Family Resemblance

When she emerged, my first words were, “She looks like dad.”

It was those lips. Those full lips that scrunch and pucker and eat up her face.

And then I saw the Sasquatch feet – how can toes that long have only two knuckles?

She has a slight dimple on her right cheek, and when she grins her nostrils flare and flutter happily.

Her pink-streaked eyelids droop, right-lid first, when fatigue sets in. Patches of strawberry blond hair change color in the evening light.

She is the most captivating, beautiful creature I have ever seen.

And the first response of Just About Everybody who has seen her is: “Wow, she looks just like you.”

I know she does.  I know it logically, comparing her to faded polaroids circa 1977.  And I see it in her stretches, in the round cheeks that bubble up when she smiles. She is so familiar.

All of which poses a conundrum and an opportunity — if I choose to question 20+ years of self image, that is.

Because if she is lovely (and she is); if she has a remarkable body that takes in the world and shines it back (and she does); if I think she is a stunning creature . . . then I must accept that I am, too.  In some banished corner of my “Ugh, My Body” brain, I must already believe it.  Why else would I be delighted to see my own bubble cheeks smiling back at me?

I’m pretty well versed the unhealthy cultural elements that have written themselves into my story.  Come on – I’m a Mormon Feminist! And I have slowly let go of so many narratives that don’t fit.  But the, “Ugh, My Body” sub-plot . . . not so much. Which makes me think I might have some stake in keeping it unrevised since middle school. Does accepting physical mediocrity let me neglect my body when it is inconvenient, smugly pretending not to care? Is honoring the entanglement of body-mind-soul too much work?

In 1987 or perhaps 1988, my family went camping in Canyonlands; it was those precious last days before the onset of puberty and the first schism between my mental and physical form.  I caught my reflection in the glass doors of the visitor center and jumped.  I saw my dad in the mirror.  For one brief second, his face reflected out of my own.  I was stunned by the obvious: I looked like my dad. And I thought it was kinda cool.

As I gaze at my daughter – all 12 weeks of her — I’m going to try not to overthink this, but let myself be stunned by the obvious and let it work in me how it may.

I’m curious: how has your resemblance – or lack of resemblance – to family members affected you?

P.S.  To be fair, she does have my husband’s blue eyes.



Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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25 Responses

  1. MJK says:

    The women in my mom’s side of the family all share a striking resemblance. I see her in the mirror more and more as I age. And in my son’s face from time to time. It’s such a hard feeling to describe.

  2. spunky says:

    I was horrified when someone remarked that I looked like my father. I was maybe 12 or so, and I did not want to look like a man (who was balding)! Its funny, I suspect that if I was close to family, I would like it. But it doesn’t really concern me. Is that sad?

  3. EM says:

    When I look at my children, I see so many resemblances from both sides of the family that go back many generations. It kind of makes me wonder if we looked like each other in the pre-existence or if our spirits looked different than what we are now. When I see the resemblances it makes me think that we were connected previously and that gives me great comfort.

  4. FoxyJ says:

    My parents gave me my paternal grandmother’s name as a middle name. The weird thing is, I have grown up to look just like her. If you look at pictures of her and then of me, the resemblance is uncanny. We even stand and hold our hands in the same way. I’ve never met her since she died when my dad was only eleven, but I’ve felt a connection to her and a desire to learn more about her for most of my life.

    • Deborah says:

      Our daughter is named after her paternal grandmothers. If we have another little girl at some point, I’ll need to find similarly meaningful names. I like feeling linked to generations by name or otherwise.

  5. C. says:

    My mum’s adopted, none of us look alike and no one believes we’re related. It’s more funny than anything. As soon as any one of us opens our mouth, they know we’re related – our particular brand of sarcasm seems to be genetic.

  6. HokieKate says:

    I look a lot like my father, but my step-mother is Asian. I very much am not. It was quite amusing as a teenager when people would try to find some way that we looked alike.

