Can I Tell Her She is Pretty?

Hey Pretty Girl! I see you! Good morning, Beautiful!

Each morning since school started, I try to be the one that wakes Alice up. She sleeps in her footie jammies in a sleep sack, and since being able to roll, she prefers her tummy. I usually find her with her head in the same corner of the crib, not quite up against the slats, but close. She is a cuddle bug and I know she likes to feel cozy, but she is too little yet for me to let her have her bunny or a blankie in bed.

When I flick the light switch on, she rubs her eyes and buries her face in her hands and the flat sheet. Then she brings her head up, turns toward my voice, and with her eyes still squinted shut, smiles a big three-bottom-tooth grin.

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Hey Alice! Hey there Pretty Girl!

Cortney picks Alice and Charlie up from daycare each day. They get home after Eddie and me around 5pm. When he sets Alice’s carrier on the counter, I am almost always the one to greet her and get her out. The moment she catches sight of me, I get a big, nose-scrunchy smile.

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She is beautiful. Gorgeous, even.

When I look at her I see the prettiest baby in the world. When she coos and “talks” I tell her she has so much to say. I tell her what she says is important and that I love to hear it. I tell her she is so smart. I tell her she’s such a Big Girl when she accomplishes something like grasping a toy she has been working for or trying a new flavor of baby food.

I also tell her she is pretty. Constantly.

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When I had only boys, I never thought twice about telling them how smart and handsome and wonderful they were. Yes, I read some things here and there that said you aren’t supposed to say “good job!” to your kids (of course I can’t find the dang thing now. I see it all over Pinterest forever and when I go to find it? Nope. Sorry.), but as someone who works with kids, I know what encouragement–or actually the lack of it–does to kids. So I vowed to always affirm my children’s positive behavior, accomplishments, and words.

For six years I have been raising men. I have focused in on how to be a mom of boys who will be good men someday. I have been conscious of not just encouraging them, but of being a role model of a strong, confident woman. I try to model constructive communication over yelling (key word: try). Cortney models how women should be treated.

I’m not going to say it’s easier to be the mom of boys, but I will say that I feel like encouraging them and guiding them to have a positive self-image is less of an anxiety trigger for me.

I don’t know a mom out there who doesn’t think her own children are the most beautiful in the world, but when it comes to girls, I also know that somewhere society becomes louder than our moms’ voices.

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I don’t know when I started thinking I was awkward or less pretty than the other girls at school, but it was early. It was for sure by fourth grade. Maybe earlier.

I felt lanky and awkward. My hair was too frizzy. My bangs were weird. Then middle school rolled around and I had acne. I was flat-chested. I had zero curves. I weighed barely 100 pounds in high school and I felt like my thighs were too big.

In college I didn’t have the right “black booty pants” (fellow 90’s girls, I know you know what I mean). I was more Metallica than Back Street Boys, more Wu Tang than Will Smith. I wore a size 6 and was afraid of how many calories were in the beer I drank–although I would never say anything in front of all my guy friends.

As an adult I long for those size 6 pants and the short plaid skirts with Docs. Now I struggle with grey hair in my 30’s and pine for my long brown wonderful hair of my 20’s.

I can’t remember ever feeling pretty. Well, that’s not true. I can remember feeling pretty here and there, but not as a general rule. Not as an every day thing.

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Before having a daughter, I agreed with people who said not to focus on looks. Talk about her brain. About how smart she is and how important her words are. Let her know she can be whatever she wants. Let her know it’s not about looks anyway.

But you know what?

For a lot of us, even though maybe it shouldn’t matter, it does. We want to feel pretty.

We want to feel good about ourselves and all of our nooks and crannies…just the way we are.

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I still agree that we need to tell our girls how important their words and thoughts are; society still makes everything harder for women.  But I also think it’s ok–imperative even–that we tell our daughters they are beautiful.

Every day I have middle school girls who walk into my classroom feeling less than beautiful. I see the affects our culture already has on them at just thirteen years old. Some are already beaten down because they do not fit what our society defines as beauty…and no one has told them any different.

