I'm still not used to using the words, "my daughter." After three boys, I thought that the universe and I had come to the agreement that I was to be solely a boy mom, my future bound with lightsabers and shiny athletic shorts and LEGOs from here to eternity.
But then there was Lucy: Lucy, my daughter. I had wondered all those years what a girl version of my boys would look like. I wondered if she would be tall like they always have been, if she would be lanky or curvy, if she would have my firstborn's blue eyes or the other boys' deep brown. I wondered if she would be a bookworm like me, play with dolls as well as Star Wars figures, climb trees and take ballet.
I no longer wonder. My mornings now begin with a little bundle of girl beside me, snuggling into me, her pacifier bobbing, her hands tucked into my chest. Her name means "light," and it fits her: Everywhere we go, she brings joy with a smile that crinkles her nose. "She looks just like you," her admirers say, their eyes bouncing from her face to mine.
I smile because this makes me so proud, but I fight the urge to wince. I agree; she does look like me. She looks a lot like my baby pictures. She has my blue eyes, my brown hair, my round cheeks.
But in the moment that I acknowledge that my baby girl does look "just like me," my throat tightens. A million images, snapshots of my life, flash through my mind before I can stop them:
Sitting in a condo at the beach with my cousins when I was about 8, pulling my T-shirt down over my little belly after one of them points to it and says it is "too fat";
Reading the lips of two classmates in my sixth grade homeroom and realizing that the boy in the conversation -- the one I had a crush on -- is saying he could "never" like me because... then puffing out his cheeks and making a circular motion with his hands;
Perming my straight, impossibly thick, hair over and over again in a desperate attempt to achieve the '80s beloved crimped effect, only to have the tight waves fall out almost immediately;
Wearing baggy, XL men's T shirts over my bathing suit at Spring Break in high school, hiding both my abhorrent stomach and my precocious cleavage;
Spending a sort of horrifying amount of time my freshman year in college wishing I was blonde and coveting others' hair color after deciding that anyone looks more interesting and prettier when she is blonde;
And dieting. So much dieting. So much policing my food and my exercise. So much time spent in dark gyms, on treadmills, jogging to nowhere, staring at my reflection in the gym mirror and wondering why the image of what I thought I should look like never matched what I saw there.
Lucy, though, is one of the four most beautiful people in the world to me, along with my three sons. I love her blue eyes. I love her brown hair. I love her round cheeks. I love so many of the things about her that I know I gave her from this body that was never good enough or pretty enough for me. So when people tell me we look alike, I ache because I know that she may someday feel the same self-loathing I have felt -- and for the knowledge that I have been so unfair to myself for so long.
My fervent wish for the baby girl I waited so long to meet is that she does not waste that same time and energy that I have. I hope that she comes to appreciate that the round cheeks help us look younger when age begins to take over. I hope she grows to value her brown hair that, if it is like mine, will have natural highlights every summer. I hope she always believes she completes a picture, not that she ruins it. I hope, and yet I feel helpless, because I know my own mother and father had those same hopes for me. They told me I was beautiful often, along with smart, accomplished and brave. My heroes were Nancy Drew and Anne Shirley, not Barbie or princesses. I was confident of my skills and talents in every other aspect of my life. My parents did the best they could, I was a successful person, and yet I still felt the way I did.
How do I raise my baby girl to love -- or, at the very least, not to hate -- the same features I have picked apart for so long? Perhaps there is no surefire way to vaccinate a girl against insecurity about her physical appearance, but I have to try. Part of that effort, I know, will mean finally letting myself off the hook: not only learning to embrace myself and all my imperfections as "enough," but also forgiving myself for the emotional abuse I have engaged in against my body for most of my life. So much of the time, people talk about what motherhood might take away from you: your time, your body, your sleep, your patience. It might very well take desperately loving my daughter -- every part of her, including the reflections of me -- to give myself something important: acceptance. Maybe some of it could rub off on her.
