I wish a lot of things for my daughter. That she is happy and healthy, of course. That her life is filled with adventure, love, and joy. That she finds her passion and follows it early on in life. That she never dates an assh*le. (Or at least that she never does it twice.) That she never does the Kylie lip challenge. And that she continues to live in a world where Donald Trump is not our president. But, of all the things that I wish for her, I hope most that my daughter goes through life with a strong sense of self and inner confidence.
My daughter is growing up in a world where "perfect" lives and bodies are constantly uploaded to Instagram feeds, where any flaw or imperfection can be filtered away in seconds. The urge to make comparisons or subscribe to artificial or highly edited ideals of beauty is right there in your face tempting you with its Clarendon-inspired hues. Although I'm trying my best in the parenting department, I want to keep the emphasis off looks and labels and to try to give her positive reflections so that she knows her opinions and abilities are just as important (if not more). I want to raise her so that she thinks good things about herself, she's also proud to be her own individual. I guess all we can do as her parents is just try and hope for the best, hope that she grows up feeling good about who she is. But what about now when she's only 3? What does she make of all that's going on around her in her 3-year-old world?
So out of curiosity, and to get a feel for how my daughter views herself, I decided to ask her what she likes about herself. I wanted to know how she's doing in the self-love department because loving oneself is important at every age.
I asked my daughter every single day for a week what she likes best about herself. Whatever her mood, however tired of this question she became, I asked her to answer it. And for the most part, she did. Even if the answer was not so introspective. Though she didn't really get it at first in the way I wanted her to, after a few days of warming up, Stella revealed some words of wisdom that would serve as a good reminder to everyone to embrace who you are.
On the first day of this experiment, Stella gave me an unexpected answer. We'd just had breakfast, and she'd been really chatty so I thought she may be in the mood to answer me. But when I intercepted her mid-"wanna play, mommy?" move with my camera and the question, "Hey Stella, what do you like best about yourself?" her face morphed from wide-eyed and playful to what the hell, mom.
And she quickly walked away and into her brother's bedroom. Of course, I followed her. And I asked her again. And after staring at me annoyed for a few seconds, she uttered "my shins." Huh. Her shins. "But why?" She just smiled at me and gave me a look that seemed to say, you got your answer, now back off. Hmm. What would this experiment accomplish? Stella sure wasn't feelin' it.
On the second day, Stella was more cooperative in answering me, but she only had jokes. She was in a silly mood and wasn't about to get serious on account of this experiment. When I asked her the question, she'd answer with things like, "your face" or "your camera" or hold up a piece of Play-Doh and say, "this." I kept pressing, and she kept joking. And it made me crack up. In her joking, she was making a very valid point: why would anyone, let alone a 3 year old, want to break from silliness and fun to answer a fairly serious question? And with a camera in her face? BUZZ KILL.
I felt all warm inside hearing my daughter, in all her 3-year-old innocence, speak of the importance of self-love.
After a lot of giggling and messing around, she did tell me that she liked that she is a good dancer. OK, maybe she's warming up to the idea of actually answering the question.
On day three, Stella was absolutely getting the point of this experiment. I threw the question on her while she was having a snack in her high chair. "Stella, what do you like most about yourself?" Without hesitation, she told me that she liked that she was strong. I was delighted, sure, that she was actually taking me seriously, but mostly because of her answer. She appreciated that she was strong, and I beamed with pride. But she kept going. "I like my singing voice," she said, and then followed up with a sample of Alicia Keys "Girl on Fire." Of course, there was a lot of whooping and clapping from me. And that was when she let the answers loose. "I like my eyes, my nose, my ears, my shoulders, my knees, my hands, my fingers..." She was in the zone, easily naming things she liked about herself and happily and outwardly showing her appreciation for them.
And then followed up with, "Just love yourself," and "I like me the way I am."
I marveled at her words of wisdom. My little Tony Robbins had just laid down some beautiful life advice. And I felt all warm inside hearing my daughter, in all her 3-year-old innocence, speak of the importance of self-love. I was reminded yet again of how much children have to teach us and how good they are at pulling you back to reality and to what's really important. She didn't have just one answer, but a whole gaggle of them. And she rattled them off with this enthusiasm that conveyed just how psyched she was to be her.
