I recently saw this video on Facebook.
Selfie, directed by Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Cynthia Wade, reveals how we have the power to redefine what is beautiful in all of us. The video is part of the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty.
It made me think.
Minutes before watching it, I had been giving my husband Phil the hard sell on why I needed eyelash extensions: to distract from my "accordion eyes and Grinch-face." My daughters were not in the room, but we all know that doesn't matter. They hear everything.
Typically, I abstain from this kind of negative self talk around my kids, because I know it sticks. Phil and I consider "fat" and "diet" dirty words. My sister and I still tease my mom for saying repeatedly, "My sisters were so petite and I was born a size ____." A size, for what it's worth, she has yet to reach.
I remember the first time I watched a Dove Real Beauty commercial. It was 2006, and I was sitting on my couch watching the Super Bowl. When the commercial aired -- full of young, beautiful girls who hated the way they looked -- I cried. Sobbed, actually. My daughter Emma was 9 months old at the time, and the thought of her believing she was anything less than exquisite destroyed me.
But that's not why I was crying.
I was crying because, at age 29, thoughts of self-loathing ran through my mind all day long. I starved myself to get that baby weight off. And still, it was never enough. I was never enough. How am I going to teach Emma to love herself? I don't even know what that means.
Well, I had to learn. And I've come a long way. But not far enough.
Maybe it's the winter doldrums, a lack of sleep or my laziness about getting to yoga that's taken a toll on my self-image. My new uniform of a grocery store sweatshirt and reindeer leggings is not exactly sexy. Whatever the case, there has been a whole lot of negative self-talk rattling around in my head: My butt jiggles when I walk. If my left boob hung any lower I would trip over it. How is it possible to have zits and wrinkles simultaneously?
I asked Phil: "Do I put myself down... out loud?"
He paused. "Well, you don't come out and say 'I'm a hideous beast!' But you do tend to make these odd comparisons that are not exactly self-affirming."
"I do? Like what?"
"When we are going out to dinner, for example, you will say something bizarre, like:Do I look like the last clown in the clown car? Do I look like a bell boy? Do I look like a greeter at Walmart? Do I look like a Wookie? Do I look like a hostile transvestite?"
"Hmm. Yes, I guess I do say those things."
When I "poke fun at myself," I think I am being funny. But even seemingly harmless self-depricaiton carries the unmistakable tinge of truth. The truth that I am not good enough, exactly as I am. Even in reindeer leggings.
A teenage girl in Selfie says: "I think my mom's insecurities affect me a lot. When you hear her talk about her insecurities, you start to think about your own."
I asked Emma why she started smiling with her lips together.
"Because I hate my teeth," she said. "I stand in front of the mirror and practice smiling with my mouth closed."
So, we watched Selfie together. As the credits rolled Emma said: "Wow, that made me sad at first, but then end made me smile. That's a cool experiment."
"Do you want to try it?"
She raised one eyebrow. "What, like just you and me? Take selfies?"
"Sure, why not?"
"Well, because you hate getting your picture taken. Do you even know how to take a selfie?"
"I think I can figure it out."
She didn't look convinced. "Ok... let's do it."
She wasn't wrong to be skeptical. I do hate having my picture taken. When I try to take a photo with my phone and accidentally press that Reverse-Selfie button, I scream like I am being stabbed. Every. Single. Time.
In Selfie, the photographer says: "Your mom can redefine beauty, just like you can."
Redefining beauty through selfies? I wasn't convinced. ut I also compare myself to Chewbacca. My judgement could be off.
Taking a selfie did not feel natural nor intuitive. It made me feel like Justin Bieber. But printing and actually looking at the photo -- now that was an eye-opener. How often do you really look at your own face? And no, I don't mean in that special makeup mirror that magnifies your pores 5,000 times. I mean, really look, the way you look at your child's face when she is sleeping and think, how perfect is that little face?
Once I got over the initial GADZOOKS! response of seeing my own reflection, I started to really see. Not beyond my laundry list of imperfections, but beneath them -- like the way I look at a painting in a museum. Instead of noticing flaws and labeling them as "wrong," I just noticed. I asked:
Who is this person? What is her story? What is going on behind those eyes?
I wasn't a total purist. We had fun with filters and photo apps.
Why not? Just like fake eyelashes, hair color, or smokey eye makeup, it's fun to explore and try on different disguises. When I was a teenager, we did it with Manic Panic and black eyeliner. Now, there's an app for that. Blue hair that you don't have to grow out? Genius! In fact, we got so caught up in the possibilities that Emma forgot to hide her teeth.
But despite all the options for brightening or blurring or bronzing, it was this makeup, filterless, early morning selfie that changed how I see myself:
When I look at this photo, I see a mom, a wife, a friend, a daughter, a sister, an artist, a seeker. I see a person who is earnest, kind and loving. I see lines that come from laughing and worrying -- and from a few years of not taking the best care of myself. I see eyes that have seen hundreds of sleepless nights, nursing a baby or changing pukey sheets. I see a face that is grateful to be needed, to be loved, to have finally found a place in this world, and this place is right here, right now. I see peace. I see someone who does her best everyday to become a little bit more of who she truly is.
And that is beautiful.
That's a cop out, right?
OK, I'll say it: I am beautiful.
Now you try.