Looking past appearance

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When I was pregnant with my first-born, I hoped  if I had a girl, she would NOT  get my ears. Most women hope for a healthy content baby. Although I did hope for this, I also couldn’t help to obsess over the fact that this baby might be born with the ears that I hated. Mind you, I was only nineteen at the time of my first pregnancy, and still struggled with low self-esteem. The damage that was done from childhood about the size of my ears is ultimately where my fear of having a child with my big  ears stemmed from. I was called “Dumbo” I was told to go fly away with my giant Dumbo ears, I was called Jamie Dumbflop, Minnie Mouse, and  an elf.  Prior to these comments about my ear size, I really didn’t see anything wrong with them. I would tie my hair every morning in a half pony tail and when I looked at my reflection, I perceived myself as pretty cute. As soon as my large ear size was pointed out, and made fun of , my self-conscious behaviours began. I no longer would tie my hair in the cute half pony tail that I liked. I no longer wanted to tie my hair at all. I became ashamed of my ears, hid them as much as I could, and wished for small ears like other girls.

When my daughter was born without large ears, I was a little relieved. She wouldn’t have to go through the torment  I did. She wouldn’t have to hate something that she was born with. She would be perfectly fine, and content with all the body parts she was given and never go through the insecurity and shame that I did. Boy, was I wrong…

My daughter is what I would call an early bloomer. Jada was born a healthy birth weight. As she gained  weight, and gained baby rolls, my baby was already being judged for her size. “Whoa, she’s huge” “What are you feeding her?” “Where does she get her size from?” All of these remarks continued towards Jada’s size from birth until this very day. She cut her first two bottom teeth at four months old, and the last time she went to visit the dentist,we were told she already has the teeth of a fourteen year old. Jada just turned 11! She has always been the tallest girl in her class. If you were to look at all of her class photos from preschool until now, you will find her smack in the back row, directly in the middle-every time. She tried gymnastics as a preschooler, and I could see that her gross motor skills were a little behind from her peers. Jada never learnt how to do the monkey bars, because lifting her own body weight, has been a challenge. These are some of the challenges that I have watched my daughter go through.

Last spring we were in the middle of moving and my mommy anxiety kicked into ultra mode. I made every effort to make the transition easy for them. We took a tour of the new school and the girls were introduced to their new classrooms and teachers. The day of the introduction, the girls were a bit nervous. Jada walked into her new classroom, and as soon as her teacher introduced her, someone shouted out “whoa!!! She’s huge!!!” And then the next remark, “Yah,  she’s so big!” Despite the comments, their were some children who were very eager to give Jada a little tour. We got into the car, and drove away from the place where they would start a new chapter in their lives. Jada had a huge smile on her face, and was reminiscing about some of the children who were kind and eager to show her around. I asked her how she felt about the first reaction when some of the children called her “huge” and she replied, ” Oh it’s o.k mom, at first it almost hurt my feelings, but then I remembered all the times you told me that sometimes when kids say huge, they don’t mean fat or anything, they just mean tall. The kids were really nice and funny and so many of them wanted to show me around.” My relief turned on, and I felt proud that my daughter was showing confidence and acceptance. She didn’t let the remarks about her size affect her. I could feel her excitement towards the new door that was opening in her life.

One morning Jada was having a grumpy start to her day. She was looking at her reflection and pointed out with tears in her eyes how much she hated her chin. ” I hate my chin, it’s so ugly, why do I have  this chin? I hate it!!” She walked into the bathroom and slammed the door and started to weep. I knocked on the door and opened it a crack and asked if I could come in. I walked in, stood in front of the mirror with her and tied my hair back with my hand. We both stood there, staring at our reflections and this is what I said…

“I always hated my ears. I wished I wasn’t born with them and tried to hide them for many years. I could stand here and pick myself apart all day. My hairs too thin, my skins not perfect, my top lip could be fuller. When I think about all the time that I spent hating my body image when I was your age,it was such a waste. I look at myself now and choose to love things about myself. I love the colour of my eyes, the fullness in my bottom lip and the freckles on my nose. Most importantly,  I accept what I was born with and love the things about me that can’t be seen. People like you Jada, because you’re  kind to them, you’re  funny, and you make them feel good. If you heard your friend saying that she hated something about the way she looked, I’m sure  you would want to reassure her that she is being silly. You need to treat yourself and talk to yourself like you would talk to a friend. You need to be your own friend!” I turned to Jada and gave her a big hug. Her sister who was standing near the door the entire time, looked up at Jada and said, ” I think you’re really pretty Jada” and then my toddler who copies everything her sisters says, said, “you pretty Jada” Jada broke out in a small laugh, wiped her tears and we all hugged her. It was like the ending of a full house episode, (except my daughters are brunette. ) I haven’t heard her complain about her chin since.

Jada is a kind soul. She has made a ton of friends and is a leader in her classroom. She is always looking for ways  she can make a difference. If you know Jada, you know, that she has a pure heart and when you are around her you can feel it. It’s unfortunate that these characteristics are pointed out less and her size and body image is pointed out more. As well-adjusted as she is, she will still probably struggle with some body image stuff. Especially with the way media portrays women and girls,  with an ideal beauty  girls feel they need to live up to.

As her mom, the most important role model to her, all I can do is strive to engage in less appearance based conversation. In doing this, the focus for women and girls shifts from us being objects, to us being talented, creative, and gifted people with so much character. When we change the conversation and compliments we give to women and girls from appearance- based to character -based, we are helping them focus on the stuff about them that truly matters. It really is quite empowering.

I feel so blessed to have come across an event that will be taking place on April 28th, Called G day for girls. It is a new social movement that celebrates and empowers girls. It is a day where girls between the age of 10-12 get together for a day long event geared towards puberty, positive body image, anti-bullying,health and mental wellness. I hope that Jada will make some connections with other girls in this day of self-exploration. I have no doubt that Jada will come home empowered. If you have a daughter between the age of 10-12 and would like her to be a part of this event you can get more information from their site @ gdayforgirls.com.

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3 thoughts on “Looking past appearance

  1. Thank you for sharing this story – definitely some things to keep in mind when raising a little girl. My husband and I were talking about these very issues around body image, confidence, self-loathing and how we want to empower our (soon-to-arrive) daughter to feel good about herself.

  2. Great story Jamie! I have a daughter that is 5 years old and I’m already noticing these signs of her being negitative towards herself. I thought it was the shows she was watching and told her she isn’t allowed to watch them anymore but now I can see this issue is going to be around for a while and I hope I can help her with her self esteem before she starts kindergarden. Thank you! Btw growing up with you and your sisters, you guys are very beautiful even still this day and all of you showed great leadership which a lot of girls looked up to you and your sisters.

    Thanks again and tell Jada to keep her chin up high!

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