I have never been easy on myself. When I fail at something, I treat it as a sign that I am, in fact, a failure. When I succeed, I assume it’s luck—more to do with a random twist of fate than any skill I may possess or effort I put in. I understand logically that thinking this way is untrue and unhelpful, but self-awareness doesn’t save me: I just beat myself up further for being self-critical.
It’s an ouroboros of anxiety too many women are familiar with.
Whether it’s underestimating our abilities, hating our bodies or convincing ourselves that we’re unworthy of any good that comes our way—that festering internal disdain can be just as powerful as the misogyny we live with every day.
That’s why I promised myself, as so many mothers do, that Layla wouldn’t grow up with the same hurtful voice in her head. And so from the time she was a toddler, I told her how smart she was. How capable. Most of all, I taught her the importance of treating herself with kindness. How messing up was okay, and part of learning. That no one is perfect. That being a good person is enough.
I knew how important these lessons were for my daughter, but what took me too long to grasp was that I needed them just as much—maybe more. How could I teach Layla to be kind to herself when I refused to extend myself the same grace?
I started to realize that nearly all of the advice I gave Layla were words of wisdom I rarely lived by. That I never gave myself a break, or saw a setback as an opportunity to learn. Instead, any bad day or screw-up became incontrovertible proof of my worthlessness.
Just as bad: The everyday care I showed my daughter I would never think to show myself.
Every morning I dressed Layla in clothes she could move and be comfortable in, while I stuffed myself into pants that cut into my waist and shoes that made it hard to walk. I made sure she had enough rest, understanding that she’d have a bad day without it; meanwhile I had migraines from how little I was sleeping. I spent hours coordinating playdates for her social development as my own neglected friendships withered.
And while I avoided speaking badly about my appearance in front of Layla, it never occurred to me that instead of worrying about her hearing me groan at my reflection in the mirror that I should just stop.
The truth is that if someone treated my daughter the way I treat myself, I’d smack the everliving shit out of them.
I’d like to say that I came to this realization for my own benefit—that I shifted my way of thinking as a way to prioritize myself. But what really happened is that I knew telling Layla to be kind to herself wasn’t enough; I had to model it.
Now I think of loving myself as a radical and necessary parenting style. And sure, sometimes that means faking it until I make it; there’s no easy way to turn off self-criticism. But even the simple acts matter: Dressing with comfort in mind, prioritizing my health, unabashedly talking up my accomplishments.
Most of all, I tell that nagging voice in my head to fuck off, and teach Layla to do the same.
You don’t have to be a parent to treat yourself with compassion. If, like me, you have a hard time doing it for yourself—consider it a feminist act for the collective good. Because every negative thought about your body, intellect or worth gives more ammunition to a culture that relies and thrives on women’s self-doubt. Don’t give them the satisfaction.
When you grow up in a country that tells you you’re less than in a million small ways (and plenty of big ones, too), quelling self-doubt can be a lifetime project.
I just wish I would have started taking my own advice sooner.
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