I have been, as we often are, my own worst critic. My challenge is to teach my daughter to be her own champion instead. My job is to let her know she is enough, even when in a certain moment she doesn't feel like it.
She looks just like me. I need to see that as a blessing to her, not a curse. I am trying.
Adele says she <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504803_162-57376080-10391709/adele-talks-about-her-body-image-and-weight/">tries not to worry</a> about her body image and doesn't want to be a "skinny minnie." "The first thing to do is be happy with yourself and appreciate your body -- only then should you try to change things about yourself."
After the March 2012 frenzy around Judd's "puffy face," the actress fought back in <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/04/09/ashley-judd-slaps-media-in-the-face-for-speculation-over-her-puffy-appearance.html">The Daily Beast</a>, calling the media out for making women's bodies "a source of speculation, ridicule, and invalidation, as if they belong to others."
On her informed, thoughtful blog <a href="http://www.the-beheld.com/">"The Beheld,"</a> Autumn writes about beauty, body image, appearance and her two -- that's right, <em>two </em>-- mirror fasts.
The actress <a href="https://twitter.com/RebelWilson/status/253324823005118465">took to Twitter</a> to say, "I'm not trying to be hot. I'm just trying to be a good actress and entertain people."
Gruys went on a year-long<a href="http://www.ayearwithoutmirrors.com/"> mirror fast</a> during which she did not study her reflection in mirrors or other reflective surfaces, or look at photographs of herself.
After the media focused on her <a href="http://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-body/news/lady-gaga-shows-off-25-pound-weight-gain-in-tight-outfit-2012229">alleged weight gain</a> in September 2012, Gaga hit back at critics by baring her body in photographs, sharing her struggles with an eating disorder, and inviting her fans to join her in a <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/melaniehaiken/2012/09/26/lady-gaga-puts-bulimia-and-body-image-on-the-table-in-a-big-way/">"body revolution."</a>
"I am always in support of someone who is willing and comfortable in their own skin enough to embrace it," the singer said in a<a href="http://www.ianslive.in/index.php?param=news/Aguilera_wants_to_empower_women-389922/ENTERTAINMENT/15"> recent interview</a>.
At the 2012 New Yorker Festival, the magazine's TV critic, Emily Nussbaum, asked Lena Dunham, producer, creator and star of the hit HBO show "Girls," why <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/08/lena-dunham-new-yorker-festival-emily-nussbaum_n_1948596.html?utm_hp_ref=women&ir=Women">Dunham is naked in so many scenes</a>. Dunham responded, "I realized that what was missing in movies for me was the presence of bodies I understood." She said she plans to live until she is 105 and show her thighs every day.
This 5-foot-tall, 200-pound singer spoke openly about her weight to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/01/beth-ditto-talks-skinny-privilege-fiancee-body-image_n_2057290.html?utm_hp_ref=women&ir=Women">The Advocate</a>, saying, "I feel sorry ... for people who've had skinny privilege and then have it taken away from them. I have had a lifetime to adjust to seeing how people treat women who aren't their idea of beautiful and therefore aren't their idea of useful, and I had to find ways to become useful to myself."
Chung <a href="http://fashionista.com/2012/10/alexa-chung-on-her-upcoming-line-and-struggling-with-body-image/2/">responded to critics</a> who suggested that her slight frame made her a bad role model for young women, saying: "Just because I exist in this shape doesn't mean that I'm, like, advocating it."
The NYU student started the amazing <a href="http://thebodyloveblog.tumblr.com/">Body Love Blog</a>, where she posted this picture of herself and wrote an <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stella-boonshoft/self-portrait-ask-me-why-_b_1987406.html" target="_hplink">open letter to those who feel entitled to shame others</a> for the size or look of their bodies.
Tate's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/allison-tate/mom-pictures-with-kids_b_1926073.html">essay</a> about body image and motherhood not only broke the Internet; it has sparked a movement of "moms who stay in the picture."
Follow Allison Tate on Twitter: www.twitter.com/allisonstate