On Monday my best friend from med school called from her car. She usually calls me on Monday around noon and if it works we chat and catch up. She has a drive to go to a smaller town to do clinics on Monday afternoon after working in her ophthalmology clinic in the morning. It had been a while since we talked because holidays kept us busy.
Lys told me about her five year old daughter, who has amazingly beautiful curly hair that draws a lot of attention, and how she notices that she looks at magazines and seems to admire women with straight hair. It reminded me of when Cecelia, now 9, was 5, and she used to admire women with blond hair. I am blond, with the help of highlights in my older years, and Cecelia has beautiful brunette hair. We discussed talks with our daughters about wishing for what you haven't got, and also trying to give our daughters a taste of what they wanted because we worried that by holding out and shutting down we might create obsession. I remember buying Cecelia a wig. Lys, who has gorgeous auburn locks, gets her hair straightened when she goes to the hairdresser, just for the day. She is planning to surprise her daughter this Thursday by doing this when she gets her hair cut. I can't wait to see the pictures.
My daughter Cecelia, who has been the same size for about 6 years now, has suddenly grown and blossomed this year. We have gone through many wardrobe changes, with lots of tears and frustration on her part. She is not overweight, but beautiful and curvy, without the height (yet maybe) on my side of the family. She compares herself to taller, twiggier girls in her class and comes up short in her own mind. It pains my heart. I focus on healthy eating and mind makes us beautiful but our society makes it a tough battle at times. I find that it is better to get her clothes that make her look good and feel comfortable so go to great lengths to make this happen.
We are reading a book that my Mom gave us called Iron Hearted Violet, by Kelly Barnhill. I still do chapter books with the kids at night - one chapter before bed (most nights, anyway). It is fantastic so far - princesses, dragons, Kings, and Queens. Lots of adventure. The young princess Violet thinks she is ugly, and despite her magnificent storytelling capabilities was shut down by the court for telling a story about an ugly princess. "Princesses are supposed to be beautiful." In the chapter last night, she is looking in an ancient mirror with carved, writhing lizards on the edge and judging her lopsided face and mismatched eyes. Both my kids looked at the illustrations and defended her beauty. Cecelia said, "She has such long, wonderful skinny legs." Jack said, "Her hair is long and curly and so pretty." I decided this was an opportunity.
"Well, that's her inner voice telling her she is ugly, but our inner voices aren't always true. Everyone has an inner voice telling them they aren't good. What does your inner voice say?" Jack (7) was a little over enthralled with a recent gift of a lava lamp, so he didn't engage. But I overheard a conversation he had with his older cousin Joshua at a pizza restaurant in Atlanta last week. "Well, Joshua, I'd like to play soccer with you, but I'm not very good at it. I hear from my Mom that you are very good. I would be embarrassed to play with you." I rescued him by suggesting that Joshua show him some moves, but our week was busy with cousin fun, so that didn't happen to my knowledge.
Cecelia did engage. "My inner voice tells me I am not very good in sports." She is trying hard in basketball this year, and got a goal at her dad's house for Christmas. She may not be a star, but I love that she is trying. More than I was capable of at her age. "It also tells me that I have big cheeks. Look! Even when I smile I look weird." She hammed for me on the bed. I laughed. "Cecelia, those are called chipmunk cheeks, and you got them honestly. They run in my family. I had them too. On my first day at private school in 8th grade, the first thing someone said to me as I was walking in was 'Are you the new girl? Oh my, you've got chipmunk cheeks!' Good news is, they go away as you get older. And they are very cute when you are young. But I understand, I didn't like them much either."
I told her the story of my friend Lys' daughter and she loved it. I reminded her of her longing for blond hair at that age and she (!!!!) didn't remember. Last night I watched the Sheryl Sandberg Barnard commencement speech that was recommended in a comment thread, it was excellent. We women do tend to let our inner voices dictate our lives and bring us down. Not that men don't have them either, but her statistics are pretty telling. I never really make New Year's Resolutions, but if I did, I would take that inner voice and toss it out the window. And Cecelia's. And Jack's. But I know I can't do that, so I will keep trying to bring up this conversation about once a year so that they can voice their inadequacies and I can squash them. Or at least try. It's my job as a Mom.