The Thought That Counts
Like most adults, one of the first things I do each morning is read the news on my phone. As I scroll by images of famous people; my eyes are saturated with beautiful faces and fit physiques dressed in the latest styles. I’m not much of a TV person, but I do read online and do my fair share of Internet shopping. Whether I’m reading the news or buying shoes, I am overwhelmed with what the world defines as beauty: perfect, symmetric, thin, flawless and smooth.
Most mornings my alarm goes off at 4:30 am and I take my sleepy head to the gym to exercise and sweat a little bit. I do it for my physical and mental wellbeing (because punching people is generally frowned upon). I do it because it is a phenomenal way to get rid of stress, increase my endorphins, and feel great about the rest of my day.
Despite all of my efforts, I don’t look anything like Kendall Jenner. I could avoid every carbohydrate until I’m 80 years old and I’m never going to look like a model. I’ve had four children, I’m not 21, and yet everyday I see images that scream perfection. It’s easy to compare your outside beauty to fitness models and movie stars and forget the reality of things like sick kids, 24 hour shifts in the hospital, and eating Jimmy John’s on the soccer field for the third time in a week.
About six years ago, I was getting ready to go out with my husband. My oldest son, who was 7 at the time, was hanging out with me while I was putting on my makeup, chatting up a storm. I was wearing a dress, staring at myself in the mirror. The thoughts in my head were pretty negative as I was turning and trying to find a better angle, as if someone how twisting 30 degrees in the mirror would suddenly make me 2 sizes smaller. (As I type this I’m actually laughing out loud at how I still do this and how ridiculous it is.)
I probably don’t have to tell you the thoughts in my head. If you are a woman, chances are you know exactly what they were. I hadn’t spoken a word, but my inside voice wasn’t saying particularly pleasant things.
My oldest son, who is quite brilliant and perceptive, has always had a serious side. He looked at me and said “Mom, can I ask you something? How come sometimes you say you are fat? How come sometimes you say you don’t look good?”
I just stared at him. Before I could respond, He said something to me that will forever be etched in my heart. He looked at me, dead serious, and said “Mom, I don’t understand you when you don’t talk nice to yourself. You are so beautiful mom, so I don’t get when you lie. You wouldn’t say those words to your friends. You don’t let me lie.”
After my eyes stopped watering, I told him he was right. I promised him I would speak to myself like I speak to my friends.
Man, there is nothing like a child’s words to skip the hitting you in the gut thing and go right to the piercing your heart thing.
I had four little children. I realized they heard every word I said. And more importantly, they “heard” the words I thought to myself. How I spoke to myself would shape the way they spoke to themselves. Everyone has imperfections; I wanted my children to accept their flaws and love their unique attributes. I wanted them to appreciate the amazing things their bodies could do, not their dress size. I wanted them to feel comfortable in their skin and have peace with who God made them to be.
Why didn’t I want that for myself? Why did I think a different set of rules applied to me, and I should compare myself to an unrealistic set of standards?
While I have kept my promise of not speaking negatively out loud, I have found that a large part of my self-care has been to change my internal voice. When I find myself being extra critical, I speak to myself how I would to my best friend. This has been life changing for me. We are constantly bombarded with “perfect” images and the comparison trap is so, so easy.
Kids can see things so clearly, so simply, so honest.
Speak truth to yourself. It’s your thoughts that count the most.