We went into Victoria’s Secret the other day, my three girls and I. I never thought I would bring them there but this day, I had to. The younger two are in a double stroller and Brennan, my five-year-old, beside me. I had ordered two bras online and neither of them fit so we had to actually go into the store. I had to actually talk to a human and explain the dilemma of post-nursing body changes and my need for both support and comfort.
We get to the cash register and I hand the two bras to the clerk, explaining the situation. The wall next to us has a television screen the size of the entire wall broadcasting the Victoria’s Secret Angels walking the runway. You can’t not see it and Brennan is captivated. Immediately, I regret bringing my daughters there.
The clerk has a trainee with her so it is not only one perky 21-year-old, but two, to whom I am explaining how this size A bra is just too big on me. I see their eyes go wide. I explain that things happen to your boobs after you have nursed three babies and they are just different than they were before. I talk about how the kicker is that before I had babies I thought that my boobs were small but now I am even smaller than I used to be, and how I wish I just appreciated what I had when I had it.
Apparently I overshare to strangers when I’m nervous.
I ask if maybe this bra comes in a AA?
She looks at me, with more care than condescension and says “Um ma’am? I don’t think they make this bra any smaller.”
And the funny thing is, I actually don’t care a lick about the size of my boobs so I can laugh with her about it rather than feel shame. I have this fierce pride over my girls actually, which feels so counter-cultural, a little rebellious. See, I have fed three babies with them and then worked so hard to lose the weight and my chest has shrunk to laughable proportions but I feel strong and healthy and have a husband who thinks I’m the hottest thing in the world. What’s there not to be proud of?
This all is happening at the exact same time I become acutely aware how mesmerized my five-year-old is of the lingerie models on the wall screen.
“Hey, baby? Come over here to me. I need you next to me right now.”
“But mom! I like their wings! They’re wearing diamonds!”
“I know, baby girl. Come here though.”
And I try to distract her, try to get her to get the baby to laugh, but she keeps stealing glances back at the models on the screen.
And we walk out of the store, out of the mall, toward the car. I notice her walking a little differently, strutting almost.
“Hey mom? Do I look like those girls on the tv now?”
Immediately I stop walking, in the middle of the mall food court. This is too important. We need to do this right now. I crouch down to her level.
“Baby girl. I need you to know something. Are you ready to really focus on my words?”
“You don’t ever need to look like those girls on the tv. All you ever need to do is to look like Brennan. You are perfect and you are beautiful and you are breathtaking just as you are.”
I cup her chin in my hands to make sure she’s paying attention. “You, my girl, are beautiful no matter what you’re wearing, no matter what other people might say, all the time no matter what. Sweetheart, do you know what makes a woman beautiful?”
“When she believes that she is. When she is comfortable in her own skin and doesn’t try to be anyone else, just herself. That’s called being confident and when a girl is confident, people notice. Everyone around her can see that she knows who she is and that, my girl, is true beauty: Freely being exactly who you are. Believing you are beautiful just because you are you, not trying to be who other people tell you to be, not showing off your body or wearing diamonds or even wearing fancy wings.”
We get in the car and Adele comes on so we dance as we drive. As I watch her in the rearview mirror, I see that she’s moving her shoulders the way I do when I dance. I see how she watches how I move to the rhythm and how she does her best to do the exact same.
My heart begins to pound.
We need to tell our daughters that they are valuable and important and brave and kind and beautiful and breath-taking so that they believe it. We need to tell them the truth so that they can fight off the lies of our culture when they are faced with magazine ads and Victoria’s Secret runway models telling them that beauty is limited to one certain way, one certain size.
But, and imagine me cupping your chin, asking if you can pay attention to my words because this is very, very important: We need to tell ourselves the same thing.
First of all, it’s true. Second of all, our daughters do as we do. These little hearts are watching us all the time, wanting to be exactly like us. What we believe about ourselves is going to be what they believe about themselves.
We cannot tell them they are beautiful but then look in the mirror at our stomach and sigh. We cannot tell them they are important and valuable and loved and then tell ourselves we need to work a little harder to measure up.
We cannot tell them they are perfect just the way they are but refuse to believe the same about ourselves.
So baby girl, are you ready to listen to my words? I need you to know something.
You are already loved, already beautiful, already worthy and brave and important just as you are.
Join me and let’s do the rebellious, counter-cultural thing of actually loving our bodies, just the way they are, no matter what. Let’s refuse to believe that our boobs have to be a certain size, that our thighs have to be a certain size, that we need to look a certain way in order to be beautiful. Let’s do the hard work of loving ourselves and silence the inner-monologue that tells us we aren’t enough.
Let’s actually be exactly who we are and actually believe we’re beautiful.
And then let’s make sure our daughters believe the exact same thing.