Dear Cal: Advice To My Teenage Daughter (Part 3)
A couple of life lessons I want to pass down to my 13-year-old daughter, Cal, about the importance of a positive body image and the consequences of surrounding herself with people who hurt, not help, that image.
This is the third installment in my series “Dear Cal: Advice To My Teenage Daughter.”
Letters One and Two can be found here.
YOU ARE JUST RIGHT
When I started high school, I was just shy of five feet tall. I hit a growth spurt in my late teens after giving birth to you, Cal, and now, I’m 5 feet 2.67 inches tall. I’m still trying to figure out what propelled my growth plates to grind out the extra inches. Did my mindset to “Think Tall” finally have a psychosomatic effect? Should I thank my younger brother for being a reluctant but willing helper in my Gumby Experiment-pulling on my legs at least three times a week while I held onto the bannister?
The world looks so different from up here. I was standing next to a very short person recently. A toddler, if I’m recalling correctly. I’ll admit it, my chest puffed up a little bit knowing that I would be able to see the topping selections at the very back of the build-your-own-sundae station and he wouldn’t. I should have lifted him up or called out the choices, but I just dressed up my ice cream and left. I try not to be a callous tall person, but I’m also human, and I have my faults.
As I finished my dessert, I thought about the two years of intense begging and campaigning I did as a high schooler for my parents to find a doctor who would inject me with human growth hormones. My efforts fell on deaf ears.
When they countered my pleas with affirmations like “Your height is just right” and “You are perfect just the way you are,” I didn’t believe them. Their unwillingness to help fulfill a dream made me question whether they really wanted their children to be happy. I didn’t have hard evidence to back it up, but I just knew that the major indicators for success in life were measuring at least 5’1’’ and the TI-83 Plus Graphing Calculator which I also didn’t get. Why did my parents even have children if they were going to be so mean to them?
I wasn’t happy with my body and I wasn’t going to let anyone convince me otherwise.
What I wish I had known as a teenager is that there’s no magic bullet for success in life. Or rather, now that I’m over the 5’1″-mark by A LOT, I can verify through personal experience that it’s not what you have that matters most. It’s how you nurture and use what you’ve been given. I try to use my vertical advantage to boost others (the literal kind). We all need a lift sometimes (not the literal kind). I’m here to help.
DON’T SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PEOPLE WHO TELL YOU OTHERWISE
When I was seven months pregnant with you, our nearly 80-pound family dog, who had been with us for nine years, bit me in the face. It was, like, totally a dramatic incident. There was a lot of blood and screaming and puncture wounds down both sides of my face with a few bites piercing all of the way through.
Once the swelling subsided and the infection cleared and the stitches were removed, the angry discoloration still remained. I tried to hide the prominent welts by styling my hair differently, but for reasons I still don’t quite understand fully today, even the slightest brush from a few strands of hair sent electric waves of pain through my face and down my neck. Covering the scars was out of the question.
I didn’t leave the house much for a long time. Having a new baby became my perfect excuse to stay hidden away. I didn’t like the sympathetic tongue clucks or the questions or the exclamatory remarks. “OH MY GOD, DID YOU KNOW YOU HAVE SOMETHING ON YOUR FACE?”
Um, yeah dude.
The reactions weren’t limited to just well-meaning strangers. A few of my friends regarded my new face with grim fascination. “Girl, you better develop that personality of yours real quick” became the new joke. At first, I played along. It was funny, and it was a refreshing departure from the looks of pity. The comments lasted long past the initial humor, and because I had allowed dissatisfaction to creep in about my height, I already had the script in my head for any other area I thought was lacking. Like my friend, Flashlight Ben (he had really white teeth), I felt like my scars were my defining signature.
On my first Mother’s Day, my friend, Mike, came by with a lotion and soap gift set, and didn’t say a single word about the dog bites. I waited and waited for him to make a comment, and after an hour of casual conversation, my curiosity took over. “Aren’t you going to say something about my face?” I asked, pointing to the scars.
He feigned ignorance. “Oh, whoa, what happened there? I didn’t notice until you pointed them out.”
It was a blatant lie. I have never loved a lie as much as I loved Mike’s lie.
He later admitted that the scars were the first things he noticed, but because they didn’t change my worth as a friend, as a mother, and as a woman, he didn’t think it would benefit anyone to focus on them.
I spent more than ten years seeking different procedures to smooth out the scars. While the incident made me a stronger person, I didn’t want the remnants of that one tragedy to be my first introduction to people. I think of my friend Mike often when I see the faint lines that still remain. They remind me that I don’t have to be perfect to be good.
Read Letters One & Two in my series “Dear Cal: Advice To My Teenage Daughter”