Have you ever watched a baby seeing themselves in a mirror for the first time? At first they are trying to recognise the person staring back at them, and then finally the joy when they realise that they can control what the other persons response will be! They start pulling faces, smiling, frowning, just playing with their own image, regardless of whether they are being watched by other people.

You get the same picture when you look at little girls playing with their mom’s makeup. The way they look at themselves is priceless. They see themselves as beautiful princesses and they are captivated by their own image.

Then you go into a teenage girl’s room while she is standing in front of a mirror… Most teenage girls can hardly look at themselves without showing feelings of horror and disgust. They use words to describe themselves that are so far removed from what you see when you look at them, and you want to cry out “what has happened here?!”

After that, most women’s reaction to their physical appearance stays the same for most of their adult life. They can never appreciate themselves again. It is as if a virus has infected the hard drive of their minds and completely corrupted the way they see themselves. There is always a critical response to even the most sincere compliment, and the image looking back at them in the mirror is distorted and almost separated from their true self.

How do women go from being little girls in love with their own image while wearing their mom’s make up, to women who can’t stand to see themselves in the mirror? Where, and more importantly, why, does this change take place?

Let’s address the where first. Sadly, it often happens in the safety of their own homes. The place where a little girl first discovered her beauty, is often also the place where doubt is sown through the critical voices of those closest to her. The critique is sometimes not even not aimed directly at her, but when hearing her mother or sister criticise themselves all the time, criticism soon becomes her default too.

I do not want to oversimplify this very complicated matter. I realise that the pressures of societal beauty standards, social media, and peer pressure are real and have a profound influence on the way we measure ourselves. I do however believe that the self image we develop at home has the ability to either ground us, or make us more vulnerable to disqualify our appearance as not being good enough.

I remember our daughter and how I thought she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I could not stop myself from telling her how beautiful she was, how perfect everything about her was. I always believed that that was enough, that I made sure that she knew that she was loved and beautiful.

The sad thing is that I did not realise that even though she heard me calling her beautiful, she also heard me criticising myself all the time. I never saw myself as skinny enough, I never celebrated my femininity, and I was always critical towards the way I looked.

My behaviour sent so many mixed and confusing signals to her. If her mom, who to her was beautiful and perfect, could not recognise her own worth, how could she be trusted to judge her daughter fairly? Was I only saying that she was beautiful because she was my daughter, or was I saying it because it was true? 

Unfortunately, this inner critic that takes over our perceptions of ourselves, and overrides anything that outside voices tell us, is the why to my initial question. Why the change from innocent beauty that is celebrated, to not loving your body and total disgust with yourself. 

I realised this way to late in my own life, but also to late in my daughters life. She had already developed her own inner critic, shaped on the one I mirrored to her. I could not undo that voice in her anymore, all I could do was own my own mistakes. Ask forgiveness, and help her to walk out her own path of making peace with herself, and hoping that it will turn into loving herself again.

I am not writing this to make you feel even worse about yourself. We judge ourselves enough. I am trying to get to someone who’s little girl is still young enough to believe the image that she sees to be true, and who still believes her mommies voice calling her beautiful.

I am writing this for your sake. Be careful what you say, especially about yourself. How you treat yourself will become how she treats herself. If you believe in your own beauty, and your inherit worth regardless of how you measure up to societal standards of beauty, she will learn to do the same. If you criticise yourself all the time, that will become her default, even if you say the opposite to her. 

I recently went through a season of looking at pictures of myself when I was really young. Just seeing and feeling the confidence, the joy, the contentment that I experienced as a child. I decided to reclaim that part of myself. Intentionally. I deliberately worked to reconnected with my inner child, and through that process I was able to learn to love myself again.

The best part is that I am fortunate enough to still be able to model something new to my daughter. Our children are so gracious and because they love us they respond so well to positive change. Now I model someone who loves and celebrate herself and who is comfortable in her own skin… at last.