My first grader and I were snuggling at bedtime when she confessed:
“Mommy, I don’t like my face.”
She told me she thinks she’s ugly, that she hates her body, “The girls at school don’t want me in their group because my face doesn’t look pretty like their faces.”
She’s too young for self image issues. I was 12 before I started feeling insecure about my body, which is sad enough, but to be feeling this way at age 6?
How does a mother respond to that? Give a pep talk? Borrow a library book about self-esteem? Make a call to the school psychologist? And after I do all that, then what?
Carrying the burden of an unhealthy self image is like being an addict. You know it’s wrong, but no one can convince you of subscribing to another way of functioning until you’re ready. You’ve got to beat yourself up long enough to learn that accepting garbage into your life makes you feel like, well, like garbage – until finally you explode, “Okay, okay enough already! I want better for myself! I’m ready to make a change! Help me!!!”
My 6 year old is not ready for change because she doesn’t realize there’s a problem. Poor self image is her normal.
She doesn’t understand where her feelings are coming from. And honestly, I don’t either. A challenge from a past life? A side-effect of American culture? A chemical imbalance? I just don’t know. But ugly is her truth.
I can’t force her to believe that physical attractiveness is unimportant. No lecture can convince her that she was born perfect and complete. She needs to learn those things on her own. But she chose me as her mother for a reason – and I happened to be equipped with some pretty helpful tools with which she can empower herself and start fixing the bits she doesn’t know are broken.
To start, I talked to her about challenges, a familiar topic in my household and in my writing. I explained that we’re all born with a set of challenges, and it’s our job in life to figure out how to work through them. Challenges are sneaky. They feel like they’re real, but actually they’re more like a series of magic tricks. Smoke and mirrors. Divine booby traps set up to see if we can figure our ways past them and learn a lesson in the process. If challenges didn’t exist, life would be so boring that we wouldn’t exist either. So we deal with them – even welcome them – so we can continue to learn about love and life on this amazing planet.
Some challenges we can embrace and some challenges we can balance. The challenge that my baby girl is facing is one that requires a little of both of these actions. She needs to work on embracing, or lovingly accepting, her body just the way it is and balancing the way she feels about herself, inside and out, so that she can feel happy when she’s playing with other kids.
This idea is sort of lofty so we broke it down, talking about the divineness and perfection of her soul energy and decided together that she looks exactly the way the universe designed her to look. God doesn’t do ugly, only perfect. And there’s no arguing with God.
We also enlisted the support of my 6 year old’s personal hero – her big sister. Self esteem is cultivated safely at home, the perfect training ground for the outside world. We talk a lot about the power of our family and the strength that we emote through the way we love each other. Big sister agrees to help set the pace (as best she can) to help little sister with her challenge. She can help to provide safe harbor for her little sister by showing her kindness, affection, and forgiveness.
In Buddhism it is believed that a beautiful face is a gift from a previous lifetime of demonstrating kindness. But whether or not you believe in past lives, we can probably all agree that kindness and love manifest physically in people. We say things like, “I don’t know what it is. There’s just something about that person.” Or maybe you’ve heard the saying that by the time we’re 50 we get the face that we deserve. It’s rooted in the same idea – kindness IS beauty.
Insecurity isn’t about physical appearance. It’s about a deficiency in love and my family has no shortage of love to give my little girl.
So for another layer of healing, we coupled our breathing and meditation practice with Wayne Dyer’s “I Am” statements to program her brain with affirmations at bedtime saying, “I am loving. I am loved. I am compassionate. I am bright. I am kind. I am helpful. I am caring. I am good.” And she marinates in those words while she sleeps.
Notice that I do not use the affirmation, “I am beautiful.” I decided deliberately not to use that word because her current definition of beauty is solely external. Instead we focus on intangibles.
I’d like to tell you that we did this and it worked and my daughter is now a confident, carefree young girl. But that’s not the case. We keep bestowing our love while practicing our breathing and affirmations, and she continues to feel unsure about the meaning of beauty and her place in the social spectrum. I’m confident, however, that with time and mindful commitment, the momentum will shift and she will start to feel the peace that comes with finding balance and acceptance of her life as it is, just like her Mommy did.