A Good Look in the Mirror

I grew up in the 80s and 90s, the heydays of Jane Fonda workout videos and fat free snacks. My mother taught aerobics in shiny leotards and had a strict no treat policy in our house. We were (and still are) products of a diet culture that pervades society and is hell-bent on convincing women that we are not good enough just the way we are, and that powerful thinking kept me locked in a cycle of disordered eating and self loathing for most of my life. 

It wasn’t until I had a baby, specifically a daughter, that I really took a good look at that thinking and realized how damaging it was. I remember looking at Ella when she couldn’t have been more than two or three, dancing around and looking at herself in the mirror, smiling. She was in love with her body, her moves, convinced that every inch of her was awesome.  And I realized that I must have felt that way too, once. There must have been a time when I looked in the mirror and just thought, “Damn, I look good,” but I couldn’t remember it- not as an adult, a teenager, or even a little girl. I thought about how sad it was that one day society would convince her to stop smiling when she saw her own image reflected back at her just as it had convinced me. 

I didn’t want that for her. So I made it my mission to never speak negatively about my body or my looks in front of her. We talked about eating healthy to fuel our bodies well, not to restrict calories. We talked about exercising as a way to be strong and to destress, not as punishment or to reach some physical ideal. My daughter is nine now, and I feel confident that my efforts have paid off. She is strong and healthy, and I have never heard her speak about her body in any way other than to show me that she has finally mastered a split or to show off her arm muscles. I have convinced her that her body is absolutely wonderful just the way it is. 

Too bad I still haven’t done that for myself. 

Because for all my efforts to present myself as someone who sees my body as strong, and valuable, and beautiful, I never actually took the time to believe it. 

When I stand in front of the mirror, I don’t grimace or ridicule myself…outloud. But I still think it, and the mind is a powerful thing. 

I’ve been talking about this with some girlfriends recently, about the idea of positive self talk to transform our thinking. I’ve always been a little skeptical of it. If I stand in front of the mirror and tell myself something I don’t actually believe, can saying it enough times convince me that it is true? Countless studies show that there are real benefits to positive self talk and to eliminating negative self talk in the workplace, in sports, and in regular life. As I said, the mind is a powerful thing. The research says that I am wrong, and I hope that it’s true because I’m going to give it my best shot. 

So, while I’ve never been a big fan of New Year’s resolutions, I am making one this year. I’m making a plan to push out the negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones: about my body, my intelligence, my capabilities, my worth. I realize now that it is not enough to teach my girls that they are enough. I want them to be the happiest versions of themselves possible, and I want that for myself, too.

Published by Jeni Bonaldo

Jeni is a high school English teacher, wife, and mother to two extraordinary and exasperating girls. She is a writer and storyteller in her free time (ha!) and is currently surviving on coffee and deep breaths.

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