It Just Seems to Happen

I was talking with my sister (mom of two girls, age 19 and 17) last night about our beautiful teenage daughters, and our own high school/teenage years. I’ve not hidden the fact my beauty has been going through it in recent months. My sister and I compared our high school, and pre-high school, experiences, which were very different as far as friendships were concerned. Even though we had those different experiences – I had a bff from 7th grade all the way through high school, while my sister did not, but rather bounced each year from group to group, never quite finding her tribe – we both suffered massively from horribly low self-esteem and very poor self-image. We both had issues with food. We both struggled severely with our own sense of worth and value.  Now I know the source we both point to, but I found it interesting that even with those different friend experiences from an early age, we both ended up in the same insecure boat.

When I found out I was going to have a baby girl, I was immediately determined she would never, ever for one minute question her worth, her value, how much she’s loved. I didn’t want her to ever suffer insecurity, self-doubt, or unhealthy self-esteem/self-image. I for sure never wanted her to deal with an eating/exercise disorder, or any of a host of  stress-induced illnesses. I’ve tried to tell her every day (sometimes I wondered if it wasn’t too much) how very loved she is, how much she’s needed, how proud of her we are, reinforcing all her strengths, encouraging her. I saw her, until a couple years ago, as a strong, independent, courageous, brave, outgoing girl who always stood up for others as well as herself. She’s incredibly smart, goofily funny, amazingly talented, and also happens to be beautiful.

But it just seems to happen to teenage girls, no matter how they’re brought up, no matter who they’re friends with, no matter what activities they’re engaged in. Teenage girls all seem to suffer insecurity – often debilitating – they doubt their worth and value, particularly amongst their peers. If there are any struggles with friendships, they find the fault within themselves all too often. They are struggling to figure out who they are, and where they fit  in, at the same time hormones are ruling their bodies and minds. Add to that anyone who may be threatened by them, and boom, perfect storm.

I thought I could keep her from going through this – I well and truly did. I’m finding you really can’t shield them entirely. Each girl has to face it – find her worth within herself, learn to accept herself, learn to be okay with who she is, find a peace with herself within herself, learn to be happy with herself. We just have to love them through it, and pray the effects aren’t long-lasting. Lord knows it took me YEARS to recover, same for my sister. I wish I could minimize and fast-forward the process, because when your child struggles in any way, you struggle.

You First

My mom recently moved out of the home she’s been in since I was just out of high school. In the process of the move, she gave me a bunch of my old things, including a box that held some of my older journals from high school. Might I just say, “wow”. Wow, did I worry a whole heck of a lot what other people thought of me, but then isn’t that the way of teenagers, particularly teenage girls? I can’t believe how much I allowed my vision of my self-worth to be wrapped up in who liked, or didn’t like me.

Learning to be okay with and like yourself is one of life’s hardest and greatest achievements. I didn’t quite figure out I wouldn’t be too attractive to others until I was attractive to myself until later. I think I was in my mid-twenties, ditching yet another failed relationship, stuck in a hotel room by myself on a business trip before I sat down and faced it all. I needed to like and accept myself first before I could expect anyone else to really like and accept me. I had to be fine alone before I could truly be in anyone else’s life, much less truly let anyone else fully inside my life.  Make sense? That was an intense week of self-reflection and self-revelation. It was painful at times – I had to clearly see and accept all my faults. I also had to clearly see and accept all my strengths, something I actually found much more difficult.

Back in high school, and even early college, I felt my value came through having someone want me, just me. I’m not talking about friends – I was lucky enough to have some really incredible friends who loved and accepted me more than I did myself. I’m still grateful to them for keeping me afloat. But as I read the words I’d written from freshman year through my high school graduation, I realized my days were preoccupied with whomever I had a crush on at the time. If he didn’t talk to me on a particular day, I must’ve looked bad or sounded stupid. If he didn’t acknowledge me, it was because I was an ugly, annoying little girl. If he didn’t smile at me, it was because I was wearing the wrong clothes. If I didn’t get asked to the prom, or homecoming, or the winter dance, I was worthless and a failure. I didn’t have a boyfriend until mid-way through my senior year of high school. Looking back, I can see that was mostly because of the way I viewed myself. Once I gained a little bit of confidence, things started to change. But if I’d spent less time obsessing about who liked me, or didn’t like me, whether I had a boyfriend or not, which group I was part of or not part of, and spent more time learning to like me for me, maybe I would have found a peace with myself much earlier in life.

