If you are Facebook friends with me, you may have recently seen where I was featured on The Eleanor Project. The project is the brainchild of my friends Terry & Jen. It promotes the idea that all women are beautiful, no matter what we look like. I am humbled and flattered to be included. I operate under the assumption that like newborn babies, there is something beautiful about everyone. I see the problem of women not seeing their own beauty as a confidence issue.
I have often heard from people who I walk into a situation and immediately cause people to think that I’m in charge. I’m quite good at being able to sell myself – my father used to say that if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with bullshit. That is one of the mottoes in life that I hold dear to. If you can make people believe in you, you are set. Sometimes that’s the easy part. The tricky part is believing in yourself.
It seems to run along the females of my mother’s side of the family to not give a shit what others say or think about you. I’m sure there is a much better way to frame it, but yeah, I don’t give a shit. My cousin Molly is the most outstanding example of it in our generation. I see the trademarks of it in my own daughter – since day one, if everyone else is doing something, she will go in the opposite direction. Especially if you point out that she should do something simply because everyone else is doing it. I love that about her. (And I so hope she clings to that through her teen years.) I do think part of my ability to pull off the appearance of “having it all under control” as Betty describes it, is in fact my genetic disposition to just not care what anyone else thinks. I charge forward with whatever path I’m on, not letting any thing or any one to get in my way.
This is not to say that sometimes people not liking me doesn’t get under my skin. It does. On some basic level, we all want to be liked and included. Nothing bothers me more than people who write me off before they’ve even given me a chance. It took me 40-something years and loads of therapy to realize that it’s more of a reflection of the person not giving me a chance than it is anything about me. You see, I grew up in a place where I was automatically excluded by a large group of kids the first day of school with them because I was new to the town. I was told by the smarter kids at school that I didn’t belong with them either. Time and again when I showed up in their classes, they were flabbergasted. I pretty much grew up not being accepted by most people, so the fact that I was already inclined to not let it bother me is how I think I survived.
Physically, I am not a petite woman. I’m 5’9″. I have a large bone frame and quite frankly, the few occasions I have been skinny enough to see my ribs, it’s not been a good look for me. I’ve got the sort of frame that needs a bit of padding to soften it. I had hoped that my daughter would take after her father’s side of the family – which runs smaller in frame size as well as height. But since she was an infant, it’s been apparent she’s built just like my side of the family. So I’ve long known that she is going to have to learn to accept the fact that she will never be a size 2. She is taller and larger than her many of her friends. Like me, she can appear to be slender, but the reality is that we are what I like to call ‘solid’. For many years, I had to sit through lectures from the pediatrician on how childhood obesity starts now. Every time I would find myself assuring the doctor that my child had better eating habits than most people. She had a relationship with exercise that I was doing my best to get her to understand needed to be embraced as life long. I also offered to bring in family photo albums so she could see where every member of my family had been a kid leaning towards the side of pudgy that hit puberty and sprouted into tall, willowy creatures of beauty. And then I would walk away cursing the doctor for bringing up the subject in front of my daughter, who was already being subjected to the ‘comments’ of others on her size. How she was so much ‘bigger’ than most girls her age. There was one little girl in particular, whose mother is not much taller than 5′ and teeny tiny, as is her daughter, who liked to make a big deal about how my daughter was SO MUCH BIGGER. It was delivered in a way that made my daughter wonder if she was supposed to feel bad about her size. Thankfully, Edie has always risen above and even without me pointing out that there were large physical differences in the sizes of the girl’s family, just understood why she was bigger. But it bothered her that girl was trying to make her feel badly about herself, for things she had no control over.
When Edie was a baby, I found a book entitled, “Raising Confident Girls” by Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer. It has sat in one of our shared reading spots ever since. Both Pat & I pick it up from time to time and glance through it. I recently picked it up after having not looked at it for some time and as I read through it, I was pleased to see how much we do right. Our girl is confident in herself. I recognize that as we navigate our way through the teen years, that confidence could waver. She is going to have to learn to accept her body the way it is – understand that it is up to her to keep it in good working order, but that the most important thing about herself is how she understands, loves and accepts herself. As long as she does that, her inner beauty and confidence will shine through, giving her more beauty than words can ever describe. Beauty that should be apparent to anyone who sees her.
I’m not sure there are easy answers to some of the dilemmas of self image we women face. We all come in different shapes, sizes and colors. Learning to accept that you cannot change basic facts about your appearance seems hard, especially when the message isn’t just driven home by media – it’s driven home by the girl on your soccer team or the girl who sits across from you at the lunch table who makes fun of you because your feet are bigger than hers. As Edie once wrote, “Courage is being confident in yourself.”
That’s my hope for my daughter and all our daughters. That we give them the courage to be confident in themselves.