Holding Up a Mirror to My Imperfection

I recently had an Oprah style Aha! moment, you know the type when a camera flash pierces your brain and leaves you stumbling around with partial vision as you try to re-adjust to this new, brighter world view. In fact, this moment required more than a camera flash, it required a large, two-by-four (or block of wood for my non-Australian readers) to knock me about the head a little. Here’s how my Aha! moment came about, in three parts, like I said, block of wood!!

Part 1: I have never been good at accepting compliments gracefully, especially as they relate to my physical appearance. I feel embarrassed by compliments and fumble my way through some kind of ridiculous denouncement of what the compliment-giver has bestowed upon me. Don’t ask me why? Psychologists would probably say that it has something to do being a first born, people please-r, A-type personality who grew up never feeling quite good enough. And there would probably be some truth to that. Quite a lot of truth, if I am really truthful! Anyway, back to compliments… (stick with me, this post is going somewhere, I promise)

Immy has lovely, curly hair and people often comment on how gorgeous it is. I agree, it is beautiful. And yet, this week I found myself responding to such a compliment with,

“Oh no, it is like bed hair, it never looks brushed, even two minutes after I have brushed it.”

And I hadn’t even finished speaking these horrible words when the following three thoughts went bumbling about my brain;
1. This is not the first time that I have said these words,
2. My daughter is right here listening as I say these words about her, and
3. What type of message am I communicating to her with these words about her appearance?

*gulp* cue massive doses of mother guilt

Part 2: If you ask Immy who in her family has beautiful curly hair, she will reply, herself, her Grandma and her Mummy. All are true. And yet I waste time most days ironing out those damn waves!

Part 3: I recently saw an episode of Oprah where she was talking to Geneen Roth, author of a book entitled, Women, Food and God, and Geneen said that daughters want to be like their mothers which I think we all know is true. What she also said, and this is the bit that really stuck in my head, is;

It’s not what we say about them that they hear but what we believe about ourselves.

AND **FLASH** there it is!

Needless to say, I have had to hold a mirror up close this week and give myself a strong talking to about the messages I am communicating to my child through what I say about her, what I say about myself AND through my actions. And this is one Aha! moment that I never, ever hope to forget.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this issue. Do you struggle with your own self image? Is this impacting upon the messages your children are ‘hearing’?

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Image source: Across the Universe

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  1. I think this is really important. My mother, for all sorts of reasons I've only as an adult come to half understand, gave me lots of negative messages as a child about being female.

    I have 2 daughters and I try desperately hard not to do the same to them. I've also, in the last year, done something about the physical things I've been unhappy with since I had my last child. I've lost a great deal of weight, started exercising, taking better care of myself. I've even started putting make-up on for the school run etc. All little things that say mummy likes herself. So I hope they take that on board.

  2. Aspiring Mum says:

    With 3 girls, I am very conscious of this. How I perceive and portray my own self-image will no doubt have an impact on how they view themselves. I am also aware of how my words might affect them -especially as they have different physiques, and just a simple comment ("she's so tall & skinny") has the potential for creating years of body image issues.

  3. Even though my little girl has only just had her 1st birthday, I'm really aware of how other people (and myself) talk about her description. I try really hard to explain to others why I don't want her to grow up hearing herself described as pretty, or cute, or chubby, or pudgey, or any number of seemingly harmless adjectives. Partly because of my own childhood, and mostly because I want her to be proud of all her attributes, not just her physical appearance. Even though she's so young I think it's important not to get into the habit of using appearance as a means of praise. Does that make sense? I can't really explain it properly, but it sounds ok in my head!

  4. I'm on the same wavelength as the anonymous commenter above. I have never felt comfortable with people praising my daughter on her looks. I even cringe when my mother in law calls her a 'pretty girl'. She's SO much more than that, but I think often children are reduced to their cute appeal.

    I do give her lots of praise and affirmation, but I try to focus on her actions, her character, her skills and keep the emphasis away from her appearance.

  5. Posie Patchwork says:

    This is HUGE!! Ok, so i have a psych degree but i have to put it to good practical use as i parent my way with 4 children. My parents ALWAYS gave we children compliments & i never realised it until i was in the big bad real world that i so graciously accept them (be it about me, my work, my children, my husband – actually always my husband, he's so charismatic & always gets attention). I remember a boss trying to bully me at a part time job while at Uni & i said to him "i really don't care what you think of me, i have parents who think i'm special & you can't bring me down". Needless to say i've passed this attitude onto my children & i was never bullied, they have never been bullied at school either. It's so easy to be NICE & likable!!
    Anyway, i give A LOT of compliments, easily 50 a day, to my clients, my husband, children, mums at the school gate, i just have big eyes, notice things, analyse situations & find nice things to say.
    Now my children are getting older (high school) & direct compliments said to them (from teachers, wait staff, strangers) i watch how they smile & say thank you, they aren't shy to take it. Makes me so proud, fills them with confidence, in turn, they find something nice to say to the person talking to them too. It's a lovely social interaction.
    Funny you mention first children – i would probably give my eldest the most compliments, as i see it flow through to her siblings, sure she's the experimental one, but we've always treated her like she'd be one of a large family, she's special as she's first, she made us parents.
    Now birth order & gender, that's a whole other blog post!!
    FYI i try to keep my compliments about my children's physical appearance & academic performances balanced with how they choose to style their clothes, kind things they do, things they create & personality traits, so it's not all performance based. Plus they always have an audience with siblings.
    Just remember girls need compliments from their fathers, big time, so get that male positive influence going on too!! Then a boy who is assured of his mother's love can rule the world!! Love Posie

