The month of October is a month of recognition for so many causes that I am passionate about. It is a month during which we celebrate and raise awareness about LGBT history and rights. It is Domestic Violence Awareness month. And as I recently discovered, this week is Fat Talk Free week, a movement intended to shift the focus off of women's bodies and celebrating inner beauty, character, and talents.
Like many women in our society, I have long been a slave to the mathematics of my body. I have evaluated and calculated how many calories I should be putting into it, how many minutes of exercise it should be doing, how many pounds it should weigh, what size clothing it should wear, and how many inches it should measure at various locations. Since your birth, I have worked toward a more qualitative than quantitative approach to my body image. That round belly carried my daughter. Those stretch marks are reminder of how my body grew and changed to accommodate you. My breasts made (and still do!) milk that nourished you. Still, I can't help but to poke at my softer spots with disdain, longing for a body that I never appreciated when I had it, because even then, it wasn't thin enough, my belly wasn't flat enough, and my thighs weren't smooth enough.
As a girl, you will be, and in some ways already are, bombarded with messages that how you look is one of the most important things about you, and that if you don't look a certain way, you won't be desirable as a person. You will be led to believe that the most important thing in life is landing a suitable husband, and that you will not succeed at this unless you look the way society deems attractive. These messages come from everywhere. They come from television shows and movies, they come from advertisements, they come from you seeing me make faces as I squish my belly, and they even come from well-meaning strangers who comment on how cute you are, rather than how friendly or strong or perceptive you are.
You and I recently had coffee with a friend of mine. Well, I had coffee, you stuck to scones. Sarah is my youngest friend, and is wise beyond her 19 years. She was telling me about her recent travels to the Michigan Womyn's Festival, and about the experience of seeing so many women of different shapes and sizes so comfortable with their bodies (among various other life-changing aspects of the festival). She noticed you examining your reflection in the mirrored wall, and said to you "Your beauty could never be reflected in a piece of a glass." Her comment has stayed with me, and it is the message I want you to remember about beauty.
Beauty can not be counted in pounds or measured in inches. Beauty, like all gifts, comes in an array of wrappings. Your beauty is not found in your packaging, but in what lies beneath it. Your beauty lies in your twinkling eyes, in your inquisitive nature, in your easy adaptability, in your talent for music, in your love of animals, in your laughter, in your loving kindness toward others, and in the many, many facets of you that have yet to emerge. Your body is beautiful not because of how it looks or compares to societal expectations, but because bodies are miracles.
I took the pledge to end fat talk not just for me, but for you, and for all of the women in my life who are defined by and celebrated for so much more than their bodies. I will strive not for thinness, but for health.
When you look back on me as a mother, I don't want you to remember a woman who was constantly dieting and obsessively exercising because she wasn't satisfied with her outward appearance. I want you to remember growing up eating healthy nutritious food and living an active lifestyle because it is healthy, not because it makes you thin. I want you to remember a mother who was comfortable in her own skin, who instilled important values in you, who celebrated your many talents and strengths, who supported your individuality, and who encouraged you to explore who you are and what you stand for and keep your focus on those things. I want you to remember that your mother told you, every day, that you are beautiful, not because of how you look, but because of who you are.
I want you to remember the wise words that your mother's 19 year old friend spoke to you:
Your beauty could never be reflected in a piece of glass.