I’ve not spent very much time around children since I was one myself. A few of my friends have had children of their own, but the only child I’ve spent a lot of time with is my niece who is five. She’s intelligent, hilarious, fascinating, stubborn, and absolutely beautiful. At the weekend I was braiding her hair and noticed how shiny and healthy it was (no bleach or hair straightener damage in sight!), how smooth her skin was, I took in her slightly-oversized ears, her gangly limbs (she’s going to end up being at least 5 inches taller than me), her gummy smile, her ridiculously long eyelashes and I was just marvelling at her. She’s so new and unaware of it all. We tell children every day that they’re beautiful and incredible and wonderful, that they’re strong and clever, brave, funny and special. But what happens between then and now?
I remember putting on my wedding dress for the first time and realising that I thought I looked beautiful. It was a momentous enough moment for my brain to clock it and store it away. And I can’t think of a time where I have felt that way in the 5 years since. This is not one of those awful and transparent ‘tell me I’m preeeetttyyy!’ blog posts: I’m not trying to claim that I am a hideous beast who should be banished to a cave for the benefit of those around me. But can you remember the last time you acknowledged a positive thought about your appearance? And here’s the bigger test… can you remember the last time you made that point out loud to others?
I try to post honest photos of myself on social media as much as I can. This is partly because I don’t think you can talk about living with a skin condition without showing it: it’d be like a fitness blogger telling everyone how to get a six pack without showing hers! But it’s also because I like to think that in a very, very, very small way I’m helping others to feel better about their less-than-perfect face and showing that not everyone in the world (real or online) is a perfect human specimen. But sometimes I also want to post photos where my rosacea is hidden, where my make up is perfect, and my angles present me in the best way possible.
I’ve noticed a change in social media posts where the person looks INCREDIBLE, but the caption mentions that fact that two minutes later they tripped over those sky-high heels, or they had lipstick on their teeth, or had only shaved the bits of their legs that poked through their distressed denim. It’s the contrast of ‘relatable vs aspirational’ in the social media world: are you the untouchable woman who lives a flawless life and embraces that (but probably gets shit from anonymous commenters for making others feel less-than/being stuck up/being up their own arse)? Or are you the girl-next-door who posts things that chime with a lot of ‘normal’ women (but feels oddly embarrassed for sometimes wanting to post a picture and say ‘I was feeling my make up and outfit today’) for fear of being accused of being big-headed?
As women we’re not really ‘allowed’ to toot our own horns. It’s the Love Actually moment where Keira Knightley says ‘I look quite pretty’ and the whole female population cringed in unison. It’s the backlash against Alexandra Burke on Strictly Come Dancing for coming across as ‘arrogant‘ (and her defence that actually she’s just confident in herself which was even more ridiculed). It’s my visceral reaction to girls on America’s Next Top Model who say ‘I know I’m a beautiful girl’ (even though that’s not something that can be disputed because they’re all ACTUAL professional models).
I remember hearing friends at school deciding they didn’t like a new girl in our year because ‘you can just tell that she loves herself’. They said that phase with such venom and disgust and I nodded along dumbly. But looking back, how bizarre is that phrase? When did ‘loving yourself’ become an insult? When did being your own biggest fan make you a terrible person? If I could have one wish for my niece, it would be that she always loves herself. The thought that she would ever look in the mirror and not like what she sees makes me feel sick. And sadly it’s more likely than not: 61% of 10-17 year old girls in the UK have low self-esteem and this makes them less likely to go to their doctor and more likely to skip meals*. A lack of confidence is dangerous. What happens between childhood and adulthood where confidence and openly liking yourself becomes a terrible character flaw?
A phrase that I heard recently and absolutely love: ‘I cannot be what I cannot see’. It can cover a multitude of topics (it’s most often used in representation of race, gender, sexuality etc. in the media) but in this situation I think it’s an important phrase to remember when it comes to the way we portray ourselves around young children. If you only ever mention food when talking about diets, or talk about needing make up to look pretty, or using negative terms about yourself, your child will learn those habits. Imagine a child growing up surrounded by women who compliment each other, accept compliments gracefully, and speak about themselves with confidence, kindness and love. How powerful and transformative that would be?
I’d love it if you left me a comment below with something about your physical appearance that you like. I am actively trying to be kinder to myself and encouraging more conversations that inspire confidence. I’ll go first… I like my blue-green-grey eyes and the gap in my teeth – something that took me a long time to grow to love!
*Statistics from Dove’s Self Esteem project, who are doing great work and have lots of resources for parents, children, teachers, youth leaders and carers HERE. And no this isn’t sponsored, I just think they’re doing good things.
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