She covers herself as the massage chair in the shopping centre does its thing. She hides the softness of her stomach as it jiggles. I dare not smile or watch her too long for fear she thinks I’m laughing at her. I’m not, I’m smiling a smile of recognition. I’ve been there.

I notice the brown eyes and freckles scattered across her nose. She probably wishes her brown eyes were green or her skin was porcelain. That she was taller or didn’t have thick hair straining the elastic on her ponytail. At this stage she’d probably take anything over what she actually is.

I was her. Or the her I imagine her to be. Who taught her that? I couldn’t help but think.

Who taught ME that?

When does the hiding and the shame about your body begin? Is it watching and observing. Is it at school or in groups… At swimming club? When does being who we are stop being enough and we start wishing we were different? Whenever and wherever it starts it does. I work now so that the next generation will be easier in their bodies. But maybe we lost them already. Man I hope that’s not true.

Quietly I continue to watch as the girl’s mother approaches. The mother smiles and asks if the massage feels good. I search her voice for the reason behind this little girl’s shame. I automatically assume it come from her, I’m waiting for the moment when she says to get up and stop exposing herself in such a way.

But the opposite happens and the girl begins to relax in her mother’s presence. Lays her arms on the rests and smile gently towards the ceiling as her eyes flutter shut. The very presence of her mother assures this girl and I chastise myself for having thought otherwise. My own mother had the same effect on me.

The massage chair stops abruptly and delivers the girl into an upright position. She springs out of the seat, grabs her Mum’s hand and they walked back towards me. I start to move on, aware now of how long I have been watching the scene unfold. I smile at them as I pass and the girl grins back. Maybe she sees me too? All of me. Right back to the beginning. Or maybe she’s just happy. But I wonder.

As a woman now into her thirties I was able to walk past with my head held high, comfortable with who and what I am. I watch the people as I walk by them. Watching their reactions to me, the way they are with themselves and the people around them. I smile inwardly proud of where I have come from.

I’m okay here now. Comfortable and confident with myself and I want to pass that on to that girl. I want to save her the years, maybe decades, of angst. It occurs to me that her mother has probably had the same thought somewhere along the way. Maybe it was the very moment she had a daughter. Maybe she is as desperate as I am to cause change for these girls. Starting with her girl.

I have a way to do something, even if I am too late. I have a space here. I have a chance and a reason and a motive. I write because I want to say these things to not just the women I know and their daughters but all daughters. Scribbling notes on the page, clacking the keys or sharing a photo where my hair isn’t done and the my face looks weird. Whatever it takes.

The girl I was deserves at least that. Every girl deserves that. Let’s show her the way.

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