I’ve written and rewritten this post so many times today, trying to work out how to start it. Because every beginning I seem to come up with places blame on an eleven year old girl, and I’m not very happy with that.
That’s not ok, because it wasn’t really her fault at all. More that her actions just got me thinking, and provoked a response I was kind of surprised to have.
You see the girls came home from school with their school photographs the other day, and the minute I saw Bridie get in the car, I knew things weren’t great. Either her picture was really terrible and someone had said something, or her picture was awesome and someone had said something. (I was hedging bets on the latter. :))
It didn’t really matter to me what the pic looked like, but I knew it would matter to her; she’s just that way inclined.
I remember, as a teen, growing up with so many body issues (this from the woman who has just spent the last half hour taking all her body measurements and researching ways to reduce upper arms size), being amazed at the kids who never seemed to care. Kids, who now as adults, don’t seem to care. I wondered what the trick was, to have that confidence. Was it the home you were raised in? The compliments you received? Your general level of beauty compared to the rest of the population?
Or are some people just more inclined to not worry so much?
The older (and presumably wiser) I get, the more I think it’s a combination of all of them. The positivity of the home and receiving verbal affirmation are really important things for building confidence, and it is my firm belief that every child, but particularly little girls, needs to be told they are beautiful every day. Not just beautiful (before all the feminists have a go at me for saying the double X’s are far more than looks alone), but beautiful in who they are, what they look like, and who they can become.
As a woman, I am firmly convinced, no matter what anyone says, that every female needs to hear these words. It does something for the feminine psyche psyche when she hears the words, ‘you look nice today.’ Or something even more complimentary. It builds us up, even though of course we know, we are so much more than that.
Having said all that, some people obviously need it more than others, and Bridie is one of those people. She is want to put herself down and see her flaws; unlike her older sister who has the confidence of a nation. (Is that a weird metaphor?)
Their reaction to their school photos was evidence of this. Taylah was relaxed and happy. Bridie was nervous and critical.
And then came the comment from this girl.
To be fair, it’s a humourous photo. It was obviously snapped just as she was preparing herself for a huge grin and it’s all eyes popping, breath being drawn and teeth everywhere. I think it’s awesome and has character, and is Bridie all over.
This other girl though, called it ridonkulous. Or rather said Bridie herself was ridonkulous, which makes my blood boil. And not only because she has no right to criticise, but also because ridonkulous is the most ridiculous word ever and should be banned from the english language.
But it was my reaction that startled me, and drew me back instantly to a moment a year or two earlier with my dad. He had been taking pictures of the kids and told Taylah to smile, which she did. Gave him her biggest, cheesiest grin ever.
His immediate reaction was to tell her to smile properly and stop pulling that ‘horrible’ face.
When I heard those words, something inside me snapped, and it was like I suddenly realised why I used to hate having a photo taken. Because of those words. Because smiling for a camera never feels normal and comfortable and is always forced, and when you’re trying to do your best to make it natural and nice looking, and someone tells you that it’s horrible, that kind of breaks your spirit a little.
Or perhaps a lot.
Now I’m not casting blame on Dad. He’s from a different time when one posed nicely for a pic (not quite an oil painting but almost ;)), and random off kilter selfies were not done or considered appropriate. Cheesy grins were not nice and one would certainly never take a picture of one eating their meal. Everything had to look nice, and if it didn’t fit the rules, it was wrong. Just the way it was.
As a little girl though, who didn’t hear she was pretty nearly often enough, had a very low self-esteem and crazy body issues, it was devastating. All I heard was that I was horrible.
It was years before I would ever grow comfortable in front of the camera, and even now, there are days and moments when I can’t do it. (Though a look at my IG feed would suggest otherwise :)) In fact my only fear in posting that video clip the other day, was not that I would be judged for my off key singing, but rather that I might not look great.
Or I would look fat. Or like a person with ginormous arms.
Or a horrible face.
Not quite good enough.
So the day I heard Dad say that to my kids, I snapped back at him. “Don’t you ever say those words to them! Don’t you ever criticise a photo or an attempt at a smile no matter what it looks like! They are beautiful people and I don’t care how toothy the grin is, or how crazy the face, they are wonderful just the way they are. We will not EVER use those words about photos EVER again!’
I think he was kind of shocked.
To his credit, he took it on board and I think I’ve only had to remind him once since.
So when similar words came from school, it broke my heart. Because I can’t snap a retort to that eleven year old girl. And I can’t stop Bridie from ever hearing those words, and a seed of doubt planted in her mind. I can try like crazy to tell her that is was a great picture, and she is beautiful and who cares if it’s a little different from all the other kids in the class? Different is great.
But I can’t take it back.
And I so desperately want to.
So my only thought really is this; to love my kids. To tell them I love them every day; to remind them of their strengths and help them with their weakness. To show them that you can put aside the negativity of others and focus on the positivity of truth. To build character and resilience and a confidence in them that will NEVER have to resort to dragging another down so that they feel better about themselves. To train a heart that will always seek to see the best in others and celebrate it in them. That will love unconditionally and without reserve and seek not to judge but to pursue understanding.
To tell my girls each and every day, a thousand times a day if needed, that they are beautiful. Every part of them.
Perfectly, and wonderfully made. No matter what the camera or those behind the lens say.
And hopefully, one day, like me, they will learn to believe it.