Watching my older two navigate high school, I’m reminded why you couldn’t pay me enough to relive those four years (well, most of them anyways – it wasn’t all entirely awful). If I could go back and tell my sixteen-year-old self anything it would be to love, care for, and accept myself first. I’d tell myself not to send my “representative self” to school each day, but to just be me, and be good enough with who I really was to put that person out there every day. If I wasn’t good enough as myself, my representative certainly wouldn’t be good enough either as she was a shell, a front, a wall between me and the world around me.

I guess my point is this – love you, first. Once you learn to love you, others will find it easier to love you too.

Stumped again

The Princess had her sports physical this morning as she starts cheer camp tomorrow morning (NOT at 6am, praise God!). My baby girl is a healthy child, or as our pediatrician calls her, Mary Poppins, since she’s practically perfect in every way. She dances 10 hours a week, give or take, plus cheer. She eats well. She has my and her dad’s metabolism as well. She’s gonna wreck me for saying this, but she has a gorgeous, trim, athletic body I would kill for. You know teenage girls…..

So you could have knocked me over with that proverbial feather when the pediatrician asked her if she thought she needed to lose weight, this girl who’s weight and BMI is well below that of peers her height, and she said yes, she thought she should be skinnier. What. The. Hell??!!!! The doctor firmly laid out, with all the charts and facts, why my girl is perfect just the way she is. I felt sick, utterly heartbroken. Good golly – the girl has a 24 inch waist, but she told me she has a weird belly that stick out. What. The. Hell.

The guilt poured over me. Did I make her this way by my own actions and attitude? I’ve tried oh so hard the last few years to be really careful what I say about my body, and any other body for that fact. We talk about being healthy, not about numbers and weight. I try desperately to keep my internal struggles with my weight to myself. That’s why I quit doing the 21 Day Fix – because she was very aware of what I was measuring, eating, not eating every single day. What have I done to my precious girl?

Or is this just every single teenage girl? I know I believed I was “fat” when I weighed all of 98 pounds at 16 years old. Is it genetic for teenage girls to compare their bodies to every other body around them, every other body they see? How do I help her see herself the way everyone else does? I’m at a loss here, friends. My heart is aching – I would save her from years of comparing and finding herself lacking in any way. I would save her from food issues. I would save her from having any negative self-speak.

Is this just normal? Are we to accept our daughters seeing someone entirely different in the mirror than we see? How do we turn the tide? How do I make her see herself the way I see her?

I did tell her on the way home she does NOT need to lose any weight at all, and there will be some serious conversations if she even tries. I’m terrified she will go through all I went through in high school and college, and even today. That thought near breaks me.

Why I posted that picture

As I’ve shared before, I’ve been struggling mightily with negative self-talk, self-image, and self-esteem probably more than any time since I was just out of college. There’s something about this 40+ age that throws the body into chaos. In spite of a regular, strenuous workout routine, and watching (most of the time) what I eat, not only is weight not coming off, it’s moved around, and keeps creeping up. It’s frustrating, defeating, intimidating. I’ve been working hard to a) overcome the negative thought process, reminding myself daily that I’m healthy and b) do what I can to maintain rather than focus on losing or gaining and c) keep a good attitude towards it all, especially when the Princess is around.

Yes, I ran a half marathon on Sunday. Do you know I still “felt fat” when I was done? I mentally chastised myself for my post-race lunch, once I’d eaten it, in spite of the fact I’d just burned about 1100 calories.

I’m particular about the pictures I post on social media of myself, and those others may post of me. Like most people,  I want the most flattering pictures posted. But Sunday, I posted a photo of me and Big Man following our finish. I didn’t like the photo. I didn’t look my best – all sweaty and gross from just running 13.1 miles – and the angle wasn’t all that great. My hair was pulled back in a pony, with a headband. I’m not pretty or cute when I run – it’s all about function (although I did make sure to match my headband to my shirt and shoes). I looked at the photo before I put it up, and cringed. But I posted it anyways. I needed to post it, for myself, and because that moment was bigger than how I feel about myself.

I’d done something not everyone does – I’d trained for, and run, a half marathon. And I’d run it with my 15-year-old former 26-weeker. And I am a healthy person, darn it. I posted it to remind myself healthy doesn’t equal rail-thin or skinny. Healthy equals me taking care of me. Healthy is mental as well as physical.

