by N’tima Preusser
Military wife and new mother
One hundred and seven pounds.
I worked hard for that weight. I was light. I was frail. I counted my corn kernels. My skin was colorless, punctuated with clogged pores, and my eyes were yellowing, my external organs corroding as if to prove that my insides were struggling.
But you could see my collar bones, and that is what mattered.
I had finally crossed the threshold into the “underweight” category, according to the BMI calculator that haunted me. I was greedy for less (and less, and less). I celebrated my weakness. I translated it into strength. I bled insecurity. The word “ugly” had a debilitating kind of dominance over me. If you told me I was “fat,” I would have come apart.
Because that is what mattered.
I was emotionally, mentally… cellularly starving. It took me years to learn what I know now, but it was not until her that I really got it.
Seven pounds and twelve ounces of redemption. A tiny girl full of a giant dose of clarity. It took my body swelling with child. My bones bearing the weight of another human being. The expanding, the shrinking, the scarring, the tearing — all of it — to accept my body in its glory.
My body, that I hated so deeply before, built my daughter’s body.
That is nothing short of a miracle, to me.
From the moment we met, the responsibility to teach her how to love herself has sat squarely, tirelessly, on my shoulders.
I still am uncertain of what I will do to be sure of that. By the time I was 7 years old, I was already coveting Catherine Zeta Jones’ face on a magazine cover. I do not know how that happens. I do not know how as women we go from babies blowing kisses to ourselves in the mirror, to young girls pinching our bellies, or dodging our reflections in the mirror altogether. There were just so many little things in my life that added up. Little things that went unnoticed until I found myself kneeling in the bathroom, washing out the sound of me making myself sick with the bath water running.
I do not know how to protect my daughter from the sexualization of women that is this world.
But to my daughter, I will beg, “fall in love with yourself first” — this matters. And I do not mean a tolerant, conditional, praise-yourself-when-you-look-good kind of love. I mean deeply-rooted, white hot, irrevocable, laugh-at-yourself love.
On the day my daughter looks up at me, with her innocence still intact, and asks if she is pretty, I will want to shake her by the shoulders and scream “YES.” In that pivotal moment, I will not put emphasis on how beautiful I think the combination of her father and me illustrated on her face is.
Instead, I will tell her that her heart has a strength that has allowed it to start beating again after stopping. I will not put emphasis on the nearly-perfect curls in her hair or the blue that swims in her eyes.
She will know, instead, that she has bones and muscles that carry her from place to place without growing weary. That she can see, and hear, and taste the flavor of this life wholly thanks to the body that she lives in. I will emphasize the knowledge, the truth and the creativity that she stores inside of her head. I will tell her that she has 10 fingers that have memorized sign language and a mouth that speaks words so that she can communicate all that she is feeling. I will tell her that she has a body that is capable, a body that is powerful. A body that gives her life every single day and heals when it is sick. A body that gives and gives and demands nothing but love in return.
When my daughter is 12, stricken by her first gust of insecurity and dissecting her appearance, I hope she does not see the gap between her thighs that is or isn’t there. I hope she does not measure the symmetry in her face or the depth of her pores. I hope instead, that she will see looking back at her the shell of the spirit that is within her. I hope that she knows that the number on the scale is only the numerical relationship between her body and gravity.
That number doesn’t really matter.
I will make sure that she knows as a woman, as a person, that her body belongs to her. It does not, and will never, belong to me, or to her father, or to any other person. She will know that there is no requirement to be soft around the edges because she is made up of an XX chromosome. She will know that she does not have to be delicate or lovely if she does not want to be. I want her to know she does not have to water herself down to spare the intimidating of others. I hope she is unapologetic with her confidence. I hope she is a force to be reckoned with.
I want her to know that loving your body means tending to it with care. It means listening to your body, moving your body, feeding your body the things that it instinctively craves. I do not care if that means juicing organic kale or treating yourself to ice cream, as long as it is done in love.
I want her to know that when she offers this kind of love, her body will embrace her right back. This is so important. This matters.
Early in life, I pray she has a solid understanding of what it took me so long to grasp: You do not have to be beautiful.
She must know that beauty, from an aesthetic place — even intelligence, talent or humor — are all irrelevant to her, and anyone else’s, self-worth. All of these things are gravely overshadowed by the truth that she is a human being. She must know as a human being that her voice is never Too Loud, and that the space she occupies is never Too Much.
Lastly, I hope this self-love that courses through her will be so abundant, it will overflow into the lives of the people she meets in her lifetime.
By example, I will teach her that ultimately, loving yourself is the beginning of all victories. And that is what matters.
Originally seen on Coffee + Crumbs.
Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™
The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to email@example.com.