I'm not a size 8. I never had braces. My hair is that no-man's-land between wavy and curly that is far less than ideal for any planet with humidity. Growing up, when I looked in the mirror, what I saw reflecting back were these imperfections and more. Imperfections that made me self-conscious, that made me wish that I was thinner, taller, had straighter teeth, smoother hair, lighter skin. I thought that perfection was the airbrushed models in glamour magazines and the A-list celebrities in the media, with their flawless skin, shiny locks and enviable bodies. I would constantly and subconsciously compare myself to other girls and in every comparison, my body was more flawed than theirs. During gym class or dance recitals or sleepovers with girlfriends, wherever a dress change was required, I would find the farthest corner, face the wall and then change my clothes in the fastest possible way, all the while trying to also hold up a towel or a t-shirt, lest anyone see anything that may scar them for life.
It wasn't until I was older and went to law school that I became comfortable in my own skin. I was living alone for the first time in my life, in a new city and with new friends. And through experiences and interactions that broadened my horizons, I began to mature and become less self-conscious about how I looked and more confident about myself.
Or so I thought.
And then I had my daughter.
When you become a parent, you automatically also become a role model. It's a title that's conferred upon you, whether you are ready or not. And I was a very aware of my responsibilities as a role model. I read books to my baby, I played music for her, I was sure to never have the TV on when she was awake, I never raised my voice out of anger in her presence. I would tell her she was beautiful just as often as I would tell her she was smart. I would buy her stuffed animals and toy trains, a kitchen set and a basketball, because I did not want her to think that her choices would be limited as a girl. These were almost subconscious decisions I made because I knew that baby-see, baby-do. And I wanted to have a positive influence on her so that she would emulate this behavior in her own time and grow up knowing that she was just as good and capable as anyone else.
Then one day, when my daughter was around 18 months old, I was changing in front of her and it hit me: I was doing it in that same awkward way that I would when I was younger, trying to hide myself, not wanting her to see my imperfections. It almost caught me off-guard. What the hell was I doing? I was showing her that I was uncomfortable with my body. That the body that had carried her for nine months and had nourished her, that that body was not good enough. That there was something to be ashamed of if she did not look a certain way or was not a certain "acceptable" size. I was sending her the wrong message without even realizing it.
As a mother, I am my daughter's first role model when it comes to self-image and I want to show her that there is nothing "model" about it. There is no such thing as perfection. Or rather, she is perfect as she is. I want her to grow up being conscious of her behavior, not her physical attributes. As her mother, I see perfection when I see her, as I'm sure all mothers do when they view their children. But society is less kind and less forgiving. The "average" American woman is a size 14, but the magazines we buy are filled with stunning women who look anything but average. For my daughter to understand that girls and women come in all sizes and shapes and that there is no room for judgment based on appearances, I have to lead by example and to show her that I don't judge myself either.
So now I'm more conscious of my behavior, though admittedly it's a work in progress. I try to eat healthier and work out, but above all, I show my daughter that mummy is comfortable in her own skin, however that skin may look and whatever size pants it may fit into, because there is so much more to life than how one looks. So yes, I'm not a size 8, my nose is round, my teeth are not straight. But the fact that my daughter can see past my "flaws" and has said to me "mummy beautiful" means I'm doing something right. So far.
Tina is a full-time mom, wife, and commercial litigation attorney, working in New York City and enjoying life with her husband and their young daughter in Central New Jersey.
This post first appeared at SheByShe, a new women's opinion site dedicated to sharing women's voices.