This is the time before it will all begin.
A time of freedom, without self-consciousness, a time to run and jump and skip showers and never wonder what they look like to the outside world.
I look at my daughters and I feel my heart breaking for what is to come, for that inevitable dawning of realization that they will internalize, a message from the world that will whisper, you are not perfect. You need to change.
From unbrushed locks to the innocent peach fuzz that adorns their legs, I see them through a mother’s eyes — perfect, untainted, free from insecurities and self-scrutiny, comfortable in their own skin, a feat so rare when one is a female.
And I want to weep for when these days will come to an end.
When does it happen, that slow unfurling of self into the world? When does a little girl first look in the mirror and see the flaws, the areas that need to be made-up and covered? When does she start to change in the quest for acceptance?
I wonder if it’s an age, the dawning of puberty, or the onslaught of a world that still values a woman by her appearance that teaches us what makes us worthwhile. I think back and try to pinpoint the moment it happened for me — when did I first learn that my body was a shameful thing? The hair upon my legs an affront, the darkness under my armpits revolting? How did I learn to pluck and shave and cover and tame and condition and tweeze and gloss and bronze until I could present a more acceptable version of myself? Who taught me that a woman’s body is not her own and yet responsible for life and lust produced from leggings?
I struggle each morning as I look in the mirror myself and avert my eyes to the too-heavy body I see, the hair that never looks quite right, the unshapely brows and is that a chin hair I see? What I see in the mirror is a source of shame and my soul quivers and shakes with fear at the responsibility I bear to my children in reflecting the power of true beauty back to them.
With baby steps, I try. Stopping short before the word “fat” falls from my lips, bounding happily through the steps of the exercise video we pull up on You Tube, touting strength and health and skipping make-up and play trumps pretty any day.
But it’s hard.
It’s so hard to protect them from it all and from what I know will be an inner struggle, a battle that only they can fight when their bodies blossom and the lessons I will try to whisper to them through words and action fade to antiquated advice from a mother who couldn’t possibly understand what it’s like.
But I will still try.
I will try to convince them of their perfection, because to me, they will always be perfect.
I will try to convince them to hold on to the pure freedom of their bodies in motion, blurred beauty as they run in the late summer air.
I will strive to build up a wall of inner acceptance that will stand firm against the onslaught of self-hatred that will try to make them crumble.
And I will hope for my daughters, the flesh of my flesh, the bodies that I have grown and nourished, the perfect limbs and hair and face that I have kissed as babies and watched grow before my eyes —
To always see their beauty as I do, through a mother’s eyes.