because it won't be too long before they come up with the disparaging thoughts about themselves on their own. They'll hear their friends distress about their outfit or weight. They'll see some episode of a TV show where the girl struggles with anorexia. We censor curse words in front of our kids (or, ahem, try to), so shouldn't we watch how we express thoughts that could affect their self-esteem?
It's important that the main woman in my daughter's lives - ME - is a role model. That when they hear me and see me, they see a woman who is working to think positively of herself, in the hopes that they'll learn to think positively about themselves too. So it's all the more important for me to watch my words, because my girls, and all the young girls I know, need role models.
I let myself say out loud that I like my outfit today or the way my hair is falling. That I'm proud of myself tackling a new recipe. I eat my meals with them, so they see I eat healthy, well-rounded (and filling) meals. They watch me suit up for runs, so they know I enjoy being physically active. They hear me tell Hubby that I love him.
And when I finally get dressed and ready for the day, I let them stand beside me in front of the mirror. We assess ourselves, and I make sure to finish off my preparations with a smile. I want them to see me smiling at the person I see in the mirror.
Each day, I'm embracing the beauty, worth and talent of the person in the mirror more and more.