Spitting image: navigating beauty and insecurity with my mom

A student reflects on her relationship with her mom and how it taught her to embrace subjective beauty and unconditional love.


Like many young girls, I often felt I existed in constant comparison to my mom. Family and friends were always quick to tell me how much I looked like her, and my mom herself never missed the opportunity to remind me that my appearance was a reflection of her in her youth.

Before age thinned and grayed her hair, she too had thick, dark brown locks, and she swears up and down she could’ve been a hand model in college, with her long natural nails and wrinkle-free hands like my own.

As far back as I can remember, my mom was overly complimentary of the way I looked; she never failed to tell me how gorgeous I was, even when I felt my worst. With or without makeup, styled hair or a fashionable outfit, my mom would declare me the most beautiful girl in the world.

Many of my features mirror my mom’s. We share heart-shaped faces, defined chins and thin lips, which she was always quick to admire on my face but even quicker to detest on her own.

My mom often expressed insecurity about her appearance in a way I couldn’t understand; she would grumble over the shape of her nose, the size of her lips or the way her eyebrows grew in. She was always hung up on the small details of her face, which were features I never saw anything wrong with.

In contrast, she never failed to point out how beautiful these same features looked on me, and I grappled with believing her compliments when she easily expressed so much distaste for the face we shared.

When my mom talked poorly about the way she looked, it felt like an unintentional insult to both of us. Every compliment she paid me started to feel like a lie, and I didn’t want reassurance from her, as it was such a contradiction to her own self-criticism.

I began to pick apart my appearance in the same way, dissatisfied with features that didn’t look the way I wanted them to. I would stand in front of the mirror, pinching my nose and puckering my lips, trying to envision the face I wished I had.

I was tormented by my insecurities, and I wondered if anyone would ever be able to appreciate my physical attributes as they were. After listening to my mom tear herself down, I no longer trusted her to ease my self-consciousness, even though she was the one person I could always rely on to do so.

This summer, when I half-jokingly mentioned to my mom I was going to get lip injections, she nearly cried, begging me not to ruin my natural beauty and the face she loved so sincerely. In typical mother-daughter fashion, I laughed at her dramatics and doubted her sincerity; however, her reaction quickly made me feel guilty about the way I treated myself.

I felt the same anger and disappointment when she talked poorly about her appearance, as she was the most beautiful person in my life. There was a disconnect between the way we viewed ourselves and the way we viewed each other; we shared so many of the same features but viewed them through very different lenses, tainted by our self-doubt and lack of self-acceptance.

I realized even though my mom appears like a superhero to me in many regards, she is not immune to insecurity or shame, and her experiencing those emotions does not mean her love and praise for me is ingenuine.

I know my mom is the only person on earth who believes I am the most beautiful girl to ever exist, and her compliments still hold more weight for me than anyone else’s. Her flattery is not based on superficial things, like my ability to follow style trends or meet beauty standards. Instead, it stems from her unconditional love for me and is a celebration of the person I am, both inside and out.

My mom and I may not be strutting down the runway or on the front cover of a magazine for our looks, but I’ve learned that beauty is subjective and personal insecurity is often inherent. I’m grateful my mom and I can supplement some of our self-doubt through our relationship with one another.

When my mom looks at me, she doesn’t see the things I’m insecure about. She sees her daughter and the essence of who I am, as someone she created and nurtured. When I look at my mom, I don’t see her nose or her eyes or her teeth. I see the strongest person I’ve ever known. I see a role model, and I see the person who not only made me physically but also fostered me into the person I am today.

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