I had the pleasure of attending an Off-Broadway performance of Freckleface Strawberry, a musical based on the children’s book by Julianne Moore. Yes, that’s right, the actress. The musical contained many important lessons on self-acceptance for kids and adults.
If you haven’t read the book, it’s about a little girl who is teased about her mass of freckles and the color of her hair, hence the nickname, Freckleface Strawberry. Freckleface desperately wants to get rid of her freckles. When she discovers much to her chagrin that her freckles won’t come off, she finds a ski mask and wears it to school. The plan successfully rids herself of the freckles but she becomes unrecognizable to her friends. No one knows her. She is lonely and uncomfortable in the mask. Her friends miss her and want her back—freckles and all. In the end, she learns to be okay with her freckles because she wants to be herself again.
Who hasn’t worn a mask to hide their real self? Maybe it was a mask of "have-it-all-together" or of pleasing other people. The good news is that masks sometimes protect you from hurting. The bad news is that they hide who you really are and all the unique things about you. As Freckleface Strawberry discovers, you can only wear a mask for so long before it gets uncomfortable and you want to be yourself.
The self-acceptance struggle I help my clients tackle most often is around body image and learning to eat more mindfully. It’s difficult to understand the paradox between accepting yourself to facilitate positive change. The main thing holding you up is your mind saying—"I don’t want it to be like this." The more you dwell on not wanting to have the problem or how unfair it is, the more stuck you become—just like Freckleface resisting her freckles. It also creates an emotional wedge between you and those important to you.
A similar struggle happens when you don’t accept your body. You can spend a lot of time being unhappy and resenting the body you have. This leads to starvation diets, squeezing into tight clothing or punishing your body in other ways. When you accept the body you have, you free yourself up to eat mindfully and take care of yourself.
Freckleface Strawberry wasn’t the only kid who struggled with self-acceptance in this musical. All her friends wanted to be “normal” and more like another child who had something they didn’t like athletic performance, looks etc. It doesn’t matter what age you are, it’s easy to get sucked into wanting what someone else has—whether it be a thinner body, money, success etc. As cliché as it sounds, it’s true. Coveting someone else always leads to unhappiness and robs you of the ability to appreciate what you do have.
Perhaps the most poignant moment is Freckleface Strawberry’s mother empathizing with her daughter’s struggle. She reassures her daughter that she knows how she feels because she has been there herself. What parent hasn’t wished that their child could skip over the self-doubt and insecurity and learn to be comfortable with who they are right from the get go? But, as we all know, it is a life-long process. It is easier at times than others.
Are the self-acceptance lessons in the book and musical important for kids? Absolutely. In a world that doesn’t teach us how to feel good about who we are, getting these lessons on self-acceptance into kids' heads as early as possible is key. It’s also being a good role model and showing your kids how to accept the things about your body that you aren’t crazy about.
A little girl sitting next to me recited the entire book, verbatim from memory. After the play, I overheard her say, “Freckleface Strawberry’s freckles are beautiful.” Clearly, she “got” the message.
Remember that even drop-dead gorgeous celebrities like Julianne Moore don’t escape teasing or self-doubt. We all have things we don’t like about our bodies whether it be freckles or our thighs. Thank you to Julianne Moore for a delightful book and musical that brilliantly captures a pivotal life lesson.
Susan Albers, Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist, specializing in eating issues, weight loss, body image concerns, and mindfulness. She is the author of 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food, Eating Mindfully, Eat, Drink, and Be Mindful, and Mindful Eating 101 and is a Huffington Post blogger. Her books have been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, O, the Oprah Magazine, Natural Health, Self Magazine and on the Dr. Oz TV Show. Visit Albers online at www.eatingmindfully.