When Did I Learn?

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I was recently looking at a picture of some friends and their sweet little girls. They were at the beach and looking oh so “beached.” Messy hair from hours of playing in the water. Sand on their eyelashes and (presumably) everywhere else. And sticky, gritty fingers showcasing their picnic of Cheetos and fruit snacks.

Here was this little five year-old girl with unkempt hair, sand stuck to her cheeks, sitting with her little girl belly hanging out of her tankini and this smile – this radiating smile – emitting rays of joy.

As I scrolled through their pictures, my mind wandered to the last time I was sitting on a beach.

I, too, had sand (affirmatively) everywhere, frizzy, ocean-watered hair, and my love handles hanging out of a swimsuit that fit me better five years ago than it did on this day. But I didn’t have this radiating smile.

Looking back at the few pictures I took, I can see the discomfort in my eyes. Yes, I had a wonderful time with the husband. But these photos didn’t do the trip justice because I see body image conflict in each pose. The pose of “hope this makes my thighs look skinnier,” or “do my arms look more toned like this?” or “wait, don’t take a picture yet, I need to put up my crazy hair.”

This five year old doesn’t appear to have gone through the same barrage of thoughts. From her eyes, you can see that she simply smiled when her mom said, “look here!” And I am jealous of that ease.

When did I learn that shame had a stronger grip on me than joy?

Was it when I went to my first boy/girl swim party in 6th grade and realized that my boy shorts didn’t cover up my growth spurt stretch marks?

Was it when I watched the 90’s movie “Now and Then” and wondered why Roberta was taping her bra/shirt down, while Teeny was filling her bra with pudding filled water balloons?

Or was it when I was even younger, maybe 7, when I was playing with my Barbies when I was taught that this was what society thought was the ideal look for a woman?

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Photograph by Kenji Aoki for TIME

Well, Mattel has just unveiled Barbie’s makeover to “better reflect 21st century America.” Barbie now has three bodies, tall, petite and curvy, new skin tones, and a variety of hair textures (launched in 2015). And while I don’t full agree that 21st century America’s diverse look is much different than that of 1960’s American diversity, this change is to be applauded.

It wasn’t until I had the honor of sharing my home for nearly a year with people who don’t have the same skin color as me that I realized how small the black baby doll market was, and how few dolls of color exist. This was most apparent during the Christmas season as I perused the aisles. “A doll like me” was not easy to find.

So I am thankful that in 2016, Barbie seems to be producing more dolls like “me.” And hopefully, this will help girls everywhere see examples of themselves at the toy store, and see that they too, look like a Barbie.

Is it is the perfect step? No. Because there is no perfect step. No perfect shape. No perfect hair color. No perfect skin color.

Not perfect., just better than what was before. And that, my friends, is what we call progress.

And progress soothes my soul, because I want to find more joy in my life. I know that joy is everywhere. I want to work on helping myself let joy radiate from me, not insecurity.

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One thought on “When Did I Learn?

  1. Pingback: When did I learn? Part 2. [Guest Post] | End the NOW

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