I pulled into the parking spot and immediately flipped down my visor to inspect a little bump on my forehead. It was a blackhead, so I went to squeeze it (of course) and I noticed that Helen, my nearly-3-year-old daughter, was looking at me in the mirror. Just watching. And it occurred to me that she wasn’t just watching me. She was learning. Every moment of her life right now is spent absorbing language and behaviors, deciding which to emulate and which to abandon. So I smiled at her and told her she looked beautiful and closed the mirror.
It’s interesting the way having children has changed the way I view myself. There’s a little saying, something about treating yourself the way you would your best friend. So, if I wouldn’t tell my friend she looks hideous in that dress, I probably shouldn’t think that about myself either. Now that I have daughters, I think about how I want them to treat themselves. And I realize that this isn’t something I can teach them. It’s something I have to show them every day.
To this day, every time my mom walks by a mirror, she huffs. Or sighs. Or grumbles. She fusses with her hair, tugs on her shirt, presses her hands against her stomach and mentions how she’s gained weight. She never just looks at herself and smiles.
A few years ago, I caught myself doing the exact same thing. Inspecting my tummy from every angle when I got dressed in the morning. Mindlessly running my fingers over my face to discover and pick at blemishes. Feeling disappointed at my reflection every time I looked in a mirror. At some point, I had let my reflection become a bully.
When I wasn’t in front of a mirror, I felt fine! Confident and happy, without a second thought about how my hair looked. I had even stopped wearing makeup a few years prior. But I couldn’t beat the bully that pointed out every imperfection, every part of me that needed to be better.
Looking at my daughters has completely changed the way I understand beauty. I look at them and see the perfection of the universe. That doesn’t mean I don’t see their quirks, the things about them that could potentially give my girls the same self-esteem issues that I dealt with. But now I can understand how those unique qualities and “imperfections” come together in unimaginable grace and harmony. And through that lens, I can begin to see myself as something beautiful, as well.
So when my girls are at the bathroom counter and we brush our teeth, I am cautious not to frown and fuss. I don’t flatten my tummy with my hands or pull the wrinkles taut around my eyes. I don’t want them to learn to fear the mirror. I don’t want them to mimic the self-criticism that is so standard in our society. The mirror is just a place to brush your hair (if you feel like it); it’s not a friend or foe that can tell you how to feel.