Last night my 7-year-old daughter told me she "wants to die" because she hates the way she looks.
She hates that her "thighs jiggle".
She hates that her "belly sticks out".
She hates that she's "the biggest girl" in her class.
She wants to die and she's seven.
I've been waiting for this moment since the day I gave birth to a daughter. The day she inevitably starts hating herself. And here it was.
I felt sick. I still do. But, I was prepared.
Had this been any other night I would have sputtered and stammered for an appropriate response vacillating between understanding compassion and helpless frustration.
But THANK GOD I just happened to be up until 1:30 a.m. the night before reading an amazing book about how to raise confident daughters.
I immediately went into action.
I got down on my knees and took both her hands in mine. I looked at this gorgeous innocent little girl. The baby that I nursed the sleep. The toddler who gave herself kisses in the mirror, she loved herself so much.
This little girl who now needs to be led through the landmines of adolescence.
This little girl who will grow into the woman I shape.
I looked into her big green eyes and said "You're the most beautiful second grader in the whole world. Daddy and I love you very much and we will do whatever we can to make you feel better."
It was almost verbatim from the book. Give her hope, not answers.
She looked startled by my intensity. She immediately relaxed a little. Then she said quietly "I like myself. But then I look at other girls and think they're prettier and then I don't like myself anymore."
I can't tell her not to feel that way. I can't dismiss feelings she has at seven that I continue to struggle with at 32. I can't divulge that she will likely always battle with feeling this way. That this is being a girl. The constant struggle to love ourselves as we are while at the same time trying to figure out who that is.
I see being a girl in this world through her eyes all over agan - perfect models, plastic surgery, anorexia, bulimia, diet pills, suicide - and it shakes me to the core. I want a different world for her.
I remember being 12 years old. Sitting on my mom's bed as she folded laundry, I had just returned from the beach and I was complaning about my chubby body. I had spent the day in the sand under a towel eating all the snacks, completely intimidated by the bikinis around me.
My mom said all the right things ("you're beautiful...I was just like you at your age...it's baby fat"). Then I said the one thing that made her turn and look at me.
"But there are girls with perfect bodies."
I'll never forget. She looked at me with sadness. As if I had just discovered the secret she had been keeping from me. She said quietly and with great empathy "I know."
I don't know what I took away from that. But I felt like I saw something about my mother for the first time. My mother was a beautiful woman herself. But as often as she told me I was beautiful. I don't ever remember hearing her say she was.
And I can't say Savannah's story with her mother is much different.
How often has she heard me complain to my friends, my husband, my mother about my jeans not fitting, how much weight I've gained, foods I'm avoiding? How many times have I snapped at her in a fit of frustration because I'm once again naked in my closet throwing clothes around as if it's the end of the world that I'm up a size?
How confusing must it be for me to then turn to her and tell her to love herself as she is?
It stops today.
I knelt there in the bathroom in front of her, my baby. And I flashed on a quote from the book. Self-esteem can't be taught. You can talk all you want to your daughter, but it must be gained. Through accomplishments.
So I blurted out the first thing that came to my mind. "Do you want to take singing lessons?"
A smile immediately appeared. She brightened up. Yes! I'm a great singer, mommy!
With that, she turned to get ready for her bath, chirping to her dolls along the way. All was well again.
The next morning I decided to do something that always makes me feel beautiful. I took a yoga class. I pulled on some spandex, drove to the gym, and planted myself in front of the mirror to admire the 20 pounds I've put on since my last class 4 years ago.
I started to go through the stretches, reaching my arms to the sky, arching my back, feeling strong in my core.
By the end of the hour I lay there, eyes closed, as I followed the relaxation instructions. I let my breathing slow, I let my mind relax. I felt such pride and tenderness for myself. Because for the first time I was seeing my body as I wish for my daughter to see hers.
I refuse to send my daughter out into the world feeling less than. I refuse. Not without a fight.
Helpless to stop them, tears rolled down my cheeks. I felt strong. I felt beautiful.
And I pledged to bring that feeling home with me.
Dear kind emailers, the title misspelling was intentional. Clearly a FAIL at word play.