Not too long ago, I stepped in front of my full length mirror like I do every day. Post workout, drenched in sweat, no makeup, and completely undressed. As I looked, I felt what I’ve felt daily since I was a girl…. disappointment.
I instinctively covered up my bare chest with my arms, glanced at my thighs, and sighed. I looked away from my reflection with a heavier weight on my shoulders than I’d had moments before.
I washed my face, reached for my “full coverage” foundation and layered it on thick. Then I began to go through the motions of what has now become my daily normal….
Concealer because my scars aren’t presentable.
Contour stick to make my face aesthetically pleasing.
Lip liner because my lips aren’t full enough.
Eye liner because my eyes aren’t bright enough.
Mascara because my lashes aren’t long enough.
“Slow Tan” lotion for my “disgustingly pale” skin.
A push-up bra to fix what gravity, breastfeeding, and running has denied me.
… What a facade… I thought to myself. But this facade was now a part of me. Working in the fitness industry– one that is primarily based on helping people look good–I’d set the bar high for my own self.
My daughter walked in and sat down by my side. She sat quietly for a few moments, just observing me.
“Why do you wear all of that makeup, Mommy?” She asked, as I put on the finishing touches.
“To make myself look good!” I laughed back.
“Do I need makeup to make my face look good?”
“Of course not, baby girl.” I giggled back, looking at my strikingly beautiful daughter, “You are perfect just the way you are.”
“Mommy. Did you know I think you are perfect the way you are, too? I like your face with your scar. I like your spots, and your big nose! You don’t need to hide that from everyone.”
I dropped the hairbrush I was using, and turned towards my sweet girl as she scampered off to play, having no idea how impactful her words were.
I looked back into the mirror, and just sat for a second. Thinking. Pondering.
…Holy cow...my kid had just called me out. A 7-year-old girl cut me deep with the sharpest blade, straight to the gut! It hurt, but at the same time, it was beautiful, real, and honest.
…Man…I stayed stunned for a minute, trying to process her honesty.
Where’d she get that from, anyway? Who’s been telling her how perfect she is… just the way she is? Who told her that we love people no matter what they look like? And that how we are on the inside is far more important than what we are on the outside??
Where’d it come from?
ME…It came from me.
I told her those things.
I SAID those things.
I implemented those things.
I practiced those things!
But looking at myself in the mirror, it suddenly became clear to me that I did not truly BELIEVE those things.
Yes, I applied them to every single person around me, but to the one person I lived with the most— Me—I had failed.
I felt a tear slip down my cheek, and I wiped it away begrudgingly.
“This is not me.” I said out loud looking at my reflection. “This is not who I am.”
I pulled myself together, and changed into running clothes. I dropped my kids at school, and with no work or plans, I knew just what I needed– I grabbed some food and water, and set out for the mountains. My mountains.
As I drove to the familiar trail in silence, I kept replaying what my daughter said earlier.
“…you don’t need to hide that from anyone.”
It bothered me, and I couldn’t shake it. I began to think about just how much of me I’d allowed myself to hate and cover up. For years, I’d done nothing but mentally rip myself to shreds every time I’d looked in the mirror. Destroyed myself instead of celebrating the things that make my life worthwhile.
“Ugghh.. My ugly chest.”
“These stretch marks are so disgusting.”
“I seriously need a nose job. And my lips done….and botox.”
I parked at the trailhead, locked up, and tightened my shoes….….I could use a good breather after that drive…
Alone, I started my climb up to the peak. 2 miles up, a thousand-some-odd feet of climb, rocks, roots, mud…. and me. Nothing else.
I fell into a rhythm with the forest around me: Feet moving. Legs throbbing. Heart pumping. Soul soaring… so very much alive.
After a bit of sweat and pain, I finally summited the mountain, and paused in appreciation of the familiar views. A vast sea of untamed earth–brown, blue, green, and gold. I looked up to the peregrine falcon swooping overhead. It was just the two of us. I dropped down to a rock, and took it all in.
…I love that I can do this… I thought to myself.
My own two legs gave me the strength to get up that mountain. My feet, my heart, my lungs, and my will! No one else’s.
It’s seemed kind of funny just how quickly those wonderful things I love about myself lose all value while standing in front of a mirror.
I took a sip from my water bottle, and caught a glimpse of the numerous stickers covering it.”101.85 miles” was boldly plastered on the side, a nod to my 6th 100 mile race finish.
I smiled to myself, relishing the memory of that awful good race. One hundred freaking miles. Over mountains. In the rain. In one shot. I did that.
As I remembered, I chuckled to myself, ” Shoot. I never ran a 100 to look good. That’s for sure.”
It was true. I’d experienced so many incredible things in life. So many accomplishments. So many wild adventures. I thought about my children, my husband, all of my friendships and relationships–heck, sitting on top of the mountain in that very moment– none of it had anything to do with the superficial things my body had to offer.
A better looking face couldn’t get me across a finish line any faster.
Perfect skin wouldn’t help me summit the highest mountains.
And the most perfect body certainly has nothing to do with molding my childrens’ future.
As my mind continued down that path, I suddenly began to regret the amount of self-loathing I’d ever entertained. How much had this perfectionism robbed me of my happiness? How many times had I looked at photoshopped women in health and fitness magazines jealously? How often had I entertained ideas of “fixing” supposed issues with my body? How many times had I said it out loud?!
I cringed at the way I’d caved to a crooked industry’s standards of looks, and demanded superficial perfection from myself. I felt sick at what impression I may have given my daughter, and I knew right then and there that it needed to change. I was worth so much more than that. She was worth more.
From that moment, I resolved to view my body for what it truly was: not perfect, but perfectly good and capable. Yes my nose is big. Sure, I have some crazy stretch marks. But, when I stand in front of mirror undressed and start singling things out, I would focus on what matters.
My legs– They’re strong. They’ve conquered things I once deemed absolutely impossible.
My arms– fully able to lift my own body weight, and then some! More than most men, even.
My wide hips and chest– they served a special purpose to nurture the precious babies I raised.
My mouth–able to laugh and smile! To speak joy, to give healing, and share encouragement.
My scars– relics full of history and interesting stories.
These–these are small parts of me that work together to impact my life and the world around me. These parts make my life richer, and deserve my utmost attention, care, focus, and admiration, and I don’t need to hide them from anyone.
And moments like this– struggling, feeling, seeing, the taking in of God’s creation. Having the ability to do something extraordinary– to conquer a mountain of a goal–this is what it meant to be a “fit woman”. This is what health and fitness was truly all about for me. It’s was more than carving “a shredded 6-pack” or working for “the perfect butt”. It was doing what I love. Achieving the impossible. It was helping others. It was so…much…more.
I felt my self-imposed burden of perfectionism slowly slide off my shoulders that day. I ran off the mountain feeling lighter than I had in my entire life. I thanked God for the much needed fresh perspective, and I swore to myself I would pass it on.
A few months later, I went hiking with my daughter. As we moved through the woods, I asked her what her favorite thing about herself was. I squealed in delight when I heard her answer. “My hands,” my sweet girl said, “They can draw so many cool things.”