My daughter is going swimming with her classmates every Wednesday for the next four weeks. It stirred memories of a time when I was in my teens, and on a similar outing with my schoolmates. Swimming with classmates wasn’t a usual occurrence so being on view to everyone in very little clothing was embarrassing. I wore a bikini, in which I felt wholly uncomfortable, as if my body was simply a mannequin. Certainly my soul had shrunk into the darkness of a tilted awareness.
In those days, I was aware only of my pale skin, my thin ankles, of the knobby bones on the backs of my feet, of the bump in my nose, and my hip bones. Parts of me magnified by my peers and reflected onto my already shattered self-esteem. I remember sitting at the side of the pool, arms huddled around my waist in an effort to appear smaller, less noticeable. The only reason I had bought the bikini was because my next door neighbor had one in the same design but in nicer colors; blues and purples. I coveted hers whereas the colors of mine were like true leopard spots and I didn’t really like it; I felt exposed.
Growing up, I’d ask my Mum if I was pretty, and she’d always reply that I wasn’t chocolate box pretty, like Lisa Miles, who was classically pretty and popular, but that was it. No explanation as to what “chocolate box pretty” meant. It took me a long time to grow into my face; like an ugly duckling. I was never convinced by my Mum’s words. Not that she meant any harm, perhaps she didn’t really identify with my teen self. There’s a whole story there about generational happenings but I won’t go into that.
So, my daughter comes to me this morning in her swimsuit which is a little low cut in the front but is okay for an eight year old. I make sure it still fits since it’s winter and the last time she wore it was in the summer. It fits just fine but she tugs at the top and is concerned about revealing the freckle on her chest. I give her a big hug and tell her that it’s beautiful. That she’s beautiful. From the brown fleck in her iris, to her chest freckle; it all makes her unique and gorgeous. She gives me a big hug and skips away.
Among the benefits of age is wisdom. I’ve grown into myself so much that I’m able to accept the bumps and bony bits as part of me, and I love them because they make up the whole, and that whole is pretty amazing. In a world where judgments lurk in the shadows on magazine covers, or commercials, or on social media, it’s important for my daughter to know that she is wonderful just as she is. She may not be chocolate box pretty but I would never tell her; it would be a chink of doubt in her otherwise fierce soul. She needs to know for herself that she is beautiful no matter what marks or quirks she has, and no matter what her peers may tell her. And if I can help build her esteem then I will tell her truthfully that I think every single cell in her body is absolutely wonderful.
My son is a little harder to convince but I’m working on that.