Disclaimer: 1) This post has the potential to step on some toes, so if you are the type who spends your time looking for reasons to be offended or if you always think the finger is pointing directly at YOU, stop reading now. 2) I am, admittedly, guilty of the acts I will describe in this post; therefore this is not an act of sanctimony but a declaration of intent to reform.

“You don’t have a soul; you are a soul. You have a body.” – C.S. Lewis

My long term memory is awesome. I can remember the first time I went to Sunday school when I was four. I can remember every kid from my kindergarten class. What I cannot remember is a time in my life when I didn’t think I was fat.

I have never been petite. I was not one of the teeny little blond girls who looked just like her dolls. I have an ample booty and by the time I was middle school aged, I was already wearing a C-cup. Oh, don’t misunderstand me; I wasn’t so huge that I could barely walk. No one stopped to stare at the fat girl when I walked by or anything, I was just taller and thicker than the other girls. This is due in part to genetics and in part to the fact that even watching people sweat on TV makes me want to take a shower. Oh, and let us not forget my affinity for baked goods.

I have serious body image issues.

It’s no one’s fault. No one is to blame. No one ever told me that I had to be a certain weight or have particular facial features to be pretty. That is, no one said those actual words to my face. But, my friends and family (and yes, I) would always make comments about the physical appearance of other people. How many times did I hear, “She was so pretty but then she gained all that weight,” “Ew! Look at her nose! It’s huge!” “That woman is too fat to be wearing that outfit,” and on and on and on. What else was I supposed to conclude? When all the boys wanted to talk to my thin, blond, beautiful cousin Kristie and I was “the smart one,” so they never even looked my way, what else would I think? (Kristie was great though.  I had the biggest crush on this boy named Dusty but he, of course, liked Kristie. She refused to sit with him, talk to him, or go see him unless I was also invited. It was uncomfortable for me, but she was not going to leave me out.)

I have spent the past 33 years thinking that I would wear this, do that, or go there when I lost some weight. I refuse to do that anymore.

I’m not looking for sympathy. It’s not like I’m the only person who feels this way. We live in a culture in which real people keep getting bigger but the media shows us pictures of airbrushed, underweight women as if that’s what we’re really supposed to look like.

I thought it was normal to feel that way, to talk about people’s physical appearance until I met people who were confident enough in themselves that they didn’t feel the need to point out flaws in other people. Wow! What a refreshing concept! In fact, I went so long without having one of these conversations that the next time someone said, “I ran into ____ the other day. She’s at least a size___!!” I thought, why do you care? Why does another person’s jeans size have such a profound impact on your life that you need to discuss it with someone else?

 Then, I started to ask myself those same questions. Why do I care what someone else looks like? What does it matter if someone has gained weight, or aged, or cut their hair in a way that I might not want to cut mine? Who cares? Does it make him/her a bad person? Does it mean they have become less intelligent, less spiritual, less friendly, or just…less? Does it make me feel better about my own body image issues to talk about someone else? Ding, ding, ding!!! Tell her what she’s won, Jack! Why else would it even be worth mentioning?

It isn’t.

Madeline is probably not going to be petite, either. But, whether she is tall and thin, tall and thick, or a little teapot like her mother, she will be beautiful. Whether she is blond, brunette, or redhead, she will be beautiful. Whether she has a broad nose like mine or a straight nose like Dan, she will be beautiful. Whether she has a high forehead like her Mom or a…OK she’s going to have a high forehead, and she will be beautiful.

I want Madeline to know that true beauty comes within. It’s cliche and we all say it without living it, but I want to live it. If I tell my daughter that beauty is only skin deep, and that what makes a person beautiful is love, kindness, gentleness, and generosity of spirit, but then I talk about how awful I look because I’m fat or go on about how much I hate the shape of my chin, isn’t that hypocritical? What is she really going to learn from that? Studies have shown that a mother’s body image and self-esteem are directly related to her daughter’s. I want my Madeline to be confident and to like herself for who she is, not what she looks like.

Yes, I want her to be healthy.I don’t want her to be overweight. Do I want her to be unkempt and disheveled? Of course not! I want her to take care of herself and look like she takes care of herself. I just don’t want her to spend her entire life obssessing over whether she’s gained a few pounds, or the size or shape of her facial features or hands or feet or whatever.

Sounds idealistic and far-fetched, doesn’t it? It doesn’t have to be. If C.S. Lewis is correct, and I believe he is, then wouldn’t it make more sense to focus our attention on the soul – the real person – than the body, which is only a temporary means of transportation? Seriously, when was the last time you went to a funeral and heard someone eulogized with the words, “LuLu was always visiting the poor and sick, loved with her whole heart, and worked hard to make the world a better place, but with those big thighs she probably can’t fit into heaven?” If that’s not how we want people to remember us – and they won’t – then why is it even worth talking about?

Because I have a daughter, I am going to make every effort possible to improve my own body image so that I can model a healthy, positive self-esteem for her. Because I have a daughter, I do not want her to hear negative things being said about the physical appearance of other people. Because I have a daughter, I will carefully explain that normal people do not look like the people in the magazines and on TV, and hope that she doesn’t buy into the almost constant ads for weight loss products that will only make her sick. Because I have a daughter, I am banning another “F” word from my house. It rhymes with cat. (There are now three. The obvious one, the one that rhymes with heart, and now the one that rhymes with cat.)

And, because I have a daughter and you might, as well, I am issuing a challenge to all of us. Before we say anything negative about a person’s appearance, we must first say two positive (and sincere) things. If we can’t say anything nice, we will keep our mouths shut. Are you with me?

Since I met my incredible husband, I have gone from a size 8 to a size 16. I would blame it on the baby, but my wedding dress was a size 14, so that’s out. I am currently larger than I have ever been. And, I am beautiful.

Yep. I sure am.