The Eyes Have It
A recent morning conversation with a teenager who will remain nameless went like this:
Teenager: I’m not going to school today.
Oblivious parent, A.K.A. me: What do you mean you’re not going to school? Why not?
Teenager: Look at my face! I can’t go out like this.
Me: I’m looking at your face. It looks fine. What are you talking about?
Exasperated teenager: (dramatic sigh, rolls eyes as if to imply that I’m blind, points at flawless face) Right here. I have a huge pimple. I can’t be seen like this. I’m not going to school.
Exasperated mom’s internal dialogue: You’ve got to be kidding me; I don’t have time for this, nor do I have the energy to fight about anything, much less an invisible blemish. Ugh….God, give me patience and empathy for people too young to understand that this isn’t a real problem. This is a teachable moment. I don’t have time for a teachable moment! Teach it anyway – welcome to parenthood.
This led to me giving my beloved teenager a lecture about how they are not as hideous as they believe themselves to be. I explained that no one would notice their minor blemish, because each person is focused on their own insecurities. I explained that when we feel self-conscious about something, we think that everyone else notices it too, but they don’t – because they are too busy hoping we won’t notice the things that they are self-conscious about.
Did this make said teenager feel better? No, the teenager just kept telling me that I didn’t understand. But I do. I, too, want to hide from the world sometimes. And I was a teenager once. I remember those days of raging hormones and unanswered questions when I felt like the loneliest and most confused person in the world. When I could spend hours staring into the mirror, agonizing over everything I wished were different about my face and my body. I want to say that I’ve grown out of that, but that’s not true – I still grapple with insecurity and perfectionism. I still have moments when I look in the mirror and think, ugh. Seriously? I wish I were thinner, or I looked younger. I wish my eyelashes were longer, and I was taller, and my skin glowed like it did when I was twenty. I wish I could explain to my teenagers that I look at pictures of myself in my younger days and I think what a waste! I didn’t appreciate that I looked good when I looked good. I was too busy noticing every minor flaw, just like they are doing now.
Naturally, my children’s faces are my two favorite faces in the world, but I think even to the general public their faces are aesthetically pleasing. I’ve had lots of people who aren’t related to us tell me that I have good looking children, and I do. So why don’t they see what everyone else sees when they look in the mirror?
Because we humans are our own worst critics. We have voices inside our heads continually telling us that we’re not enough. Not pretty enough. Not thin enough. Not smart enough, or tall enough, or funny enough. When we look in the mirror we’re not looking with eyes of love; we are merciless. We are looking for imperfections that we want to hide or eliminate. We are looking for reasons to doubt or dislike ourselves.
I used to work out obsessively. I only ate protein – no carbs, sugar, gluten or dairy – and there was hardly an ounce of fat on my body. Clothes fit me beautifully, and I felt confident about my appearance. But I wasn’t happy. I was grumpy, because I was hungry, and I didn’t allow myself the simple pleasures that other people enjoyed. I didn’t often cook, because cooking led to eating. Most weekends were spent burning calories instead of having fun. I did like the way that I looked, and sometimes I wish that I still looked like that. But I’m not willing to do what it takes to look like that anymore. I like to cook, and I like to eat, and I like to spend a Saturday having fun with my kids or writing or reading instead of cussing my way through a Jillian Michaels workout. I’m not saying that I don’t exercise anymore, or that I eat everything I want to eat – I do believe in good health and discipline – but I also believe in moderation. I believe in cooking delicious meals for my family and eating with them. I believe in enjoying my life and not just suffering through it. And I believe that the kind of people that I want to spend my time with are not the kind of people that will shun me because my dress size has gone up.
I wish my teenagers could see what I see when I look at them, or what God sees when He looks at all of us – that we are perfect despite our imperfections, and beautiful just as we are, flaws and all. But maybe this is one of those things that I have to teach my children by example, so it starts with me seeing myself that way.