I'm still not used to using the words "my daughter." After three boys, I thought that the universe and I had come to the agreement that I was to be solely a boy mom, my future bound with light sabers and shiny athletic shorts and Legos from here to eternity.
But then came my daughter, Lucy. I had wondered all those years what a girl version of my boys would look like. I wondered if she would be tall like they are, if she would be lanky or curvy, if she would have my firstborn's blue eyes or the other boys' deep brown. I wondered whether she would be a bookworm like me, play with dolls as well as Star Wars figures, climb trees, and take ballet.
I no longer wonder. My mornings now begin with a little bundle of girl snuggling in beside me, pacifier bobbing and hands tucked into my chest. Her name means "light," and it fits her: Everywhere we go, she brings joy with a smile that crinkles her nose. "She looks just like you," her admirers say, their eyes bouncing from her face to mine.
I smile because this makes me so proud, but I also fight the urge to wince. She does look like me. She looks a lot like my baby pictures. She has my blue eyes, my brown hair, my round cheeks. But in the moment that I acknowledge that my baby girl does look "just like me," my throat tightens. A million images, snapshots of my life, flash through my mind before I can stop them:
Sitting in a condo at the beach with my cousins when I was 8, pulling my t-shirt down over my little belly after one of them points to it and says it is "too fat."
Reading the lips of two classmates in my sixth grade homeroom and realizing that the boy in the conversation (the one I had a crush on) is saying he could never like me, then puffing out his cheeks and making a circular motion with his hands.
Perming my straight, impossibly thick hair over and over again in a desperate attempt to achieve the '80s beloved crimped effect, only to have the tight waves fall out almost immediately.
Wearing baggy, men's size XL t-shirts over my bathing suit at spring break in high school, hiding both my abhorrent stomach and my precocious cleavage.
Spending a horrifying amount of time during my freshman year in college wishing I was blonde and coveting others' hair color after deciding that anyone looks prettier and more interesting when she is blonde.
And dieting. So much dieting. So much policing my food and my exercise. So much time spent on treadmills in dark gyms jogging to nowhere and staring at my reflection in the gym mirror, wondering why the image of what I thought I should look like never matched what I saw there.
But along with my three sons, Lucy is one of the four most beautiful people in the world to me. I love her blue eyes. I love her brown hair. I love her round cheeks. I love so many of the things about her that I know I gave her from this body that was never good enough or pretty enough for me. So when people tell me we look alike, I ache because I know that she may someday feel the same self loathing I have felt – and because I know that I have been unfair to myself for so long.
My fervent wish for the baby girl I waited so long to meet is that she does not waste that same time and energy. I hope that she comes to appreciate the way round cheeks help us look younger when age begins to take over. I hope she grows to value her brown hair that, if it is like mine, will have natural highlights every summer. I hope she always believes she completes a picture, not ruins it. I hope, and yet I feel helpless, because I know my own mother and father had those same hopes for me.
They told me I was beautiful often, along with smart, accomplished, and brave. My heroes were Nancy Drew and Anne Shirley, not Barbie or princesses. I was confident of my skills and talents in every other aspect of my life. My parents did the best they could, and I was a successful person, yet I still felt the way I did.
How do I raise my baby girl to love – or, at the very least, not hate – the same features I have criticized for so long? Perhaps there is no surefire way to inoculate a girl against insecurity about her physical appearance, but I have to try. And I know part of that effort will mean finally letting myself off the hook: not only learning to embrace myself and all my imperfections as "enough," but also forgiving myself for the emotional abuse I have waged against my body for most of my life.
People talk about what motherhood might take away from you: your time, your body, your sleep, your patience. It might very well take desperately loving my daughter – every part of her, including the reflections of me – to give myself something important: acceptance. Maybe some of it could rub off on her.
I have been my own worst critic. My challenge is to teach my daughter to be her own champion instead. My job is to let her know she is enough, even when she doesn't feel like it.
She looks just like me. I need to see that as a blessing to her, not a curse. I am trying.
A version of this article originally ran on the Huffington Post and is reprinted here with the author's permission.