A man’s hand hovers over my 2-year old daughter’s thigh as he whispers ‘She’s pretty. Can I touch her?’
I discover that a male teacher is taking my 3-year old to the the bathroom on her potty breaks at school.
Rushing along a crowded subway platform, a man’s whisper in my ear ‘you know you want to go black…bitch’. My daughter’s little hand clutched in mine, I don’t respond…just keep going. Get away.
Our social conversation is changing. Layers peeled back, horrors, courage, grit and resilience are being revealed.
Those young eyes are watching. Those hearts are feeling your feelings – internalizing your fear and your courage.
The majority of the time, when someone (male or female) meets my daughters, their first response is a comment on their beauty, usually punctuated by some royal reference – ‘princess’ being the favorite.
It amazes me and yet I feel the familiar silence holding my response in. This is the way society is. They’ll have to get used to this and I will teach them how to navigate it, how to value themselves in the face of sexism, marginalization and misogyny. Their father doesn’t call them princess. We’re ok. We’ll just teach them something different at home.
I instinctively swing the other way and never tell them they are pretty. I compliment their style and self-expression. I ask my older daughter if she’s happy in what she’s wearing and if she feels great in her body and clothes. ‘Awesome. Great outfit.’
But then the hypocrisy…she watches me struggle to pick out an outfit that I feel pretty in. She watches my critical gaze scan my reflection in the mirror as my milk-filled breasts push buttons to their limit. My exasperated exhale as I mumble to myself, unbuttoning the too-small blouse and grab a t-shirt, burrow into her mind.
She sees my down-trodden expression as I pull clumps of hair out of my hair brush and whisper, ‘I can’t do my hair. It’s all falling out.’ She feels my critical edges and minor panic as I rush to fold laundry, pick up toys, answer emails and pack her nutritious lunch.
She sees that my words of empowerment to her are not the words I live by. What I live by is the inheritance of a script about my self-worth inextricably linked to my looks and size. My words to myself of mostly critical and measure myself to an impossible standard of crushing perfectionism.
And so I pause. I breath. I take a long look at myself… And what I notice is hypocrisy. It’s a special brand of hypocrisy – one that stems from pure love. The maternal love that moves heaven and earth to hand down a reality to my daughters that is free from the suffering of internalized misogyny.
How do you raise your daughter in the midst of so much change and contradiction? Where the unthinkable is front and center? Where women are building each other up more than ever before? Where her opportunities are so bright but history so dark and precarious?
Love yourself. I know it sounds trite. Those are two words that have little tactile, real meaning to you.
Do it anyway. Forget the excuses and just begin by repeating the words ‘I love you’ to yourself. Start. Don’t examine. Just love.
You have an opportunity to heal the stories that would tell you that you are worthless unless beautiful and silent. To heal the expectation that you must shuffle past the catcalls, not meeting their eyes. That you must remain silent if you are going to stay safe and make it. To heal the story that this is what you deserve. To heal the story that it’s your fault.
In healing your stories, your words to your daughters will imprint the truth of justice, equality and freedom that is each and every person’s inherent nature. You will give your daughters a life path that is un-muddied by conditional love. Her inherent self-confidence will be nurtured because she witnesses you healing your self-confidence.
I love being attractive. I love feeling and looking pretty. I also love being strong. I love getting muddy and bruised hiking out in nature. I love sweating hard and doing handstands. I love the tender, feminine side of myself…the housekeeper and organizer…I love my entrepreneur and sharp business minded self. I love my compassion and feminist revolutionary.
I love my hypocrisy because it is the essence of where I aspire to go against the damaged material and tattered stories of humanity that I have inherited.
Time is indeed up. Those little eyes are watching. What she will draw upon is not the absence of challenge, but how you navigate your challenges. Your internal dialogue, how you act and how you champion truth and justice in your own life will mold her courage and grit.
She will face challenges. She will face heartbreak. She will have her material to contend with.
Yours is not a journey of imparting perfection. Impart the imperfection and then do the work to continue to reveal your truest self in the world. That is what she will remember. That is what she will feel and draw upon in her hardest moments. That will give her roots to stand on and grow farther than your wildest dreams…the dreams of a world where, I too dare to hope, that no girl will ever again have to say #metoo.
Rachel Anne Welch is the founder of Revolution Motherhood, a fitness method tailored to heal and strengthen postpartum bodies. Her signature program, Foundations, integrates pilates, bootcamp, barre and soft foam rolling, and stems from the ultimate experiment of rehabilitating her own postpartum body. You can experience Rachel’s transformative work in New York City where she lives with her husband and two daughters. She also offers on-line video options on her website. You can read more about her work and view her latest programming and class schedule at www.revolutionmotherhood.com.