I have a bedtime routine. Every night I slip into my room before my husband. I close the curtains and dim the lights. Then I stand in front of my full-length mirror and slowly pull my clothes off, piece by piece. It is a show with an audience of one: me.
In the muted light with the bedside lamps casting shadows in just the right places, I look like a sexy beast. The stretch marks turn into a six pack. My hips and thighs scream "power" instead of "potato chips." I stand and stare and admire, shifting left and right and reminding myself of the strength of the woman I am today.
My body is not the same as it was 10 years ago. I am fairly certain that even if I had not had two children, the intervening years would have left their marks just the same. It would be so easy to see only the negative. The loss of my girlhood, the inevitable slide towards middle age. I know it's easy because for a long time that was all that I did. I let the harsh light of my own critical eye make me feel badly about myself.
Then one night it all changed. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror as I slunk off to bed.
For a moment, I didn't even recognize myself. In the orange light of the lamps, the silver hairs in my head gleamed like fire. I looked so amazing that I couldn't do anything other than stop and stare.
I realized in that moment there is no such thing as an honest view of yourself or others. We are constantly looking through one Instagram filter or another. Some are flattering. The bright spotlight we shine on our children's achievements. The glow of gratefulness we project onto the daycare staff and school teachers. Some are cartoonish. The bumbling efforts of our spouse as he tries to handle our tasks on his own. The perfectly framed snapshot of a baby's first steps. And then there are the ones we apply to ourselves. The harsh green light of envy over another's slender figure. The blue-tinged wash of our everyday failures. The red light of anger when we are pushed too hard and too far with too little space of our own.
That night I saw myself through a new filter: a technicolor dream on what had previously been a black and white image. I saw myself as my husband sees me, as my kids see me, and I knew I would never be able to go back to the old monochrome way of thinking again.
Now I close each day with my little routine. I set my mental filter to soft glow and review my day. I let the light take the edge off my criticism and give myself a break for the small mistakes I've made. As the orange light washes down my body, I take a deep breath, tightening my stomach muscles as I slowly let it slip out. Then I stand and bask in the warm glow that fills my heart.
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