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.

My Favorite Holiday

Not Christmas. Not Thanksgiving. Pajama Friday. That is my favorite holiday. Hands down. Pajama Friday is the day after Thanksgiving and my family started celebrating it a handful of years ago. I don’t remember the exact year and I suppose it really doesn’t matter. My sons and I stay home in our pajamas all day, eat a big pancake and bacon breakfast, bake gingerbread cookies, make ornaments, decorate our Christmas tree, and crank up the Christmas tunes. “Dominic the Donkey” and “I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas” are likely our Pajama Friday anthems. I even sneak in some of my college glee club Christmas recordings, which is a lovely trip down memory lane. Add in the comfort of a fire dancing in the fireplace, and it’s pretty much a perfect day. Simple and perfect. No fuss. No pressure. Treasured time together. 

I suppose in some ways Pajama Friday is a sort of Black Friday protest. I’ve never enjoyed shopping. Not one bit. So when you add in large crowds of people pushing and shoving each other to grab sale items in hot, stuffy stores…yeah, you can count me out. It always struck me as odd that we feel the need to pile into stores to buy loads of crap the day after a national holiday reflecting on all we are thankful for. Now, if you love shopping, don’t mind the crowds, and look forward to Black Fridays, more power to you. It’s just not my jam.

The real reason I started Pajama Friday has little to do with Black Friday or our national consumer rituals. The truth is that the holidays are hard for many of us, especially the stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. They can be painful reminders of the loved ones we lost. I used to look forward to Thanksgiving…good food, family, and no pressure to buy presents. It was perfect, perfect until my thirty-nine year old brother passed away unexpectedly one week before Thanksgiving nine years ago. My family gathered and tried our best to get through Thanksgiving that year, the day after we buried my brother. Honestly, most of us could barely swallow more than a bite or two that day. After that, the smells, the sounds, and the foods of Thanksgiving became reminders of my brother’s death. I dreaded the damn holiday, but I didn’t want my pain to color my children’s Thanksgiving experiences for years to come. I needed a distraction; I needed something else to look forward to. Thus, Pajama Friday was born and it was perfect. Different smells, different sounds, different foods, and different rituals. More importantly, it became a day to spend quality time with my precious children. Now, Pajama Friday is my favorite holiday and, somehow, it managed to take some of the sting out of a difficult time of year. And for that, I am most thankful.        

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