You pull the mirror up close. And I watch you seeing yourself.
You’re balancing the eyeshadow brush above your lid, hovering mid-air while you close one eye and when the color touches down you blend it back and forth like a windshield wiper. Like I taught you. You pull back and take in the full picture. One lid is beginning to look smoky, the kind of look you might wear in your 20’s if you were going out for an evening or in your 30’s on a special date night, while the other is still the eye of my baby girl. It’s bare and beautiful. The eyes that dream up ways to make a better fort and read all the Harry Potter Books, the eyes that tell me I look beautiful when I’m getting ready for a date night with your dad or when I’m bare-faced making pancakes on a Saturday morning. You watch me too. I know this. We play with colors and smokey eyes and bright red lipstick and then we lean over the sink and scrub our faces clean.
I’m not any more myself with makeup on, and I’m not any less either. I’m teaching you to see beauty not because of what you put on, but because of what you pour out. Or maybe you’re teaching me.
You’re eleven today.
I remember when I was eleven. I sat in my room in front of a mirror with three sides you could pull out to look at your face from all angles and a switch you could slide that would change the lighting. It was a Christmas gift and I spent hours in front of it willing myself to be different, to look different. I hated how flat my face was, how round my cheeks, my crooked teeth, and how my eyes would narrow with just the hint of a lid.
I opened up my Caboodle with Bonnie Bell lip gloss and a dream whip foundation two shades off that I’d slather on my skin like a mask. I’d pile on eyeliner and mascara always trying to change the shape of my eyes.
I was always pretending, but this wasn’t the imagination of a girl who dreamed, this was the imagination of a girl who fantasized about being beautiful, about belonging, about trying to change my reflection into something good enough.
When swimsuit season rolled around I took you with me. You were four or five then and you hopped up on the bench in the dressing room and watched with wide-eyed fascination as I wrestled spandex and lycra and hoisted the tummy tucking fabric up my thighs and over my belly positioning the wide supportive straps heftily on my shoulders. The weight of my body pulled at every corner of the fabric, the weight of my worth sagged in that stall. I turned to take in my reflection. You were watching me and I saw your eyes grow wide and you said, “Mommy, I want a suit just like yours! You look sooo beautiful! When can we swim?”
You imagined lake days in the summer sunshine and floating on inner tubes with my mama arms tucked around your body, keeping you from the icy cold plunge. You imagined diving for rings in the deep end, my hands inches away to grab you on your way back up. You imagined coolers packed with watermelon slices and the feel of my hands rubbing Coppertone on your shoulders and dabbing it on your nose, the smell of sunshine and coconuts, and you imagined my body there with you. Fully present in my swimsuit, not cowering on the shores under a cover up. You had no recognition of stretch marks or cellulite, of rolls of fat, or thighs that rub together, you saw me, you were watching.
To you, I looked beautiful and free. But I wasn’t.
I’ve written about my body before. I got some of the most hurtful emails I’ve ever received telling me I’m not modeling health for you. Telling me I should be ashamed of not teaching my daughter about a healthy body weight. Telling me I’m not good enough, yet. You saw me crying over some of those and I couldn’t find the words to tell you why because I feared they might be right. Had I failed you when you looked at me as a woman you’d like to become?
So today you’re eleven. We’ve both grown up so much.
You’ve helped me believe in a beauty I need reminding of. I cannot look at you without seeing me. You are as much a part of me as I am of you. You are my girl child.
If I answered those emails today, I’d gently say they are wrong.
I haven’t failed you because I was watching you seeing yourself, and those lake days and the rewriting of my truths, the days of no makeup and saying thank you when someone says I’m beautiful instead of explaining it away or making a joke because I couldn’t believe it, those days have mattered.
I pray that choosing to believe I am a beautiful woman has given you permission to be kind to yourself. Be unrelentingly kind to yourself and speak of your body only as you’d speak to your best friend, or your mother, or your daughter. Seek out beauty, look for it in your skin and eyes and hair and the curve of your lips and the slant of your teeth and find the words to say I am here, I belong, I am beautiful. Women need a better language.
We must believe better stories. Ones with our eyes staring head on into our reflections unflinching.
We are not disembodied beings. We are flesh and bone, spirit and truth. And the days when I told you the hard truth, that some days it’s hard to believe I’m beautiful in a world that will try to tell me different, well that mattered too. Some days we fight to believe it.
On those days we returned to God’s truth, we are beloved, we belong, we are made good, and enough. Jesus sees us despite our three way mirrors and bad lighting. Jesus reflection is in our hearts and on days when the body seems too vulgar for this world, too broken and lumpy, and all the wobbly bits tell us we’re not fully woman or too much woman to be enough, God says, you are my beautiful child.
And so I watch you seeing yourself, and our eyes catch in the reflection and I silently vow that I will always fight to help you see the truth.
You are beautiful, my child, and so am I.