I equally don’t want Alice to feel like she has to fit some sort of mold as far as her looks, as well as I don’t want her to feel like she is anything less than gorgeous.

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So maybe I’m not “supposed” to tell her she is pretty because heaven for bid, she may believe it. She may walk into a room not worrying what people think of her hair or skin or size. She may be able to focus on her thoughts and words because she is not worrying about whether or not she is pretty enough.

I am willing to take that risk.

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Photos by TMV Photogrphy

“You Look Great!” and other lies I want to believe

I don’t gain weight when I’m pregnant. It’s one of the only happy side effects of pregnancy I get other than the baby at the end. I spend a lot of time either barfing or feeling like barfing.  When I’m not sick, I just don’t feel like eating. When I do feel like eating, it’s almost always fruit I want.  Or peanut butter. When I crave junk, I let myself eat junk because at least it stays down.

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All that to say, after my baby is born, I am lighter than when I got pregnant with said baby. Every time. It was most drastic this last time with Alice. I think I was even surprised because she was my first baby who gave me junk food cravings (“fried” is a food group that can be craved, yes?), and because I knew she was the last, I really let myself just eat whatever I wanted because I was so SO sick the first trimester.

I knew it would bite me in the butt later, but pregnant women care not for “later” when it comes to food.

After Alice was born, I lost a LOT of weight. A lot.

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In fact, I was almost 40 pounds lighter than when she was conceived. After “she’s beautiful!” the very next thing people said to me was, “you look great!  Really! So great!”

I thanked them and blew off the compliment because I died a little on the inside every time.

Because I know you meant the compliment in all the wonderful ways possible, but I also knew that the weight loss was temporary.

You see, after I have a baby, I am completely uninterested in food. Nothing really tastes good to me except coffee. So for a good 2-4 weeks, I live on almost nothing but coffee and the occasional peanut butter sandwich. The weight falls off because I’m not eating or sleeping well and my hormones are still all out wack. When you tell me how fabulous I look, I know that as soon as food tastes good again and my hormones start evening out, the weight will pile back up, and no one will tell me I look fantastic again.

Here I am, almost five months postpartum, and the weight is all back.

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I’m disappointed in myself.

I had high hopes of keeping it off this time. Of getting into a work out routine. Of eating healthy.

I have all the excuses: hormones are still acting dumb (my hair is all falling out, my complexion is under the impression I am thirteen again, etc.), I am tired all the time (baby + two active boys = not enough sleep), cardio makes me wheeze (yes, I need to talk to my doctor about this because it is a new turn of events that I need to know if I need to work through or what), I’d rather read a book.  You know all the typical stuff.

The thing is, five months ago when everyone was complimenting me, I knew my aspirations to do better this time were empty. I didn’t want to accept those compliments because I didn’t feel that I did anything to deserve them. I didn’t work on myself or take care of myself to earn a healthier physique. I had a baby and lost a bunch of blood and water and a human from my body. And I didn’t eat.

Back then, I felt that if people knew what I knew, they wouldn’t be telling me I look great because they would also know that given a few months, I would not look great anymore.  Or at least not the “great” they were currently complimenting.

Now I struggle with my body image daily, and I feel that I have somehow let people down.

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I always said, once my last baby was born, there would be no more excuses for not getting my body back to feeling great. But here I am again.

I know it’s not “too late”. I know what I have to do.

I also know thinking about starting makes me want to cry.

Not just because it’s a lot of work (well, that too), but because it overwhelms me. I know I need to start by making an appointment with my doctor. I need to get blood work done and check my thyroid and all those good things that haven’t been checked. I need to talk to him about the wheezing (because DUDE. That never happened before) and find out if my knee is good for some brisk walking (and hopefully more).

I know I need to eat more spinach and less bbq potato chips, more water and less lemonade.

I also know that more importantly, I have three kids watching me. I have a daughter now who will be determining what looking “great” means, and I want her to associate that with “healthy”.

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But most of all, I want to believe that I will do these things because I want to believe that I look great, and I am not in that place yet.