    My daughter is also 12 weeks old. She looks like my baby pictures, and it gives me hope. I don’t know why, but hope is the word that most comes to mind.

    • Deborah says:

      Congrats on your little girl. I think I know what you mean. It’s almost like rebirth; only she has a chance to do it her own way and perhaps better.

  7. Beatrice says:

    I had an extremely difficult pregnancy emotionally. It was hard for me to work through the cultural expectations of motherhood that are promoted by the church. Because the pregnancy was so difficult, I worried about bonding with my baby after he was born. I was surprised that he looked a lot like me as I was expecting him to look like my husband’s sister’s kids. As he grew older, many family members commented how similar he looked to how I looked as a baby. For some reason, this really helped me bond with him.

  8. April says:

    I don’t look a lot like my mom, who happens to be beautiful but frequently talks about how ugly she believes she is. I wish I could make her stop thinking this way. Once, she was talking about her ugliness when her sister was there, and I pointed out how offensive what she was saying must be to my aunt, because the two of them look so much alike.

    • Deborah says:

      Yes! That’s the paragraph I didn’t write. If I hope to help this girl understand how beautiful she is, I need to begin to mend my own relationship with my physique.

    • alex w. says:

      I have a similar story- I look a lot like my mom, and she often talks negatively about her appearance. I always respond with “Hey! I look like you!”

  9. Becca says:

    Everyone says that my mother and I look like the same person, just 22 years apart. Same face, hair, eyes, body type. We even have the same voice. Occasionally my dad gets us mixed up on the phone. I’ve always thought our resemblance was kind of fun…to clearly belong to her in a very physical way. And she’s still very cute, so it gives me hope for my body’s future. I’ll be perfectly content if I look as good as her 22 years from now.

    One of the difficult things I’ve still not come to terms with re: infertility is that we won’t have kids that look like us. I know everyone says that when you adopt you love them the same as a biological child, which I expect that I would do, but I still feel sad that they won’t look like me, my mom, my husband, his dad, etc. It’s kind of like the physical link between the generations has been severed by me (I’m the infertile one). It’s a loss that I don’t really know how to articulate very well, and to date I haven’t found someone who “gets” this part of the mourning.

    • Becca, the physical link certainly has not been “severed by” you. Your particular branch may have been an end to that particular physical family connection, but it was not done by you.

      (careful, somewhat trite-sounding analogy coming) In some trees, the most beautiful flowers come only at the end of the branch. (sorry to those offended)

      One of the most rewarding parts of family history, to me, is in finding the children and couples who never had children of thier own, and had been overlooked on being connected to a tree because they had no one now to connect to them as an ancestor. I’ve seen the enjoyment of life and the times of heartbreaking remorse for things they had no control over. My hope is that they’ve gotten some answers to the “why” of it now, but that doesn’t help with the present.

      I don’t have any answers, nor do I think there are any that aren’t automatically trite and dismissive. I know there are many, here and elsewhere, who know exatly how you feel. For the rest, the best that can be done is to mourn with you when you are mourning, and have joy with you when you have joy.

    • Deborah says:

      Becca, as we waited for this little girl to come into our lives, I definitely had some similar thoughts and feelings. Blessings to you.

    • spunky says:

      The doctrine of the church teaches that once a child is sealed, that child is absorbed into the blood line of your tribe, and they become a part of your spiritual and mortal lineadge. I understand that there is a sense of disappointment in not seeing a child that has mortal attributes of you and your partner, but I guess for me, a child who doesn’t look like me, but to whom I am mother vs. no child at all… I guess my gratitude outweights my desire for physical reflection. But if that is important to you, you could choose surrogacy or other options that give you a chance at a genetic child that is physically and biologically like you. You still have options 🙂

      I wish you luck as you heal and seek all that you desire.

      • Becca says:

        Unfortunately, no uterus + no ovaries = no other options.

        But I appreciate all of your thoughts here; you’ve each given me something to think about.

