Hearing Yourself through Someone Else's Ears
“It’s seriously depressing,” I tell my sister as she browses the fridge. “I put on a full face of makeup and I look pretty, but without it I look terrible.” My sister ignores me. Someone else doesn’t. “You always look pretty Aunt Helen.” I turn around and notice my 6 year old niece sitting next to me. Either I forgot she was there or I was so used to her presence that I stopped watching what I was saying.
Here is a little 6 year old girl trying to give an adult woman a confidence boost. Now that’s messed up.
For the first time, I really started to think about how much she listens to all of the adults around her and how much she absorbs. I also started to think about the way that I talk around her, and most importantly the way that I talk about myself when she is listening.
She sees her mom and her aunt Kristen pregnant with their kids, and so she plays house with baby dolls and acts like a little mommy herself, even going so far as to simulate a live birth sequence on occasion. If the older women in her life are doing it, she wants to emulate them. The kid will tell you that Donald Trump is crazy and that she’s voting for Bernie Sanders. She means business.
A while ago, someone asked me why I think describing myself or speaking highly of myself makes me so uncomfortable and gives me anxiety (thanks, job interviews). When I couldn’t come up with anything, she then asked if I could pinpoint concrete moments in my life that the women I know made a grand, positive statement about themselves. I couldn’t come up with one.
This doesn’t mean that every woman I know or grew up around hates herself or thinks little of herself, but it is the way that we are taught to describe ourselves. Or, really, the way that we are taught not to.
Stop and think for a second about a time that your mom, or your aunt, grandma, cousin, etc., stood up and said “I am beautiful,” “I am smart,” “I am funny,” “I am talented,” etc. I hope that you can think of something, but if not I’m sure that you are not alone.
People don’t (usually) say “I am so pretty”. That would be considered conceited. So even if you feel on top of the world and confident and great about yourself, you’ll probably come out with something more along the lines of “I don’t look that bad today.”
“I can probably open that jar, I’m not that weak”
“I could run a 5k, I’m not that out of shape”
We avoid definitive statements, like “I am smart”, “I am strong”, and “I am capable”, probably for fear that someone might come along and prove us wrong, or simply because it is how we have been taught for years that we should speak.
Now, I watch my language carefully around my nieces and nephews. When they ask me why I don’t want any ice cream, there is no “because I don’t want to get fat.” It’s because “I love my body and sometimes junk food doesn’t make me feel good. I like to feel healthy.”
They know that I am a personal trainer and that I constantly go to the gym. And they know that I love it, and that I think exercise is fun, and that because of it I am strong and healthy. And I love that.
I love that when I come home from the gym my niece is beyond excited to flex her biceps and show them off to me.
I love that when we go to someone’s house and she sees that they have dumbbells she thinks of me first and runs to tell me that they have weights I can use, ‘cause you know, I’m always lifting at family parties.
I love that she says things like “I don’t need your help moving that chair, I’m really strong.”
I hope, as my nieces grow up, they don’t lose that kind of language. I hope that they tell people once and for all that they are strong and smart and funny and kind and whatever else they want to be. And I hope that in some small way, it is because they saw me stand up and do the same thing.