Speaking out on behalf of the never-ending public scrutiny of her body and her lifestyle choices, Jennifer Aniston penned a powerful response to the "is she or isn't she?" pregnancy question that follows her, literally, everywhere she goes. More than just relaying how fed up she was with all of the pregnancy rumors and speculation, Aniston dropped some truth in an op-ed published on the Huffington Post about how a woman's worth is calculated and measured in our society and why that's got to stop. I found myself nodding along to everything she was saying. I don't know what it's like to be scrutinized by paparazzi (maybe they just don't know where I live yet?)m but I do know what it's like to feel self-conscious about my body and about what others might think about my life decisions. In short: it totally blows, and I doubt there is any woman — mother or not — or girl out there who doesn't relate on some level to what Aniston says.
Aniston talked a lot about how toxic our culture toward on women and girls. But she doesn't just blame the tabloids and magazines for our low self-esteem and body image issues. Sure, those don't help. Seeing airbrushed beautiful people and thinking that this kind of perfection should be attainable hurts all of us. When we look in the mirror and don't see "perfection," we think this somehow means we aren't trying hard enough or that it's some personal failing. What Aniston says about this culture though is that we are all complicit in the perpetuation of this toxicity.
It's worth noting that I don't think Aniston point this out in an effort to shame us. Rather, she put it out there as a call to arms. I interpreted it as follows: We, as women, as sisters and daughters and wives and mothers and friends, should decide our own worth and claim our own beauty. She wrote:
We get to decide for ourselves what is beautiful when it comes to our bodies. That decision is ours and ours alone. Let’s make that decision for ourselves and for the young women in this world who look to us as examples.
As a woman and a mother of a daughter, I needed to hear this. I needed the reminder that I'm worth it. That I'm beautiful. That I can do my part to change my little area of the planet by putting out positive energy. And it all starts with self-acceptance and self-love.
Aniston reminded me that I am more than my status as wife and mother. I am a vital woman and person on my own without these things. And that really struck a chord with me.
Aniston also delves deeper into the issue. It's more than just the pressure to have an ideal body. Our society puts a lot of worth on marital status and motherhood. It's easy to assume that every woman wants a mate. And that every woman is going to want to have children eventually. If a woman has or wants neither of these things, then inevitably, we question why. Aniston reminded me that I am more than my status as wife and mother. I am a vital woman and person on my own without these things. And that really struck a chord with me.
I don't need to justify the fact that I'm sometimes anxious and always messy. I love my kids to bits. I do the best I can to stay afloat on those tough days. And on those picture-perfect days, I try to savor the moments (and, yes, take pictures and maybe post them to social media — guilty as charged). But I don't hold myself to that ideal all the time.
There are days and weeks (and probably years) when my identity feels wholly tied to motherhood. As much as I love being a mother, it really sucks to suddenly feel like you've lost some part of yourself in the haze of nurturing and raising other humans, to have moments when you realize you're unhappy or unfulfilled, to realize that finding happiness and fulfillment might have to wait until after bedtime. Even now, I'm cringing typing that, because people out there might know that it isn't all about the rides on the carousel or the hilarious outfits my kids come up with. On social media, some might see my life and think it's a dream. In truth, it is a dream. Sometimes. But it's also a slog. It's also mundane. And I am constantly reminded of just how imperfect I am. There are times I want to smash all those perfect Pinterest moms to bits. And that's the yardstick we seem to measure mothers with: how awesome are their kids, how creative are the projects they come up with, how many adventures they can cram into such a short amount of time. Their kids are probably never late to school. They probably always remember to brush their teeth before they leave the house. They probably put out for their partners every night after making a pot roast.
Comparing myself to these seemingly perfect mothers isn't helpful. It's probably not rational either. If there are parents out there as great as that, I'm not sure I want to know about them. But more importantly, if there are really moms who are doing all these things so well, why does that have to affect what I'm doing at all? I can't compare our lives or our children. I don't need to justify the fact that I'm sometimes anxious and always messy. I love my kids to bits. I do the best I can to stay afloat on those tough days. And on those picture-perfect days, I try to savor the moments (and, yes, take pictures and maybe post them to social media — guilty as charged). But I don't hold myself to that ideal all the time. I can't. I couldn't. So I won't.
So like Aniston suggested in her amazing op-ed, I'm trying to define my own success. Trying to live my life in a way that makes me happy and keeps my family healthy. I'm not going to keep buying this idea of perfection. I have long ago given up consuming celebrity gossip. As soon as I had a daughter, I swore that no beauty magazine would cross the threshold of my home. But that's not enough to protect us both from the unrealistic standards and the never-ending scrutiny of women and their bodies — at every age. I realized, as Aniston did, that the answer has to come from within. I need to look in the mirror and decide I'm beautiful. I need to love myself the best I can so that my children see that the norm. I hate the idea of my children, my daughter especially, facing the criticism of our society for being who she is. But even more so, I hate that she'll impose that kind of criticism on herself. So for her, for me, and for all of the women in my life, I'm going to try to stop "buying the bullshit," as Aniston so perfectly put it.