I was in my early twenties when I went to visit my Gram two days in a row.
Though we lived close, between work, school, and a new relationship I hadn’t seen her in months. The first day I saw her she said, “You need to eat more, you’re getting too skinny.” The second day I saw her, my new boyfriend was with me.
When he stepped out of the room she said, “You’ve really let yourself go since you started dating him. How much weight have you gained?” That was the day I realized that my family is obsessed with weight and appearance.
When you grow up in it, you don’t really realize the culture of your family. It’s just what is normal. It’s the voices in your head all the time, the subtle whispers that you heed without even really hearing. “Don’t smile too big, no one wants to see your gums.” “Your wardrobe has too much grey and black. You really should wear brighter colors more often. You look so much prettier in bright colors.” “Here’s a bag of clothes that I’m too fat for, maybe they’ll fit you.” “Stand up straight for pictures, your belly sticks out when you hunch over like that.” “I’m putting makeup on so I can be pretty.” “You can’t go to the grocery store in sweats, you need to change first. What if someone we know saw you?” “Why would you cut your hair? It looked so pretty long.”
In the last 10 years I’ve gotten married, struggled with infertility, birthed two babies, adopted another, run two half marathons, started greying, completely changed my diet because of severe food allergies, grown my hair long, then chopped it all off, and weighed anywhere in a 60 pound range in either direction.
And I fight the voices in my head every day.
I fight the voices for myself, for my own sanity and need to not have my entire identity wrapped up in how I look on a given day or season of life. And I fight for my 3 boys. I want them to know I love everything about them and don’t just think they’re handsome after a fresh haircut. I want them to grow into men who respect and value the women around them, not for a certain cultural standard of beauty but for the fierceness of heart and soul fire they see. I fight for my mom, the most beautiful woman I know, who is aging beautifully. I want her to know I admire her grey hairs, and value her time-earned wisdom, and I see so much more to her than what size pants she’s currently wearing. I fight for all the women in my life. I want them to know they’re treasured, beautiful, fascinating creatures not because of the way they fit the mold, but for the ways that they don’t.
I fight the voices in my head because they’re wrong. Beauty is so much more than a certain weight, clothing choice, length or color of hair. Beauty is the space in my soul that shines through when I laugh out loud. Beauty is the way I feel when I’m dancing in the kitchen with my boys. Beauty is my baby melting into my body as he nurses in the wee hours. Beauty is a life lived, not for how others may see it, but for what that life was made for.
And that is what I am slowly learning to listen for.
Danielle Johnson is the wife of a fellow nerd, and momma to three crazy boys. She spends her days trying to figure out what to feed her people next, explaining how various machines work, reading book after book to her story lovers, and wiping spit up off of every surface imaginable. Her house is full of noise, dirt, imagination, and laughter, and most days, she is ok with that.
What is Simply Sisterhood?
A campaign to end