  6. Posie Patchwork says:

    Sorry, i have no idea why the screen went blank & posted my comment half a dozen times!! Time for bed i think!! Love Posie

  7. Super Sarah says:

    This is a very insightful post and has come at a good time for me too, I often get complimented on my daughter's looks and I have to confess it makes me happy on some levels. I do try to thank the person with a comment about her personality or her manners and I talk to her a lot about all aspects of her character and personality but its hard. Compliments on how people look seem to be the norm, I might try and start complimenting people and my children and husband on different things for the next few days!

  8. very good post. accepting compliments is sometimes not easy.
    i am good with a simple thanks and a smile on things where i feel i am doing good, indeed.
    my husband is very generous and playful with the terms 'my beautiful wife' 'pretty little thing' etc tho, and i really don't feel like that some days and then i act like a silly brat. oh well.
    just tell your daughter that YOU think her hair is beautiful, too.
    she'll love to hear it from YOU.

  9. I love this topic! I feel lucky that I had a Mom who had a very positive self image, and always seemed comfortable in her skin (even when she wasn't skinny or perfect looking). I've had friends who feel so uncomfortable doing things like going swimming, because of how they look in a bathing suit, and I always think it's so sad that they can't just enjoy themselves. I wonder if their negative self images stems from their mothers.
    I've always loved the quote from Joseph Campbell: "The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are." I think we all have so much to love about ourselves and our children, and it truly is a privilege to be who we are. We should celebrate our strengths and inner beauty!

  10. That is a great aha moment and thanks for opening yourself up and sharing it with us, I think it is something every woman should hear.

    Immy is so beautiful, she is the most adorable little girl I know. And she gets it all from you 🙂

    Cyber hug xoxo

  11. I am currently working my way through my weight issues, but I am having to choose my words very carefully as I do so. I am not trying to get "thinner" or "Skinnier" and I am not "fat". I am trying to get "healthy" because I am "unhealthy" as I am. I don't eat lollies, but they are okay to eat "sometimes".

    I don't want to be setting my daughter up with the same issues I have carried around for the last 20 years ….

  12. Brilliant "aha" moment Christie. Praise and positive affirmation for ALL aspects of our childrens being is crucial to their wellbeing development. Accepting compliments graciously is an important part of this. Great post!

  13. SquiggleMum says:

    Fab post Christie. I love your honesty. And your hair. xx

  14. MandyE (Twin Trials and Triumphs) says:

    This is a fantastic post, and a great reminder.

    There are certain things I can remember my mom saying that really impacted me. When I was about 8 years old, I was having trouble seeing the chalkboard at school, and my mom took me to have my eyes checked. As we waited, an older lady asked my mom if I was going to have to get glasses. My mom told her, "I hope not!" Of course every mother hopes her child will have 20/20 vision, but much later I realized how that impacted me. I NEVER wore those glasses! 🙂 I finally got contacts when I was 13, and I wasn't confident enough to be seen in glasses until I was in college!

    It's pretty amazing to think about how we influence our children, consciously, of course, but subconsciously as well. As you said, "Gulp!" HA!

  15. Wonderful post! I've had a hard time with being shallow in regards to my eldest's appearances. She has endocrine health issues, as well as seeming to take after my husband's side of the family in regards to weight. At 17 she weighs 30 pounds more than me, yet is several inches shorter than me. But, you know what? She's a wonderful person. She is smart and kind and creative and witty and so many things, yet sometimes people, including myself on occasions, cannot get past her weight. I try very, very hard to never say anything, verbally or non-verbally, about her weight, but our society places so much value on being thin…

  16. Candace @Naturally Educational says:

    Yes…very important! Self-deprecation can be such a built-in defense mechanism. When I was younger, it was to show people I wasn't "stuck-up". And now it is to head people off at the pass–if I say it first, you won't have the chance to say it to me sort of thing, I think.

    But I want my children to love themselves…and this is especially important with the girls, I think.

    Of course, I also don't want them to think looks are everything–but I want them to feel beautiful / handsome and confident and for that inner beauty to shine through without getting lost in layers of shame.

  17. Wow, thanks for getting this message out there! I have two young girls and my eldest has always been smaller than average (thanks to two petite parents). I couldn't believe the volume of comments made in front of her about her size though!
    How can we teach our kids that they are beautiful whatever size or shape they are when 50% of adult conversation revolves around appearances? No wonder teenage (and younger) girls have eating disorders!

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