Like most girls her age, my three-year-old daughter is obsessed with Frozen. During one of our mommy-daughter dates after we filled our bellies, Chloe spotted an Elsa dress in a window display. She was transfixed.
As I helped her try on the outfit in the store, her eyes lit up. Without saying a word, she smiled and looked at herself carefully in the mirror, adjusting her glittery cape.
“Wow. I’m a princess,” she said. “I’m soooooo pretty. My dress is long and shiny. My face is so smooth. I look very, very pretty.”
The sales associate and I both chuckled at Chloe’s remarks. It was endearing and adorable – a little girl admiring herself in the mirror. We bought the dress and Chloe insisted on wearing it out of the store. She wore it as we walked around the shopping mall and ate dessert at the food court. Onlookers grinned at the sight of her, a small princess walking amongst the crowd in a floor-grazing dress with a long cape trailing behind her.
When I went to sleep that night, it was with the image of my pint-sized daughter taking in her reflection, expressing how pleased she was with what she saw. There was a purity and innocence in her joy.
What Do We See In The Mirror?
It stood in stark contrast to the way I typically behaved in front of the mirror scrutinizing my body, obsessing over the way my clothes didn’t seem to “fit right” and feeling dissatisfied at how a sleeveless dress revealed the doughy meatiness of my upper arms. Inevitably negative thoughts would cross my mind, picking apart what I didn’t like about myself rather than recognizing all there was to love.
And while I delighted in Chloe’s reaction to her reflection, I realized that if I were to witness an adult acting the same way, complimenting her own beauty, I would probably think she was a bit too smug.
Why was I appreciative of a child’s self-praise yet judgmental about an adult’s?
Since when are we supposed to “grow out of” complimenting ourselves, and hide how proud we are of the way we are?
Children don’t try to mask their feelings. They show their emotions no matter where they are, even in the most public of places. My daughter didn’t care if the sales associate and I were around when she checked out herself in the mirror. She would have said those things – things about how pretty she looked and felt – no matter who was around. There was something so bold and uninhibited about her behavior, and it taught me a powerful lesson: that we could all benefit from giving ourselves more love.
Women have it especially hard in our image-conscious society, and we often compare ourselves with one another. There’s the mummy friend who lost all her baby weight in two weeks while I’m still dealing with the last 3 kg of mine. There’s the high-power career friend who always appears immaculate and sharp in her professional outfits while I look like a clumsy bear in heels.
And then of course there are all the celebrities and models out there who remind us that beauty comes in the form of a dewy, wrinkle-free, pore-less complexion and trim waist.
I worry about how Chloe’s image of herself might be warped by these impossible beauty standards. If there is any way to preserve her self-confidence, to seal it in an airtight container and keep it fresh forever, I would. When she peers into the mirror as a teenager, an adult, a mother herself one day, I want her to always find what to love about herself.
The first step in helping her along this path of positive body image is to get on it myself. I think about those usual negative thoughts that run through my head whenever I pick apart my flaws. If the situation turned around and Chloe regarded herself with those same thoughts, I would be heartbroken. Every parent wants their child to be self-assured and happy with themselves.
Wouldn’t it be safe to say that every child wants their parent to be self-assured and happy with themselves as well?
My daughter taught me to look at myself with kindness and love instead of criticism.
That’s why now when I look in the mirror I tell myself, “You’re beautiful.”
By Jenny Tai
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