You are beautiful
The other day, I noticed one of my beautiful friends had changed her social networking profile pic to a Post-It note, of all things. So, I took a closer look and noticed it said that I was beautiful and fabulous. It included a handy website address as a point of reference. Since my friend is not prone to promoting marketing messages, I decided to take a closer look.
The website was Operation Beautiful and one of the first things I saw was this video:
In case you didn’t watch it just now, I’ll tell you the very first thing on the video is a statistic that says, “51% of 9 and 10 year old girls feel better about themselves if they are on a diet.”
Gut, meet fist.
My daughter is 9. My beautiful, precious, perfect-in-every-way baby is in this age group that is already being made to feel bad about their bodies.
Every since she was born, I have pledged to myself not to let her feel bad about her weight. I stopped, before I was pregnant with her, constantly criticizing myself (out loud) and constantly complaining about my need to lose weight. I even stopped thinking about it as losing weight and starting thinking about it as being healthy. (I also let go of even thinking I’d ever lose any amount of weight to make doctors happy and just hoped I could work toward having a healthy body.)
I have never told her she needed to lose weight. Although I’m very aware of the need to keep her at a healthy weight (an issue I’m constantly reminded of by her pediatrician and cardiologist) and I am aware the weight of both of her parents will have a great influence on her to be overweight, I don’t let this be her problem. I have always provided her with healthy food. We don’t eat junk food and we have never eaten dessert on a daily basis. She loves veggies. She is not a very active kid (she is sadly not involved in any sport and elementary school gym class is about 45 minutes a week), but she is also nowhere near sedentary. Her TV and computer time is limited to an hour a day (and most days don’t even allow for that), but she’s a bookworm (a plus for academics, a minus for keeping a healthy weight). So, despite my best efforts to get her moving, I feel like I’ve failed on this regard. My feeling of failure, too, I try to shelter her from. I try to subtly encourage and lead by example (taking her to the park, going swimming, etc.), but not to hound or to make her feel like she is somehow not good enough.
I have spoken to her about why it’s important to keep a healthy weight, but always say the way children can do this is by eating good foods and playing a lot. I tell her the reason we don’t eat sugar all of the time is because it’s not good for our bodies and that we want to fill up our bodies with good fuel.
Recently, I’ve felt panicked on this subject. As she gets closer to puberty, she is getting further from her ideal weight. As I’ve been reminded by her doctors, puberty is where girls pack on the pounds.
My concern is for many reasons. She needs to stay healthy. She has a serious heart condition that doesn’t need the stress of extra weight. (I’ve been told by her cardiologist that just a few extra pounds could be life-threatening for her.) Long-term, she now has an increased risk of developing cancer because of my history and as I know from attending many conferences in the last few years, the best way to greatly reduce your cancer risk is to maintain an ideal weight. (SCREAM!) We all need to maintain a healthy weight for a host of medical reasons, but she has these two additional challenges.
Then, of course, there is just the ongoing hell of living life as an overweight person. You are treated differently – often as if you are invisible – and made fun of frequently and in casual conversation. You can’t find clothes easily and, when you do, they are way more expensive than “average” sizes. You are prone to horrible self-esteem issues, which can lead to being in emotionally or physically abusive relationships, feeling unloved, depression and suicide. In short, it sucks. Do I need to say more?
Add to these worries the fact that very recently, my daughter told me she needed to eat healthier so she could lose weight. I told her she had no reason to worry about losing weight (it’s true – her doctor says children her age without serious weight problems only need to be active and eat healthy and let their bodies grow into their weight). We talked about what eating healthy meant and I also reminded her how important being active is. Then, I angrily ruminated for a few days about where she picked up this negative message.
I decided it could have been me (children can read minds, you know) or other adults; it could have been from TV or friends. It didn’t really matter. But suddenly my job here feels harder. Now, I have to keep up her self-esteem while trying to keep her close to an ideal weight.
Then, I saw this video and I started crying my eyeballs out.
I don’t want my baby to believe for a minute that she is anything but beautiful. I don’t want any of her friends to think they aren’t beautiful, either. I don’t want to think that I’m not beautiful. I don’t want my friends to think they aren’t beautiful.
Operation Beautiful is trying to do something about it. It’s a really simple idea. You write a positive message on a Post-It note – a message designed to counter the negative self-talk that plagues many of us – and you place it in a public place where someone will find it.
A few years ago, when I was shortly post-chemo, I had an amazing experience where two beautiful women “filled me up” with self-esteem. I was at a lifetime low, completely filled with self-hatred and constant negative self-talk. I was struggling from the low self-esteem that comes with breast cancer and related surgeries, plus about a dozen other whammies life was beating down on me. When I verbalized some of this self-talk, these women basically told me I was nuts. I didn’t believe them at first, of course. In fact, I just kept crying a lot and telling them how wrong they were. But they kept at it, telling me in every possible way how awesome I was and how beautiful I was, almost begging me to see it. It took a few days, but I finally got what they were saying. It was a transformative experience for me. Once I finally accepted what they were saying, I was able to believe for the first time in my life that I was a beautiful person. The first time. Ever. At 36.
For a year or more after that, I was approached by strangers regularly who would tell me I was beautiful. It totally amazed me – still does. These people wanted nothing from me, as far as I could ever tell. They would come out of nowhere, tell me something like “you are really a beautiful woman” and go about their business. They just wanted me to know what they were thinking about me. It was like little self-esteem angels were popping up all over right when I needed them. Again, this was a first-time experience for me.
In the last two years, my self-esteem has declined. Not nearly to pre-transformation levels, but it’s waning and I know it. I’ve been struggling with my weight – it’s skyrocketed over the last two years and I can’t seem to make it stop. So, even though I had all but eliminated the negative self-talk, it seems to grow every day. This affects all parts of my life.
As I read the notes posted on Operation Beautiful, I felt a little like they were talking to me. They were, of course. They are talking to all of us.
We need to love ourselves, for better or worse. We need to accept that we come in all shapes and sizes and that we are worthwhile people no matter what the number on the scale is. We need to really, truly believe that we are beautiful – inside and out – and that has so very little to do with what we weigh, how tall we are, how much money we make, whether we have varicose veins or cellulite, what our age is, whether we have fake breasts, one breast or no breasts, or whatever else we tell ourselves makes us imperfect. We need to believe this and we need to teach our daughters to believe it, too.
Operation Beautiful is such an awesome idea. I must do it immediately – starting with my own bathroom mirror.