Courtesy of Marie Southard Ospina

Dear Daughter: If You Struggle To Love Your Body, Please Remember This

To My Best Friend, My Daughter:

Today you are 15 weeks old, but you won't be for long. If you are reading this, I imagine you are fast approaching your teens. But as I write these words, you're asleep next to me. A nasty cold has made you extra clingy, so you're nestled into my thigh on the couch; your tiny arm wraps around my leg. I don't mind this at all. You won't need me in such a way forever. You won't want my protection forever, either. But from the moment I found out about you, all I've wanted to do is give it. A nurse told me that you'd be a girl, and I instantly wished I could shield you from all the judgments on women's bodies and from all the things that make living life in a female or feminine body so hard and so sad at times.

One of those things is the trope of aspirational beauty. The thing that makes so many little girls feel like they don't measure up to whatever image the TV or movies or mainstream fashion magazines of the time tell them they should be emulating. The thing that makes people feel like they are not thin enough, cute enough, white enough, good enough. And while I hope things are different by the time you're old enough to take in the toxic messages being perpetuated around you, I still have my doubts.

Courtesy of Marie Southard Ospina

I've spent 26 years watching mainstream media and educators and fashion designers and doctors feed a story that claims that beauty is only one thing, that girlhood is only one thing, and that to be worthy of tolerance, you must somehow be This One Thing Always. There are plenty of institutions and mentalities in place right now that frame appearance as the utmost thing a girl has to offer. Hell, there are multi-billion-dollar industries built upon it: Industries that have made many a weight loss program founder or plastic surgeon very, very wealthy.

I spent the bulk of my childhood and adolescence convinced that I wasn't enough. Years of my life went to ruthless calorie counting and weigh-ins, to diet after diet that promised me that a smaller waist size would yield a more fulfilled, free, beautiful life. I bought the message that told me only by shrinking would I be worthy of romantic love, the love between true friends, fashion, health, vitality, travel, and/or professional success.

So when the reflection we see in the mirror doesn't match up to the one we're told we should see, it makes sense that our body image can often become a fragile thing. Any semblance of self-love or self-respect can be shadowed by a state of perpetual self-doubt.

I've been there, my love. I spent the bulk of my childhood and adolescence convinced that I wasn't enough. Years of my life went to ruthless calorie counting and weigh-ins, to diet after diet that promised me that a smaller waist size would yield a more fulfilled, free, beautiful life. I bought the message that told me only by shrinking was I worthy of romantic love, the love between true friends, fashion, health, vitality, travel, and/or professional success. As a result, I made myself stop living. Instead, my existence became a waiting game. When I was finally "thin enough," I would resume trying to be a whole person.

Courtesy of Marie Southard Ospina

What I want to tell you today is that there's an alternative course. I know it might not seem like it sometimes. Sometimes you might truly believe that the most important thing about yourself is how closely you resemble the child stars your friends hold near and dear. Someone might convince you that dyeing your hair a certain color, or fitting into a particular size of clothing, or adopting a very specific style of dress is the prime key to happiness, to finding a cute partner, to being noticed, or to feeling like your best self.

If anyone tries to other you for an aspect of your appearance (or your beliefs or your personality), you must believe that they are, more often than not, not a person worth having in your life. There are so many people in this world who will find you clever or witty or, yes, beautiful without making you feel as though you have to change something about yourself. These are the ones worth seeking out.

I won't pretend that body image is not important. We are stuck with our bodies for our entire lives, after all. But what I want you to know is that living in harmony with your body does not always require change, especially the kind of change designated to make you look like someone else's definition of beauty. The kind of change you might not actually want to participate in, but rather feel as though you should be participating in.

The truth is, there are infinite definitions of beauty because there are billions of human beings on earth, all of whom perceive it differently. But even if it feels like something about your body isn't "right" — isn't "pretty" or even "pretty enough" — it's critical to remember that beauty isn't all that important in the first place.

I don't know what you'll be like when you're older. I don't know what books you'll read, what music you'll listen to, which foods you'll enjoy, what subjects you'll adore at school, whether you'll be an extrovert or an introvert, what jobs you'll grow passionate about, or which ones you will detest. But I know that you will be a person — and any one of these things is far more interesting than how closely your visage matches that of the latest TV star.

Courtesy of Marie Southard Ospina
Sweet girl, I want you to imagine how boring this world would be if we all looked the same. Imagine how boring it would be if we all had the same opinions, or tastes in music, or favorite movies. Does it sound like a horror movie? Like that dystopian book you just started reading? It does to me. I hope it does to you, too.

The first step to loving your body (or even just to feeling at home within it), however, is to recognize that it is already pretty spectacular. It allows you to experience existing in this world. To take in food and friendship and travel and playtime and music. No matter how challenging or bleak the world may sometimes be, your existence is something I am profoundly thankful for. I hope that you can be thankful for it as well.

This step, I hope, will lead to the initial bursts of respect towards your figure. But if you find yourself in doubt about your aesthetics, and want to truly love the way you look, I would like you to first question why it is you think you need to look any different. Is it that you don't believe you can wear certain things until you appear a particular way? Do you doubt that you will find a date to the school dance until your body is smaller or more curvaceous? Are you concerned about what your friends think, or have you been made to believe that something about your appearance is cause for being mistreated?

Courtesy of Marie Southard Ospina

Please listen carefully to this: There is nothing about your body that could ever be cause for mistreatment. If anyone tries to other you for an aspect of your appearance (or your beliefs or your personality), you must believe that they are, more often than not, not a person worth having in your life. There are so many people in this world who will find you clever or witty or, yes, beautiful without making you feel as though you have to change something about yourself. These are the ones worth seeking out.

Now I want you to think about that thing I said earlier... the thing about those businesses built on making you feel bad. I know it's a lot to take in, but I want you to ask yourself why that weight loss ad is encouraging so many women to shrink their bodies. Why does that plastic surgery billboard insist that a small nose is the pinnacle of beauty? Why does that tabloid magazine promise seven ways to lose weight fast or "train" your waistline? The simple truth is that these things are all part of a very crafty money-making scheme. And you don't need to give any one of them your dollars.

Finally, sweet girl, I want you to imagine how boring this world would be if we all looked the same. Imagine how boring it would be if we all had the same opinions, or tastes in music, or favorite movies. Does it sound like a horror movie? Like that dystopian book you just started reading? It does to me. I hope it does to you, too.

What doesn't sound like a horror movie in the least is the utmost embracing of the self. Because the sooner you realize that you are already good enough, the sooner you can start living your life in the ways you want to live it. The sooner you can have some fun. The sooner you can show the world your already best self.

I love you always.