My daughter loves seeing herself in the mirror, drawn to her parallel image like a magnet. Ever since she has been old enough to recognize her reflection in the glass, she has smiled, giggled, and reached out for herself. It’s a beautiful sight. As one who has fought my own reflection in the mirror, I’m starting to understand these moments as what they truly are: sacred.
Ella is not yet two years old. Her belly is as round as a ball after each meal, and her legs still carry the remnants of baby pudge. She is stretching out, but she is still a little bit baby—a little bit soft. And she adores herself. Now that she’s walking, running, and trying to jump, she will run to the full-length mirror in our room and stand in front of it, watching herself as she moves. She usually dances and shakes her head, giggling at herself. More than once, I have caught myself with tears in my eyes and have prayed that she would always delight in her body like this.
It’s been many years since I have been able to do the same. That freedom, that lack of self-consciousness, that complete joy in her own reflection—that is an experience that I don’t want her to lose. But her growing-up years will take place in a culture that is trying to tell her she has nothing to delight in when she looks in the mirror.
A Lost Freedom
Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I looked in the mirror with pure delight. I do like myself, and I think that I have a healthy self-image. I don’t loathe my body or avoid mirrors, but even when I’m feeling fit and my clothes enhance my figure, I tend to focus on the aspects of my body that I don’t love. I focus on my rounding tummy, the girth of my thighs, the shortness of my eyelashes. And I try to do the work of covering up so as to not draw attention to those parts of my body. I might like how I look, but I rarely completely love what I see.
It’s been this way, to various degrees, since elementary school, when one of my female classmates told me that I had “big thighs.” After that, life was never the same.
I’m not being dramatic. Up until that moment, I had never even considered the size of my thighs. I knew that I had a body and that other people had bodies, but I didn’t consider how my body looked compared to theirs. I just knew that my legs worked well and that they helped me jump when I played basketball—that was all I cared about.
But when my classmate told me that she thought my thighs were big, I started looking at the size of my legs in light of the size of other girls’ legs. I discovered the ugly game of comparison. I shot up quickly in junior high and had knobby knees, but I didn’t develop any discernable bustline until years after many of my peers had needed actual bras. And although I was a bit gangly, I always carried a little weight in my tummy. It seemed that I would never have the perfect body I saw in commercials and magazines.
Nearly two decades later, I know that our culture’s interpretation of the “perfect” body is impossible—at least for me. And I really am okay with that. I’m not always thrilled, but I’ve made peace with my body. It does many things nearly perfectly—I can walk, even run, in this body. I have been able to carry a child. I can talk, and learn, and eat, and smile. These are amazing, nearly-perfect things. And I’m grateful.
Would I be happy if my metabolism was a bit faster? Probably. Would I like it if I had naturally smaller thighs? Sure. But the peace that I’ve gained with my body over these years since elementary school has been hard-won. And that’s why seeing Ella dancing in front of the mirror has both inspired and challenged me.
What She’s Teaching Me
My daughter has no sense of culturally imposed standards of beauty. She rejoices in her own reflection because she has no reason to not like herself; everyone in her life delights in her, and tells her so. Why would she not smile at her own face when she receives smiles on every side?
And this is what I always want her to have: encouragement about her body and praise regarding her internal—and external—beauty. Because she is beautiful. She is beautiful because the Creator of the heavens and the earth knit her together and delights in her (Psalm 139). He wove her every cell together when she was inside me. And still, as the one who holds all things together, he is remaking her, cell by cell, every day (Colossians 1:17). She is a wonder. She should be thrilled when she looks in the mirror! She’s a miracle!
Ella’s wonder with herself is calling me to remember that I, too, am a wonder. My working cells, my breathing lungs, my functioning brain—what a wonder I am! My thighs, knit together by a loving God. My tummy, sustained by an awesome Creator. What a wonder I am!
What a wonder you are! What a miracle, really, that any of us are here, living, gasping, hoping, loving, and speaking. All is wonder, truly.
Read the rest of the article here, at Today’s Christian Woman!