No reservations, only a little self conscious, and the only thing she needs is a phone. Whose phone doesn't matter.
This past Sunday found her skimming through the gallery on my phone, looking for pics she had taken of herself at various times in the past few months. As she scrolled, I came across a picture I had taken of myself while I was trying to figure out the camera on my new phone.
"Wow. That's actually a good picture of me! I kinda like that one!"
Then like a scolding mother, a teen voice reprimands me from the passenger seat of my car:
"What did I say about talking about yourself like that?"
Like most adults, I have what I consider a self-deprecating sense of humor. Unlike most adults, I have a rather bad history of people reminding me of what I am not, and my daughter has unfortunately borne more witness than I am comfortable with of people that should know better denigrating me both in my presence, and behind my back. So she is especially sensitive to any level of negative self talk that I engage in. There is a precedent for this.
About 3 1/2 years ago, I wrote in this space about my struggle with my physical appearance: http://www.houseofperpetualdistraction.com/thoughts-feelings-impressions-blog/1 For the most part, I thought I had made peace with the fact that some people will always treat me in a pretty cold fashion, if only because they do not find me what is popularly considered attractive. I was also aware, if only peripherally, that I was not alone in what I experienced.
A few days prior to the car conversation, I had run across an article that sent me back to an older Reddit thread about what life was like for ugly women: www.reddit.com/r/AskWomen/comments/24ddtl/what_is_life_like_for_an_unattractive_woman/
I have rarely felt such kinship, with so many other women, about such similar experiences. We are the people who are either completely ignored during group conversations, or loudly derided for daring to speak up. If we are not being thoroughly overlooked, we are being thoroughly looked over for whatever offending flaws (I was recently told while walking down the street, completely lost in my own thoughts, that "My ugly ass needed to smile more.") random passerby feel the deep need to point out to us. Male friends and acquaintances, although they may howl with laughter when talking with us privately (and only privately) do not dare to be seen walking down the street with us, lest they be seen by anyone they know in the company of someone not thought to be sufficiently attractive. I have lost count of the number of times I thought I was walking somewhere with a male friend, only to have them either trotting a mile ahead of me, or walking just far enough behind me to give me the appearance of walking alone, and making any friendly conversation all but impossible.
One more time, for the people in the cheap seats: Having been called ugly, in some way, shape or form, every day since I started Kindergarten at 4 years old, I am WELL aware of how you feel about my appearance. There is no way I could not know. Your attitude and behavior have spoken way louder than the words some of you are too discreet to say to my face anymore. Note: I said SOME of you. I never know whether or not my day will be a quiet one, or one when I will have to deal with yet another "opinion" being shouted at me as fact. And no amount of well meaning friends telling me that they think I am beautiful is going to erase 40 years plus of treatment that is still ongoing to this day. Maybe, one day, we will all truly be free from the grip of popular, societal standards of who we are supposed to be, or at least emulate, but that is a long way off.
So we come to this past Sunday in the car. This is the picture in discussion:
She just sees me as Mom. Sometimes annoying, sometimes wonderful, sometimes just getting the two of us through the day, but just Mom. She is looking to me to give her clues as to how to relate to, and navigate the larger world around her.
This is where I need to learn to balance the way I respond to the way I know the world sees me with the image I project for my daughter's sake. I do not believe that I am hideous. Different, definitely. The popular term nowadays is "unconventional". I do keep up my appearance on some level: I love my dreadlocks, I buy clothing that I feel flatters me, and that I find comfortable, and I smile and am friendly to those I know. I also make quite a few jokes, sometimes at my own expense. I have to watch that tendency. Because my daughter doesn't see it as self-deprecating humor. She sees it as putting myself down before someone else does it for me. She doesn't like it, and let's me know without hesitation if that's what she feels I am doing.
Let me pause here to say that I think my daughter is gorgeous. I know all mothers say that about their children, but both comments made to me, and comments overheard, bear this out. What I have tried to teach her about her genetic blessings, as it were, is to keep it all in perspective. That fact that she is beautiful is great, but it is also the least important thing about her. To be intelligent, kind to others, and overall, a person of good character that can be respected, is something that will always stick with you in life.
But I know the world turns on physical appearances, and "in it but not of it" is not going to help us here. We still have to function in a world of people who are not of the same mind, heart or spirit as we are, and those people can sometimes be quite cruel.
What I am learning from my daughter is actually her taking to heart and putting into practice what I have always told her: do NOT allow anyone else's definition of you to override how you feel about yourself. I figured that I should start teaching that lesson from Day One, rather than have her learn it later in life like I did. I have to come to admire my daughter's strength and confidence, and hope that life doesn't dull that sparkle still glimmering in her eyes.
What I hope to teach her, is that even if the world is still determined to try to find more interesting and clever ways to try to pull you down using some random way that you are unacceptable, try to retain your strength in what you know about yourself, and what God knows about you, and has put on your spirit.
My ultimate wish, and prayer, for my daughter is expressed in a song released in 2005 by Gospel artist Kirk Franklin. I loved the song long before the sign language ministry with which she performs added the song to their repertoire. It deals with, among other things, learning to see yourself the way God sees you, and loving yourself accordingly. I can't possibly wish for more than that level of self acceptance and love. For her or me.