I still fight the battles, almost every day. I try to push back against the thoughts of “If you eat this, then you have to do that,” or buying into extreme diets and exercise plans that focus on numbers rather than the whole person. I posted that photo to remind me I am okay. I don’t have to see a certain number on a scale to be a healthy mom/wife/woman. The moment that photo was taken wasn’t about me fighting an internal battle, it was about sharing something incredible with my son. Finishers

In my own skin

I’ve had self-esteem and self-image issues since I was about ten…never happy with the way I looked, always dissatisfied with the number showing on the scale or the tag of my clothes, even when that number was pretty dang low. I’ve fought to find peace with my body. But just when you think you’ve found a decent, survivable place, you realize how easy it is to be sucked back to that other place, the  one where a number means so much.

Let me put this out there…I’m healthy.  I have been described as “fit” and “sporty”.  I try to take care of me. Exercise is a normal part of the weekly routine. I am getting ready to run my seventh half marathon. But I am also of an age weight naturally creeps up. Nothing has changed in the eating or exercise regimen.  I even asked the endocrinologist when I saw her a few weeks back. This is “normal”. So why then is it so hard to me to take? Why do I find myself back in a near-obsessive place, somewhere I haven’t been since college? I am uncomfortable in my own skin. There are clothes in my closet I refuse to take off the hanger, for fear they won’t fit any longer. I’m continually fidgety, tugging and pulling at buttons, waistbands. That sounds like I gained ten pounds in the last few months….I have not. It’s three pounds, but the fact I know that exact amount is  my own little indicator where my head is.

While I’m struggling with all this, I’m trying to preach to my daughter that value is not found in the number on a scale, nor the number on the tag of her jeans. I need her to not face what I’ve gone through for so many years. So I don’t talk about how I feel about myself right now in her presence. I won’t weigh myself when she’s home. I put away the two programs I had used in the last few years trying to lose pounds. Keeping it inside me isn’t helping me, but letting it out wouldn’t help her. This is hard.

I’m trying to focus on just being healthy….eating more salad than bread, more veggies than pasta, and so on…..watching portion sizes, but also trying to model moderation, allowing “cheat day” once a week, acknowledging that sometimes you just eat the cookie. I fight with myself constantly over wanting to see a certain number, but then knowing that to achieve that number, and maintain it, I’d have to basically never look at a piece of bread again, and life is too short to live it in constant denial.

I’m struggling here, friends. Logically, I know where I am, know what I’m dealing with, and I know I need to model health for my daughter,  a good outlook, a good perspective on self-image. But then I see that number, and I panic. You’d think by this age, I’d have left this all behind twenty years ago. And yet the battle rages. I’m a woman, but I’m also a mom. So my dissatisfaction with self takes a backseat to the need for her to have a healthy outlook on  her own self. That means putting away my anxiety over what the scale shows, any negative self-speak on my appearance, any obsession with what I’m eating or not eating, and living in a positive, healthy way.

“I compare myself, and decide I’m not good enough, and I know I’m going to fail”

Getting a daughter through the teenage years is not for the faint of heart. I guess what I see in her, of her, about her, she does not see of herself, in herself, nor about herself. Driving to and from the studio five days a week, we have lots of time to talk – if she doesn’t fall asleep, which happens more often than not. But the same day I got that amazing text from my Daddy, the Princess said she compares herself all the time, and then believes she isn’t good at anything. Punch. In. The. Gut. Thank you very much.

Now, she lives in the dance world. There is all kinds of opportunity for her to be judged, watched, and compared. I don’t compare her to the other girls. When I’m watching her classes or watching her perform, she’s the only one I see clearly. I’m not really paying attention to her classmates. And I shared this with her, because I want her to focus on herself in class, what she’s doing, what she needs to do to build her skills and improve. But she compares herself. Is this just an inner thing born in all females? Do guys compare themselves too? She says she compares herself, and decides she won’t ever be as good as anyone else. She is sure she is going to fail. This came up as she has a competition in a couple of weeks in which she will perform her contemporary solo for the last time, and isn’t exactly feeling great about the prospect.

I will admit, I compare myself a lot to those around me, on pretty much everything there might be to compare. I’ve come a long way, but it’s still an inner-voice conversation that goes on. Running and yoga have actually helped a ton with this. It’s given me better perspective, and helped me realize life isn’t a race against everyone else. I’m only “racing” against myself. There’s always going to be someone out there who’s better than me at anything and everything I take on. That’s just the nature of the beast. But then there are things that I’m better at than the person next to me. We all have our strengths.

