On Body Image at 18 Months

Last night as I nursed you to sleep you lifted your head up off of my shoulder, looked me in the eye and then moved my shirt to poke me in the belly button. "Tittle tittle tittle," you giggled and then raised the bottom of your own shirt to tickle your own "beh buh".  This wasn't the first time you've done this to me or yourself--your belly button obsession has been growing stronger every day for the past month. But as you dug your tiny nails into my flesh and I watched my soft stomach give under the feather weight of your fingers, I saw this little game with new eyes. You love my body. You love the way it looks, you feel comforted by my skin against yours and you are increasingly amazed by my breasts and their ability to make milk--you don't care that they are uneven. You love my belly button and how different it is from your own, forever stretched out by you once living beneath it.

My hair is graying rapidly and still falling out in fistfuls since your birth, but you love running your sticky fingers through it. "Hair!" you exclaim, feeling your own head to remind yourself yours still isn't quite long enough to grab onto before pulling mine again. You don't point out my roots, you just love me.

You love all of the things I spent so many years hating about myself. And, more importantly, you love those parts of yourself, too.

You've become more curious about discovering your own body in light of seeing mine up close so often. When we take baths now you point at the most private parts of me and then look down at your own body to see if it matches. When I change your diaper your hands immediately move down to appreciate the areas of yourself you can't touch most of the time.

At 18 months you know your labia and vagina by name and are unashamed of them. You are delighted by your own body and excited that parts of it share the same name as parts of your Mama's.

As you jabbed me in the belly last night, I felt so much joy seeing how pure your self esteem is at this point. No mean girl's comment, boy's rejection, magazine cover or cultural expectation has written lies all over your mirror yet. 

Oh, how I dread the day you come home crying, or worse, running to the bathroom to pinch your flesh until your opinions shift from their current state of awe at your squishy thighs to disgust. How can I prevent that day from happening?

I can't. 

But I can cultivate an environment here at home where I celebrate and appreciate your body, and, probably more importantly, my own body. Because I am older than those mean girls; I have more marks and lines and soft spots than the women on those magazine covers; my boobs, still at 26, are too small for those gross boys and their inappropriate comments. I would like to think if you continue to see me close up in all of my imperfect glory and then watch me love myself anyway, some of that might rub off. If you never hear me call myself fat or talk about working out as a means to my bikini body but rather a way to take care of myself and feel healthy--I'd like to think some of that will stick in those moments you find yourself sucking in your tummy in front of the mirror. And maybe just maybe you'll continue to think I'm beautiful if I don't tell you otherwise. And hopefully then you'll remember that you are, too, because your opinion of yourself matters much more than anyone else's.

You are so lovely, my Edie. And at 18 months, you know it. I pray you still believe it at 18 years.