      • spunky says:

        There are always options, Becca. Donated eggs from a sister (even your mother) or someone who looks similar to you might be a way to go, if this is important to you. Don’t ever say you don’t have options. Just because our bodies are imperfect does not mean we lack agency or the ability to see what we desire most.

        This is a really lame thing to say, but all of my sisters were parents or expecting before they were married. While all marriages are difficult, a YW adviser told me once that it was a blessing to know that who ever I married would marry me for me; not because I was pregnant or give him children or seemed like I could be a good mother. But he would marry me for who I am. I think of this point often when I see my sisters, who have varied degrees of martial satisfaction and divorce and one who is almost constantly seperated since the day they married nearly 2 decades ago. It is kind of awesome to think that — in a Mormon perspective– that your husband married you because of you and he stays with you because of you. His commitment to you have nothing to do with your ability to reproduce; he loves you for you, not for your body. I think many marriage have this. But you and I– we know this about our marriages, and that is comforting beyond words. You have options and you have a dedicated partner. We have much to celebrate in that pure and beautiful simplicity.

        Sending much love and admiration-

  10. Sijbrich says:

    I’m Caucasian and my husband is Chinese so when our daughter was born I thought she only resembled my husband – dark hair and eyes (that are also more almond shaped, she even has his eyebrows and cute nose…but as she has grown and developed (she’s now 2), I see serious resemblance to me as well, and my family has pointed it out to me, too. Her cheeks and her pout are identical to ones that I had in photos of me as a child and I do think her lips are from my side of the family, as well as her height (abnormally tall). She’s also left-handed like me. I’ve only had one person ask me if I’ve had her “since birth” (implying that she’s adopted) since I’m blonde and blue-eyed, and I often wonder if other strangers think that when they see us together without my husband.

  11. jen says:

    I look just look my mom. Body shape. Hair color. Eye color. But I have my dad’s smile.

    I love that about me. As a kid, I loved it when people told me I had my dad’s smile. It just made me smile bigger.

    I hope you can let go of the “ugh, my body”. I didn’t realize it until THIS moment, but my mom hated her body. She was always trying to change it, lose weight, color hair, anti-wrinkle. Her feelings for her body rubbed off on me: I look so much like her, how could I love my body if she didn’t love hers?

    • Deborah says:

      ” I look so much like her, how could I love my body if she didn’t love hers?” Yup, that’s been my big awakening, too. I finally have a reason bigger than myself to finally tackle this part of my belief-system.

  12. Diane says:

    Well this is a touchy subject. When I was growing up people said, I looked like my mother. I don’t think I really look like her at all, I think people said that because I sounded like her.(cleft palate, speech problems) I think I look more like my father.

    Its all really odd, my older brother looks exactly like my father did at the same age. And I have another brother who has a son, and they look remarkably similar at the same age.

  13. Rachel says:

    If you compare pictures of my dad and I, both about 11-12, it’s the exact same face. Exact.
    Now, at 42, I am my mother, 100%. It’s disconcerting at times. But I definitely still have dad’s personality.

  14. bre says:

    Seeing myself in my daughter gives me immense joy. She is so beautiful, and it re-affirms the fact that I have a lovely side, even if I feel like it isn’t showing right now. I frequently think of this sonnet by Shakespeare:
    Here’s a quick sum-up:
    ‘This fair child of mine
    Shall sum my count, and make my old excuse,’
    Proving his beauty by succession thine!
    This were to be new made when thou art old,
    And see thy blood warm when thou feel’st it cold.

  15. Emily U says:

    I enjoyed re-reading this. My kids look a lot like me, too. Especially my 2 year old daughter. I never would have imagined that having a daughter would decrease my dissatisfaction with my figure, but it has. Growing up I always longed to be built like my willowy sisters, but I got dad’s genes. My daughter has them, too, and she is just exquisite to me. I think her little shape and features are perfect, and it helps me look at myself less critically.

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