Last month, we invited readers to share responses to a writing prompt inspired by Stefanie Cole's essay "The Daughter I Need." We asked readers to tell us how their children help soften a black-and-white view. Here is Jennifer Davis' response.
By Jennifer Davis
She scrutinizes herself in the mirror. Flings a golden sheet of blonde hair over her shoulder, purses her lips, juts a hip to the side.
I find this display of self-examination slightly vapid, indulgent even. But I’m not a 14-year-old girl. I am only the mother of a 14 year old girl, simply a ride to the mall and a credit card when an article of clothing passes muster.
With my patience for primping waning, I try to make eye contact in the mirror to encourage a quick decision about the jeans. But instead of eye contact with my daughter, I glimpse my own reflection.
I don’t recognize the hunched, haggard woman staring back at me.
It has been a long time since I’ve scrutinized myself in the mirror. My day-to-day life requires nothing more than a quick glance while applying sunscreen, lip gloss, and mascara. I’ve started shopping for bathing suits without wearing my contact lenses. Snapchat’s got nothing on the natural filter of slightly bad vision; everything is a lovely blur.
After I watch my daughter appraise herself head to toe in the mirror, I decide to do the same when I get home. I vow to look at myself not with criticism but with concern. I don’t look healthy. I want to know why.
Standing before a full-length mirror at home, I see dark circles under my eyes that could be fixed with an earlier bedtime. I see dull skin that is screaming for a daily intake of eight glasses of water. I see a deep wrinkle between my eyes that instantly softens after a deep breath.
I notice shoulders rounded by too much computer time and a face puffy with too much processed food. I pinch my newly soft middle, acknowledging that I have been shying away from honest effort during my swim workouts.
My laugh lines and wisps of grey hair do not bother me because I recognize that growing older is a luxury not everyone gets to experience. And while I’m not concerned about aging, I am concerned about denying myself the simple things so vital to good health: sleep, nutrition, exercise, moments of peace.
We can look in the mirror and hope our reflections are pretty or we can hope our reflections are vibrant. My daughter scrutinizing herself in front of the dressing room mirror is clearly in pursuit of pretty. And that’s okay. Choosing the right clothes and brushing hair into glossy perfection is an act of self-care for a 14 year old girl.
But I am not 14. I choose substance over style. Vibrant over pretty. My daughter has reminded me that it’s not frivolous to occasionally take a long look in the mirror to gauge how my lifestyle is affecting my appearance. And hopefully in return, I can teach my daughter that prioritizing her health will create a lasting beauty that will never go out of style.
Jennifer Davis lives in Northern California with her family. She was a cast member of San Francisco’s 2013 Listen to Your Mother show. Her work has appeared online and in The Contra Costa Times. She wishes she spent more time on her blog, Unskilled Perfectionist, and less time on Twitter @Davis_Jen.