Your Stripes are Beautiful

About a year ago I was swimming with my kids in our pool and noticed Anni (my now 7 year old) staring at me as I toweled off. She had a puzzled look about her as she approached me, wrinkling her nose. She reached her hand out and ran her fingers across the side of my waist and asked where I got all my stripes. The question kind of caught me a little off guard. I had almost forgotten they were there. But her eyes were so honest and her question sincere that I took the opportunity to explain.

I told her they’re stretch marks and that lot of Mommies get them when they’re pregnant because as the baby grows, the Mommy’s tummy and hips grow, too.

I think her little radar went off and she could sense a flash of my momentary insecurity. What she said next was magical. She reached out and touched all the stretch marks and said to me…

—“Mommy, you need to know”.
She pauses for a moment and I return the question.
—“Need to know what?”
I asked.
—“You need to know, mommy, that you are beautiful. Even with your stripes.”
And with that, she hugged me tight and jumped back into the pool.

That brief exchange still resonates with me. I forget sometimes how important it is to take a moment to check myself, for clarity’s sake. It’s so easy for me to get hung up on my selfdiagnosed negatives. And here’s my little girl who loves me, all of me, unconditionally, telling me I’m beautiful just the way I am.

This is the message I missed out on as a child. I started modeling at 12 years old. Not something that my younger self wanted but rather, something my mother wanted me to do. In my case, the majority of comments I received about my appearance were filled with criticism, not acceptance. So, I’ve grown up in a world of approval seeking for a very long time. There were countless times I stood in line for hours waiting for my turn with casting agents only to be stared at, told to spin around, and spoken out loud about, saying I wasn’t thin enough, pretty enough, tall enough, this enough or that enough. Play that on repeat in your mind at such a young age and you absolutely begin to believe it for yourself.

I felt uncomfortable and ashamed about my body. I didn’t like who I was, especially in those few awkward years around 12. So in an effort to remedy the issue, my mother gave me fat burning pills. Perhaps in her own mind, she felt like this was going to help me gain back my self esteem by looking how I was “supposed to”, but after a few weeks of taking this supplement with no success, I felt it was taking too long and the pressure to be perfect was overwhelming. So one morning, I tried to take more than recommended and was nearly sent to the hospital.

Pressure for women to look a certain way, to be somebody else is undeniable. And a large part of that is due to the media designing and manufacturing women to have the “right” look. I certainly fell victim to that. It’s so hard not to when you are in your early teens and seemingly rejected because of what makes you unique; and what should be celebrated, is in turn deemed a flaw. So I ate very little, enough to keep up energy, partied hard, and constantly competed with a very thin friend of mine (who was already 4 inches shorter than me) to see who could get skinnier. Well, at almost 5’7” tall and weighing in at 103 pounds, I was definitely headed down a dark road of deception and destruction. I was ill of body and of spirit.

So yes, I know firsthand what it’s like to be pressured into being thinner than you should and/or need to be. I know what it’s like to stand in front of the mirror every morning and check the space (or lack thereof) in between your thighs. I know what it feels like when you can’t fit into the smaller size jeans. And I know what it’s like to have stripes all over.

It’s been a long, and in many cases, torturous journey for me and, truth be told, one that tries to rear it’s ugly head now and then. But I can tell you that personally, becoming a mother has brought me to a deeper place of understanding about what true beauty looks like. I can look into my little girls’ eyes and confidently say that your beauty, your authenticity is reflected in the way you see and love yourself. I can say that because they look at me and say the same.

Chyler No Makeup
Chyler Leigh without makeup.

I can’t shield them from criticism, can’t be with them all the time. I wish I could. But if they can take that seed of truth and plant it deep within their hearts I, as their mom, have helped them break the chains of self-sabotage and encouraged them to freely blossom into the magnificent beauties they are. Friends, that message doesn’t just stop with the younger generations. It begins with you, where you stand right now. If your turnaround can be expedited by the power of belief, or your assurance of who you are can be confirmed by the way you walk, you will see yourself as the grace-given, grace-filled masterpiece that you are. It comes from a place of clarity and a renewed perspective, despite how difficult it seems. You are wonderful, you are worthy of respect and praise, you are deserving of love and yes, you are unique. Start with yourself and know…

YOUR stripes are beautiful

—C.L.

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