When I was in high school I had three very close friends. We would link arms in the hallway, while away hours outside of school playing Marco Polo and wondering wistfully about boys we had crushes on—it was a very sweet, simple time. Before things became marred by attacks, irrational boyfriends and the inevitable growing apart that happens in those emotion fraught years, there was very little that disturbed our union. Looking back, I see four girls who found comfort in one another, confiding about struggles with siblings or parents, building each other up with the ability to see one another’s strengths.
I also see a younger version of myself who was quick to feel slighted and had a tendency toward not believing she measured up to the other girls. I’ve tried to retrace my steps to determine when it happened, or even how. What makes your internal monologue turn to a constant stream of berating—you look wrong, dance wrong, do it all wrong? My need to figure it out flirts with panic as I watch my girls go from elastic waist pants and Disney characters to accessories and whispered conversations about boys. I think I made that transition much later than my girls,I don’t have a memory of my mom ever lamenting her looks in the years before I clearly remember doubting myself. I was oblivious to movie stars and musicians. And yet, there I was, sitting in the bleachers thinking my feet were too big, my hair too unruly and my voice mannish.
I wish I could say that this blog entry was about figuring it all out, but it just isn’t. I don’t think we ever do figure it out, I think the best we can do is pace ourselves. I am matching my steps of doubt with gestures of forgiveness I haven’t had before. I am forgiving myself for not wanting to conform and wanting to conform. Not knowing what to do is not failure, it’s an opportunity to figure it out or ask for help. I look at women now and see beauty in so many shapes and sizes. When I look in the mirror it’s a bit different, for every little thing I find to celebrate, there is another thing I find to keep my self-image euphoria in check. Enter forgiveness. I am forgiving myself for, as a dear friend said tongue-in-cheek the other day, “For not being eternally 27.” I am also not beating myself up for ideas I entertain to stave off feeling low—a Sephora shopping spree or a flippy top, it’s ok to indulge.
I don’t think there is anyway I can definitively choose to parent that will protect my girls from whatever bullsh*t their heads are going to play on them. What I can do is teach them through my own actions that it’s ok to not be perfect, it’s ok to have moments when you think you are and, ultimately, that we have the ability to attack, correct, embrace or ignore the things we see and feel about ourselves.