Are you aware that you tell your kids this all the time? I did once. I would tell them, “You’re fat, unattractive, unloveable. You are not good enough. I wish you looked like that prettier person over there.”
Shocked? I’ll bet that you do the same. Every day. And you don’t even know it.
Let me explain.
That child of yours looks at you like you’re a superhero, right? To her, you’re the most beautiful, cleverest, strongest person in the whole wide world. EVER. She wants to be just like you because, to her, you are everything. From the time she was little, she mimicked you. She wore bejeweled necklaces and tottered around in your high heels. She painted your lipstick all over her face and looked at herself in the mirror, admiring just how like you she was. She speaks like you, she walks like you. And, as she grows up, she’ll look to you for advice. YOU ARE HER EVERYTHING.
She watches you even when you think she isn’t – especially when you think she isn’t.
She sees you looking in the mirror, grimacing and muttering about your cellulite. She hears you discussing how fat you think you are and how disgusting you think you look in your jeans. She watches you as you eat a piece of chocolate and then admonish yourself for being naughty. She is hyper-aware of the ugly names you call yourself when you make a mistake.
Here’s the thing. She thinks you’re perfect and she aspires to be just like you. If you call yourself – her hero - fat, stupid, ugly and worthless, you’re telling her that even if she manages to reach the pinnacle of perfection that you, in her eyes, are, you will think these things about her. She will learn from you that she will never be good enough. Because you don’t think you are good enough.
I used to be that person – the one who would say horrendous things to myself that I would never say to my worst enemy. Things that I would never let someone say to anyone I love. But somehow, it was okay to say these things to myself. Until, one day, when I was standing in front of the mirror, looking hatefully at myself and my little girl happened to walk in. She saw me looking at myself and said “Mum, why do you look so cross?” She gazed at me like I was an angel. Her eyes were filled with absolute love and admiration. She looked at me like I was the most exquisite person she had ever seen. A light bulb switched on in my head. Why not at least try to start seeing myself the way she sees me? Why not look in the mirror and see myself through kinder eyes.
Things changed after that day. Of course I still see my (multitude of) flaws. Oh, boy, do I see them! But I try my best to eat well, exercise and dress well. I even make it out of the house most days not covered in Vegemite. The difference is that when I look in the mirror, I see someone who has had three kids, who is a devoted mum and wife, who works really hard, who has her own unique talents. I see kind eyes. I see a generous heart. And when my little girl walks in and catches me eyeing out my saggy spectacular bum, I look at her, smile and say “Don’t I look lovely today?” And, do you know what? She does a cheerful twirl in front of the mirror, smiles a gappy grin and says, “Yes! And I look beautiful, too!”
They don’t always listen to what we say, but they absolutely learn from what we do.
Do you want your child to love herself? Don’t tell her she’s worth it. Tell her you are.
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