After having my second baby in less than as many years, things just weren’t the same.

I’d gained 53 pounds in nine months. I had an 8-pound baby then a 9-pound baby, and the stretch marks to show for it. I was left with abdominal muscles that had been separated so far, they came with a clinical diagnosis and a referral to physical therapy. I hadn’t slept in what felt like 10 years, and I had the lowest self-esteem of my entire life.

My appearance became both my greatest fixation and disappointment. I weighed myself daily. Took my measurements obsessively. I stopped eating, almost altogether.

And right there, soaking it all in, was my 2-year-old daughter.

My come to Jesus happened on a day just like any other. But that day, she stepped on the bathroom scale and looked at me expectantly. Her eyes wide as if to say, “What does it say, Mommy? Is it good?”

And in that moment, I felt my heart shatter into a thousand pieces. Right there on that linoleum floor that I hate so much.

It hit me, the way knock-you-down-realizations often do: she was mimicking habits I didn’t even realize she was seeing.

She was just imitating what she’d seen me do so many times. Step on the scale to gauge my worth, and then react, even just slightly.

She didn’t seem to be paying attention all those mornings. She didn’t seem to notice the emphasis I placed on my appearance, and surely she didn’t understand all the emotional baggage that came along with it.

But that’s just it. She didn’t understand. She just knew that Mommy, her most important female influence, weighs herself every morning, then puts on makeup, curls her hair, picks out the perfect jewelry, and eagerly anticipates a compliment from Daddy.

That was her baseline. And that was about to change.

From that day on, I made it my personal mission to openly love myself, especially in front of her. Even when I didn’t believe what I was saying. Even when it made my skin absolutely crawl. Especially then.

I stopped weighing myself. I started telling her that Mommy put on makeup because it made me happy, not because it made me pretty.

I told her we were the most beautiful two girls in the world and that it was OK to do things that made us feel even better, but it was also OK if we didn’t.

The next time she stepped on that scale, I told her that it said she was perfect. Just the way she was.

When I changed clothes and she pointed at my postpartum belly, I didn’t shrink away or criticize my extra skin the way I had so many times before. I said, “Isn’t Mommy’s belly awesome? It held you and your brother while you grew, and then it helped you come out! How cool is that??”

Some of it I said through gritted teeth. Some of it felt hypocritical even. But as the days turned into weeks and our interactions centered on strength and worth and loving who you are right now, I started to feel an empowerment I’d been missing.

I started to believe the things I was saying. What I spoke for her benefit started to pay dividends in my own life. And those returns would only spill back onto her.

I sought help from a personal trainer and a nutritionist to deal with the things I wanted to change in a healthy way. And I threw everything I knew about “being thin” and “dieting” in the trash and started over with the guidance of subject matter experts, who also held me accountable for my success.

I stopped associating my value with superficial garbage.

Did you catch that, sis? Maybe you need to hear that one again. One more time for y’all in the back:

Stop hanging your happiness, your self-worth, your confidence, your ability to feel sexy . . . on what you see in the mirror or on the scale. Stop. Just. Stop.

It’ll feel counterintuitive. It’ll feel scary. It might even feel fake. But it’ll also feel free.

As women, we’ve been told, directly and less so, that our appearance is linked to our ability to be seen as “enough”.

Well, SCREW that.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying you shouldn’t strive for more. I’m not suggesting that you settle for a place where you’re not your best self. I’m just hoping that you’ll love yourself—genuinely love yourself—on the way there.

What would happen if instead of picking apart the crow’s feet or the couple extra pounds, you found one positive thing to say to yourself? Seriously, what would that look like in real life?

Maybe you’d tell yourself you’re working at change and that even though you’re not at your ultimate goal yet, you’re closer than you were when you started. Or maybe you’d say you are strong and capable of anything you set out to do.

Maybe, you’d just say you’re beautiful. In this moment. Today. Under these fluorescent lights. Beautiful.

I don’t know what you’d say. But I do know it would radically change your paradigm. And I’m certain it would reach far past you and your bathroom sink.

I know because I’m seeing the proof in my own house.

We are responsible for raising the next generation of women. You and I.

Isn’t it about time we flipped the script?

Originally published on the author’s blog

You may also like:

You Are Beautiful, My Darling Girls

Dear Daughter, Do Not Be Perfect

Hey Moms, Lose the Weight

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Kendra Barnes

Kendra is co-founder of Daylight to Dark, a lifestyle blog. She's a fun-loving wife and momma to a spirited, blue-eyed girl and a particularly jolly baby boy. She's an expert at holding down the fort, abandoning her coffee, and interjecting just the right amount of snark into any conversation. Through her love of writing, she aspires to share how she turns regular days into memories.

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