Stella kept it interesting on the fourth day of our experiment. When I threw the question her way, she confidently, and without hesitation, answered, "My whole body 'cuz that's what's holding me on earth."
Whoa. Things just got deep. I mean, sure, I talk to Stella about spirituality, but sometimes she comes up with these profound statements that makes me wonder if the Dalai Lama made a guest appearance on Dora the Explorer that I didn't know about or something. When I asked her to explain what she meant, she shut it down with, "that's how I just feel today," and I'm not sure I could be more proud. It was sort of one of those, "if you don't already know what it means, then you won't get it" moments.
After four days of being asked the same question, Stella protested on day five. She had just given me two days of solid answers and did not want to be bothered this day. She made her stance abundantly clear when her reaction to my question was HER HAND UP IN MY FACE.
We should have more fun, be sillier, be more loving and non-judgmental. We should be more accepting of others, but mostly of ourselves, and stop caring so damn much about what others think.
After a short hiatus from answering, Stella came prepared on day six. "What do you like most about yourself, Stella?" I asked, not knowing if she'd answer or give me the hand again. I realize that this type of question is a challenge for most adults to answer, once. On only one day. Not seven in a row. So if she decided she was done with this little experiment, I wouldn't have been surprised. I was actually thrilled that she'd been so patient and cooperative (minus the first two days, err, and also day five). But on day six, there was yet another answer.
"All of myself."
"Every little thing."
"From my head to my toes."
And with that, she had covered everything. She said it with a big smile on her face and the glow of pure, unfiltered, totally untainted self-love. I sat there silent and basked in all of her toddler amazingness, until she said, "What are you doing, mom? You're freaking me out."
And on day seven, she had fully embraced it all. After several days of being asked this question, she had gotten good at summing it all up with, "all of myself." And she meant it. Why wouldn't she like all of who she was? She knew she was born unique and special and she thankfully hasn't discovered the doubts and fears and criticism that adults often struggle to cast away. She continued to offer up other tidits telling me "You just need to be happy" and reiterating, "Just love yourself." It was clear to me at this point that for kids, loving yourself and who you are is the default. It's when we complicate things and let the criticism, judgment and self doubt stick that we start to find some parts of ourselves harder to love. Just seeing her sweet little, happy face made my heart sing. And I thought to myself, I'm going to be more like Stella.
I have to admit, on the first day of this experiment, I wasn't sure if we'd even make it to the seventh day. To a 3 year old, answering a question such as, "What do you like about yourself?" isn't exactly like taking them to Disneyland. After the first day, I wondered if my efforts would be futile if she just continued to give me toddler-style knee-jerk answers just to get me off her back. But on the third day, when she realized that I wasn't backing down, she not only decided to get in the game and answer, but she went next level and started exuberantly spitting knowledge about life. And by the end of the week, Stella was straight up holding church. And I was on my feet, hands thrown up in the air like, yes, girl, preach it.
This experiment reminded me that we should definitely all try to be more like little kids. Yes, in general, but specifically in the way that they view themselves without the clamor of self-doubt and societal pressures, which gloriously haven't yet tainted them. We should have more fun, be sillier, be more loving and non-judgmental. We should be more accepting of others, but mostly of ourselves, and stop caring so damn much about what others think. It also reminded me that when we react positively to our children, to their expressions and words, they become more confident, more willing to embrace who they are. Even just my woot-wooting for Stella's singing encouraged her to go on and list the other things she loves about herself.
Hearing Stella rattle off about parts of herself I would never think to mention about myself made me realize that there is really so much about ourselves to love. Do you have hair? Love it. Do you have shins? Embrace them. Are your shower singing skills unbelievable? Own that sh*t. From physical traits to abilities, it was so heartwarming to hear Stella voice what she loved about herself, and embrace it all. She has definitely reminded and inspired me to love myself, all of myself. Every. Little. Part.