I told her about one of the races I ran recently, in which I was passed by a 73 year old man. That guy whizzed right by me, and it seemed he wasn’t really even breathing hard nor struggling the way I was at mile 7.  I did not think to myself, “Wow, I just got passed by a 73 year old man. I may as well just give up. He’s better than me. I’m a failure at this running thing.” BTW – how did I know he was 73? His shirt told me, on the back no less. Anyways, my thought when I was left in his wake was, “Go, you 73 year old man! You rock, and I wanna be you when I grow up!” I kept running, and finished the race, which was my only goal the entire time.

I told her about the best friend I had from seventh grade all the way through high school. That girl was amazing – brilliant, funny, the most amazing flute player, generous, giving, encouraging, sure of herself and who she was. She was better than I at pretty much everything. It never bothered me. We cheered each other on. Being her friend made me want to do better, be better. Being her friend strengthened me and helped me grow. I didn’t compare myself to her and decide it wasn’t worth even trying. I focused on my own self and worked on my own self. That isn’t failure in any way.

The Princess and I talked about this for a good ten minutes. I know it’s something we will have to revisit. I told her what and who I see – not someone who doesn’t rate, but a girl with a huge heart, a more-than-capable brain, someone who stands up for what’s right, who defends not only  her friends but anyone who needs defending, who is loyal, who works hard, a responsible girl who gives so much to everyone around her, and someone who also happens to be a beautiful dancer in her own right. Would that we could all see ourselves through the eyes of someone who loves us so much.

What I Learned from the 21 Day Fix (extreme version)

When the Princess and I went shopping a few weeks back for dresses, and I ended up needing a size up from what I’ve been wearing for a very long time, I knew something needed to change. I had ordered the 21 Day Fix Extreme back in March, but it had been sitting around, unopened, eyeballing me. Three days after our shopping trip, I started the program. I finished a couple days ago. I do feel better, more energetic. And I did lose 5 pounds. I didn’t do any measurements in the beginning, but I can tell by the fit of my clothes things have been rearranged so to speak. Here’s what I learned over the three weeks:

  1. Don’t mess with a hungry, overwhelmed momma. Things will not go your way.
  2. Your body will adjust to the change in caloric intake. It takes about three days. Probably best not to plan any big adventures those first few days.
  3. You can find new things to cook, and/or modify what you usually make
  4. Your kids probably won’t eat more than half of the new meals you’re making.
  5. This plan doesn’t work well if you’re the only one in the household trying to take pounds off, especially if two out of your three kids need to put on weight. I ended up cooking two separate meals most nights.
  6. Cauliflower is not, and never will be, bread, crackers, pizza crust, nor mashed potatoes, and the only way to make it palatable is to add a ton of stuff to it, which probably defeats much of the purpose.
  7. Eating clean means doing A LOT more dishes. Seriously.
  8. You can satisfy that need for crunchy food with carrots and celery. No, it isn’t nearly as much fun as chips and crackers.
  9. A LOT of grapes fit into that dang purple container.
  10. This plan is a challenge for someone who doesn’t eat any fruit except green apples and green grapes (and is quite happy that way).
  11. There’s a LOT of food planning involved. I had to figure out in the morning what I was making for dinner so I knew if I needed to save my two measly carb portions for dinner.
  12. Probably best not to be going to restaurants while on the plan. It can be done, but your waiter will probably get a little frustrated with your “on the side” requests, and other patrons will stare if you pull out your containers to measure everything.
  13. Roasted asparagus with garlic, balsamic, and almond slivers is awesome.
  14. I never want to hear the girl on the exercise videos tell me I “can do anything for sixty seconds” ever again. Annoying skinny person! (said facetiously of course)
  15. I don’t want so badly to be that thin I will forgo all things yummy the rest of my life. Moderation, for me, is key; denial is not.
  16. Twenty-one days is exactly the time it takes from something to become a habit.

I’m done with the plan. I will incorporate some of what I learned, mostly portion control, having more salads than pizza, snacking on veggies rather than cheese and crackers, and spreading our wings with new recipes. I realized I have to be very careful how I approach losing weight with a teenage girl in the house. I’m a healthy person already. And she was strongly questioning why I was doing this program, especially after the talks we’ve been having lately about health, weight, the idea of a perfect body, self-image, etc. I had to look at it through her eyes, and I realized this is too extreme for me to be doing. I had to re-evaluate my goals for my body, re-examine my own body image and self esteem. We’re still working on balance. For us, a good balance means incorporating some of the new, but going about it in a more moderate manner, focusing on health rather than trying to attain a “perfect body”. I do think it is a good program, and I know a lot of people have had huge success with it. If anyone asks me about it, is thinking about doing it, I would tell them to give it a go. It’s worth it if for nothing else than creating a habit of eating more healthfully.