I went to the local Target recently. Like most of my visits there, I went in for toothpaste and a niece’s birthday gift and left $159 lighter because throw pillows were on sale and they had just restocked the clearance rack.
As I walked by the swimsuit section, my first thought was, “Ugh.” Because I’m not sure if there’s any woman in the history of the world who has looked at those racks of swimsuits and thought, “Yay! I love swimsuit shopping! Give me all of the swimsuits to try on – bad lighting, three-paneled mirrors, squeezing and plumping and twisting a body used to sweats and fleece leggings into skin-tight spandex – it’s party time!”
I tried to hurry my preschooler past the tempting racks of colorful clothes – move along, nothing to see here – when I came face to face with a giant banner featuring a laughing model in a bikini holding an inner tube. She was smiling. She was carefree. She was tanned. And she had stretch marks.
Right there on her thigh, larger than life for the world to see were those tell-tale silvery lines that scream out, “I’m human, too!”
Target introduced more realistic, less photo-shopped models in its Spring 2017 swimsuit catalog. There were women with cellulite, women with large curves, and, yes, even women proudly showing their stretch marks. The popular chain received its fair share of excitement and relief from women everywhere, and, of course, its fair share of internet troll-ish criticism, too. I wasn’t sure if they would continue the untouched trend in its advertisements this year, so seeing that banner was a welcome surprise.
And, no lie, I did a happy dance right there in the swimsuit section. I took out my phone and snapped a picture of those lines – because taking a picture of a picture of a model’s bottom in public isn’t awkward at all. But I was so excited to show that picture to my pre-teen daughter that I didn’t care who was looking at me that morning.
My daughter had a huge growth spurt at 11. She went from a little over 5’3” to 5’8” in less than six months, and that kind of quick growth can take a toll on a girl’s skin. A few months into it, she came crying to me because she had some pale lines on her knees, and the boys on the bus kept making fun of her.
“What are those lines? What did you do to yourself? Those look weird.”
When she was younger I had explained about stretch marks when my daughter had seen the marks on my own body – a physical reminder of four pregnancies – but for a young girl, that was a worry for another day. So when she saw lines appearing on her body that had already changed so much, that moved differently and felt differently than ever before, she was devastated.
Is this because I’m fat? Will they ever go away? Do other girls have them? Will they show up in other places on my body, too? Do I need to wear pants from now on?
And oh, did those questions hurt my momma heart.
I have always wanted my children to see themselves as beautiful, treasured children of God. Children fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of their creator, perfectly crafted to His loving specifications. Perhaps because of my own body image struggles, I prayed they would feel comfortable in their own skin, not constantly critical of every little unique part of them.
But as much as I try to speak love and truth into my kids, those ugly whispers can still creep in. Those comparison whispers and inadequacy whispers. Those you’re-not-good-enough whispers that strangle dreams and drain resources.
Why am I like this? Why do I look like this? I’m different than everyone else. I wish I could be better, smarter, thinner, more…
Make no mistake about this, our children’s self-worth is a battleground. A battleground where words of love and truth, of beauty and humanity, are fighting fiercely with whispers and lies of perfection and criticism.
As parents, we can’t give up on that fight. We can’t let those whispers win even an inch of ground in our kid’s hearts.
So thanks, Target, for showing a happy young lady with stretch marks showing. I’ll take every ally I can in this fight.
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