It started as soon as I looked in the mirror this morning. You know what I mean. The negative thoughts, self-evaluation, etc. Right then I remembered something that happened long ago.
I was about 12 and puberty had just hit me like a sack of bricks in the face. No kidding! I had tons of yellow curly hair, braces, skin that looked like a road map. I wasn’t a girl anyone would look at and marvel over. Sure, I had good grades, I was involved in plenty of activities at school—academics were never my problem. It’s just that…well…I was stuck in that period when my growing body was at odds with my chronological age. Tio (Spanish for “uncle”) came over to me as I practiced my scales on the piano and said, “How’s my sunshine girl?” He’d called me that since I was born and, although it didn’t fit my current self-image, I loved it when he said that. He continued, “You know what? You’re beautiful no matter what anyone says.” I turned around, embarrassed, and sort of brushed off his words. But he wouldn’t stop. “You’re smart and funny and you’re beautiful. Inside and out.” I thanked him and went back to my scales—my head held a little higher, a huge smile on my face.
When I look back over the years, I realize how important my Tio’s opinion of me saved me from years of put-downs—from the outside as well as the inside. I wasn’t a classic “beauty” growing up but I knew I was special and that I was capable of great things. HE said it was so and I valued his opinion greatly. As my godfather, he made a vow to care for me if my parents couldn’t. That care also meant he would foster my emotional growth. He did and for that I am eternally grateful.
Psychologists have long had theories about how a girl’s relationship to her father and father figures impacts her development. I couldn’t agree more. If the earliest words spoken to a young woman, or any child, encourage shame and self-doubt, how can we expect them to blossom into healthy adults? I’m fortunate to have had positive adult male figures in my youth and their words continue to affect me today.
Four months ago, after a particularly rough day at work, I got a voicemail on my phone. “Hello Norma, this is your Tio. I’m calling to say that you’re still my sunshine girl and I will always love you.” I nearly burst into tears. It’s been decades since that day at the piano but the same wave of emotion washed over me. I’m loved. I’m appreciated. Just the way I am. This “sunshine girl” still has the power to shine. Thank you, Tio. Norma Holland, Rochester, New York.