Be Humble: On Motherhood, Expectations, & Kendrick Lamar

Lillie Duncan-1-11.jpg

Recently I wished Kendrick Lamar was rapping back when I had my first child. Lyrics from his song “HUMBLE.”— “I'm so fuckin' sick and tired of the Photoshop/Show me somethin' natural like ass with some stretch marks...”—resonate deeply every time I hear them. This is the message I want to stand for and pass down to my children and other woman who look to me.

It wasn’t until I became pregnant for the first time that I realized the full weight of the American ideal for women and, more personally, for mothers. It started with seemingly innocuous praises here and there: “Wow, you haven't gained much weight at all,” and “You look so great, how do you stay so thin while pregnant?” and “I hope I’m as thin as you are when I’m pregnant.”

Then, once I gave birth to Rosalie, there was the overwhelming pressure to not only “bounce back,” but also to keep a perfect house and feed the whole family, all while somehow looking like I didn't just have a baby or stay up for all hours of the night with a newborn who could barely nurse yet. Yes, the pressure comes from my own expectations, but also through the slow, incessant inundation from the mommy blogosphere and advertising geared towards moms.

While nursing, it was easy to sit there for thirty minutes browsing the world of another mother who was somehow able to nurse her baby while vacuuming with one hand and making lunch with the other. Mind you, the entire family is dressed in matching clothes, her couches are white (without a single stain), the walls have no hand prints, the counters are tidy, the floors are spotless...oh, and her makeup and clothes look flawless.

I realized I’d traded my fashion magazines for “perfect” motherhood via the internet and social media. I never felt good after browsing these seemingly impeccable lives. “I’ll just try a little harder,” I’d whisper under my breath as I looked around at the mess of my house, or when I caught my tired face in the mirror, a reflection I could barely look at anymore.

I was full of shame. There was an underlying discontent and over-comparison of my life to what was being portrayed as normal motherhood, normal womanhood. Honestly, it was this feeling I had carried with me my entire life, woven into the mapping of my adolescence. From a young age I learned, secondhand, what was most important in life for a woman. I have grown up with the conscious and subconscious thought that my identity is most defined by what the world sees on my exterior, with little regards to the multitudes of art and wonder held within.

One night, as I sat rocking my beautiful baby girl who would one day be a woman. I imagined her looking at herself in the mirror, the same way I did as a teen, then as an adult, and then as a mom, with eyes that dissected and compared. I imagined her wearing the burden of “not enough.” Not beautiful enough. Not thin enough. Not tall enough.

I imagined her crying, broken over her reflection in the mirror. As her little baby eyes fluttered and glanced at me, I knew all she saw in return was my love, not how I looked. And isn't that what we should all see when we look at another...the way in which we love ourselves and the world around us. I embraced her tight and lamented for all of the woman I knew stuck in this same bondage.

It was the moment I stopped filling my mind with magazines, mommy blogs, and unwanted social media influencers, that suddenly that reflection—my reflection—in the mirror started to glow. I crowded out these things by filling my mind with art, poetry, literature, words, and music, offering myself a rebirth of my own. I stepped into the confidence of my skin, the beauty of my own soul, and the depth of my love for others.

Shame started to melt. The truth is, I set my own standard as a mother and woman, not the world around me. My daughter will learn that perfectionism is a lie meant to make us feel small so that we buy into whatever someone else is selling.

Choose freedom. Walk away from that mirror. Put down the magazine. Turn off your phone. Stop reading blogs from people who don’t live your same life. Then look around at what you have, and you’ll see that embracing what it truly means to be free is wrapped in gratitude.

So, I join Kendrick in saying, “Sit down/Be humble.”

Lillie DuncanComment