My daughter Zoey is three years old, with all that being three entails. Some people say it’s actually worse than the terrible twos. Somedays I would agree. In my experience as a mother the third year is an interesting one in the sense that it really walks the line between infancy and childhood. Two year olds are still very much babies, four year olds are not. Lately, in all of her obliviousness of societal norms, Zoey has been asking people to show her their bellybuttons.
I giggle every time. But I remember the first time she asked me, I laughed and then cringed when I realized she was serious. Some mothers are awarded the fortune of having bodies left relatively unscathed by their giant pregnant bellies, I am not one of those mothers. I typically do not volunteer the sight of my tummy to anyone. And I am ashamed to admit that I have told my three year old daughter “no” when she asked to see my belly button. I am even more ashamed to say that when she asked me why, I responded with; “because mommy is fat.” Zoey just accepted this as fact, said “oh okay” and went about her day. She was unaware of the grave mistake I had made, and it was one I had made many times before in different situations.
You see, I am not that fat. I am by no means a bikini model, but I can run 4+ miles without stopping for a break, run up all 8 bajillion stairs in my school library, and still land front flips on my kids new trampoline. But in that moment, I had taught my daughter that the way I looked was something to be ashamed of. I confirmed that only the flattest tummies should be shown and that stretch marks are secrets. I told her what was okay to look at and what wasn’t, all without really meaning to. I have the same affect on my son when I hide my imperfections from him, and then tell him that I don’t show X area of my body to people because I don’t like it.
As the most dominant influence in their lives as their parent (yes, their dad plays a role too. No, I am not dad shaming here) I am shaping their perception of beauty everyday. I am defining their perceptions of themselves. I am shaping their consciousness with my actions more than my words, and I am sending mixed messages when I tell them in words that “everyone is beautiful” but I hide my own bellybutton from a three year old.
And this is why I have learned to lie to my children. Just hear me out here…
I fully realize the impact that I have on my children. I realize that Jace hears me when I say casually that “mommy is fat,” and that Zoey sees me when I hide my insecurities. So I have come to lie to them, with my actions and my words, in hopes that someday maybe… it won’t be a lie anymore. When Zoey asks me to see my bellybutton now, I flash it proudly. My once adorably pierced naval is scarred and imperfect. But here’s the thing… she doesn’t even notice. Truly. She giggles, as she does at all bellybuttons, and goes on with her day. And I’ve given her the gift of self acceptance in the mean time. I’ve not taught her the lesson that there is something wrong with a post maternal body. She thinks that it’s just another bellybutton… and she’s right.
I hate everything about the way I look in a bathing suit, as I am afraid the majority of women do. But we live in Florida, bathing suits are an unavoidable reality and I don’t own a single one piece. I shop Victoria’s Secret’s swim sale like a boss, and I wear every single item I buy. I lie to my children as I don’t let on for a second that there a probably a million reasons that I could opt for a more conservative suit. I lie to them as I swim, tan, and play in the sand like I’m the hottest mom on the beach.
I won’t lie to you though, dear readers, it is not an easy fight. Lying is not second nature to someone like me, in all other instances I am honest to my core. I still hesitate when it’s time for the t-shirt to come off at the beach, but in the end…it always does. Body image in the Bikini State can be a real bitch, but it is a lie that I fight to portray. And somedays, I do in fact, believe in my own lie.