Body Identity and Choosing Myself

A few weeks ago Cortney and I were having drinks with friends and the question came up of how people identify themselves according to their body type/weight.  We were discussing how some people come right out and say “I identify as athletic” or “I identify as fat” and they can mean it in a totally fine-with-it way.  It’s simply how they see themselves. They started talking about how they “identify” themselves.

I was astounded by their answers. They had totally different body identities for themselves than I have for them. While I see them as fit and slender and lean and gorgeous, they saw fat.

When it came to me, I really didn’t know what to say. I wanted to say how I identified, but I didn’t really know.  As a teenager I was a rail.  The joke among friends was that I had the body of a 12-year-old boy.  My OB still tells me that my hips are very narrow (too narrow to birth my giant-headed babies). Up until I was around 24, I wore a size 6 or 8.  I didn’t even get boobs until I was 25.  True story.

After having babies I gained weight and a new shape.  On my narrow hips, I now have padding so a baby can fit snuggly up there while I am cutting up a banana for lunch.  My thighs have filled out and have spider veins.  My feet are continuously dry and cracked from standing on them.  They are also wider.  My chest is larger…and softer.  My tummy is squishy.

I haven’t worked too hard to fix the extra weight.  While I have gotten much better and putting my mental health higher on the priority list, I haven’t done the same with my body.  I mean, let’s face it: I don’t even shower every day when I am home with the boys because I lose track of time!

I do know this: I don’t identify as fat.

Maybe other people look at me and identify me as fat in their mental Rolodex of filing and classifying people.  Maybe they say in their mind, “Katie? Katie Sluiter? Oh yes, she is one of my Mom friends who is average height, has nice hair color, and is sort of chubby.”

Next month I am going to a big blog conference. I am sure people who hug me for the first time will be a bit surprised that there is more of me than they notice online.

That’s Ok.  This is what my body looks like right now.

But I don’t say to myself, “well, I identify as fat.”

I should be clear here.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with identifying as fat.  I am not ashamed of my current size. In fact, I am probably more comfortable in my body now than I have been in my whole life.  Some women are big and they LOVE themselves.  And I love that. They SHOULD love themselves. But for this post, I am just talking about my body and my perception of it.

Anyway, I don’t identify as fat.  But I don’t identify as thin either.  I don’t think I identify as a body type.  It changes too much for me.

I thought about all this a couple weeks ago as I made a decision for myself.  I was in the process of trying to figure out our summer weekday schedule around here since the boys and I have come very close to just Lord of the Flies-ing each other. I figured I needed some alone time in my day.  I don’t get it at nap time anymore since Eddie almost never naps anymore.

I needed Cort to do bedtime more often now that I am home everyday.  I needed that quiet.  In fact, I needed to leave the house during that time because I just couldn’t stand to use that time to start picking up the carnage  remnants of the day.  I also knew that I needed some physical activity.  I was actually craving it.

Now, if you know me at all you don’t believe that last sentence even a little bit.  I am probably the least athletic person on this earth.  The thought of sweating makes me sweat.  I hate it. I hate playing sports. I hate running.  I putting my lack of coordination on display. I hate setting myself up for failure.

But I needed to get my heart going.  So I decided to take a walk four nights a week while Cort did bedtime.  I started doing some quick figuring.  If I walk my entire subdivision, that’s two miles. If I do that four times a week, that’s 8 miles a week.  If I start going further then…well, the math gets hard.  But I did figure out that there is a good possibility that I could walk 100 miles before I go back to school in the fall.

And so it was born.

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I am not doing this because I feel fat (although I do have “fat days”).  I am not doing it with any weight-loss goals at all…in fact, I didn’t weight myself before I started doing this at the beginning of last week, and I haven’t weighed myself since starting.

I am not even going to worry if it looks like I won’t make the 100 miles.  I’m just going to walk.  Four times a week.

My body is strong.  No, I can’t do a push up or a chin up. I can barely do 10 sit-ups.  I can’t run more than 100 feet without getting a side cramp, and I can’t press much more than the bar. I hate squats and I loathe lunges.  If it is meant to tone anything on me, I hate it.

But my body went through four pregnancies and gave me two live babies.

It helped me battle my own brain.

It has changed and softened to be motherly for my children.

I want to identify as “strong”.

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