“Mummy, I like your nipples. They’re so big and brown and pretty,” said my two year old daughter, Emmy.
It was an unexpected compliment, and “pretty” was certainly not how I perceived the gigantic, tough-skinned brown flying saucers that adorned my breasts in my eighth month of pregnancy.
Emmy and I were having a bath together, after a swim in the pool. I’m not a nudist parent (good for you if you are – I think you’re pretty cool), but as I was heavily pregnant, I was keen to multi-task anything. If I could wash Emmy and myself at the same time, then I was winning in life.
This shared bath came with an added bonus: I realised that I was doing a good job in raising my daughter to be unashamed and proud of her body.
I thanked Emmy for her sweet and sincere comment.
“My nipples?” she replied, which was my indication to return the compliment.
“Your nipples are also lovely,” I told her, and she thanked me and gave me a hug. We went back to our bathing, and it was probably just a normal bath for Emmy, with the extra novelty of her mum being in there with her.
But I was beaming, because this conversation actually meant the world to me.
As the mother of a young girl, I’ve always felt a responsibility to set a good example of what a woman can and should be.
I’d found out Emmy’s gender before her birth, and since then have been determined to be a positive female influence in her life. During my pregnancy with her, I even took the time to see a psychologist, to ask how I could do this.
I told my psychologist, Anne, that I’d felt conflicted about my body, particularly during pregnancy. I felt unwieldy and unattractive, which was not helped by the swelling and high blood pressure I experienced thanks to a chronic kidney disease.
But despite these negative thoughts about my appearance, and the uphill battle I knew I faced to “snap back” to a pre-pregnancy shape, I was determined not to pass down a negative body-image to my daughter.
I told Anne that I would never make a negative comment about my own body or eating habits to my daughter. I didn’t ever want her to hear me say that I was too fat, or too thin, or that my thighs were this or that. She would not hear me say that I felt guilty about eating something, or that I was on a diet.
Much of Anne’s client base was made up of mothers. She explained that many of them had expressed similar sentiments – of refusing to speak negatively about their bodies in front of their children – but that she felt it was an unrealistic approach. Instead, she suggested that we be honest with our children, and to tell them if we felt self-conscious about our bodies and appearance.
I understood what Anne meant, but couldn’t imagine myself doing it. I’ve observed female friends who are now adults, but are still affected by the distorted body images and eating habits of their own mothers. I vowed not to do the same.
And so far, I’d done my best to avoid saying anything nasty about my own body or diet – or anyone else’s – in front of Emmy.
Even when I read one of my favourite Australian children’s books, “There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake”, I avoid reading out this sentence to Emmy: ‘Mummy is on a diet. She eats lettuce, tomato and cheese.’ I don’t want Emmy to learn that mummies monitor their figures and diets, while the cool hippo on the roof gets to live the life and eat delicious cake.
But I wasn’t sure if my “say nothing” plan was having any sort of effect, until that day in the bath.
When Emmy complimented me on my nipples, I realised that by not talking about my body, it gave her the freedom to make up her own mind about human bodies and appearances.
Even though I’ve experienced pregnancy and breastfeeding before, the changes to my nipples has still taken me by surprise this time around. Bye bye, cute, pink-ish nipples, and hello to the Cadbury hollow chocolate egg impersonators atop my boobs. Let’s face it, nipples in general are just so weird to look at, anyway.
But Emmy’s compliment changed my view of my nipples, and reminded me that with the right mindset, anything could be beautiful. And as I geared up to breastfeed my new baby, I was reminded of the important role my mega-size teats would play.
The Motherish team confess their first thoughts upon seeing their baby.
I may say nothing when it comes to perceived flaws, but I certainly make an effort to compliment Emmy on all sorts of things. I tell her that she’s strong, fast, creative, kind, smart…as any doting mother would.
One day, my husband told Emmy that she was “gorgeous”, and she shouted out to the world, “I GORGEOUS!”
My husband and I laughed, and then I said to her, “I’m gorgeous, too. We all are.”
It was a hard thing to say, but something I truly want to believe. And if I can make myself live and breathe an attitude of gorgeousness, I can only hope that Emmy is watching and learning.
If anything, I’m learning from her what it means to see the world – and ourselves – as beautiful.