In the middle of the asphalt roads and sidewalks that surround West Hollywood, a thoughtful neighbor tends to his front yard flower garden.
The man who lives in the house down the street also secured the city’s permission to extend his garden along a large section of the adjoining parking strip. This colorful oasis is a delight and a joy to walk through every day. There’s always some new surprise: seasonal flowers beginning to sprout, a new scent to take in, or the remnants of a wilting bloom to savor. There’s nothing sad or mournful about this small inner-city garden sanctuary, made complete with a water fountain nestled in the brilliant foliage.
What does this have to do with women’s breasts or bodies? It inspired me to consider how I've compared myself to others over the years. Not unlike judging one variety of glorious flora to another growing in a common flower bed. Mostly I spent time attempting to perfect my outward appearance, but often I scrutinized the quality of my innate skills or talents – whether as a writer, friend, or mother.
I was innocent of self-criticism as a young child. But once adolescence hit, I saw myself through a different set of eyes. My hair wasn’t straight enough. My breasts were too small, and then too big. I wished I were taller and slimmer. It was the beginning of a never ending list of things I thought I needed to change in order to find happiness or fulfillment.
It's no coincidence that at the same time young girls go through puberty and start developing outward symbols of womanhood, we start to get anxious about how we appear to others. We get breast “buds.” These new strange body parts are an easy target for our insecurities. We might think they're coming in too early or too late. Maybe we think they're too saggy, spaced too wide apart, the wrong shape, or nipples too small or large or protrude too much. One friend once told me that she worried that the skin tone of her areola was too dark. Really? The color? How can you value the beauty of a red rose over a purple tulip?
Field of Wildflowers
The opinions I hold of myself feed my life's garden and serve as psychological soil, fertilizer, and sunshine. At times I’m sure I’m in the middle of my full blooming glory; other days I wonder whether I’m rotting or fading away. I still compare myself to unreal media images of a youthful, ideal female body type or envy some other woman's career accomplishments. I can long for younger days or a pause in the aging process. That might lift up any lower self-esteem. But then I recall my unique experiences, my three grown children, and the gift of a more mature perspective. Why would I want to be anyone else but who I am, right now? I make a conscious choice to turn off the litany of self-deprecating tapes in my head, at least for the time being. I remember that it is the judgments I attach to my thoughts that work to cultivate happiness or despair.
Going through reverse puberty (my term for menopause) changed how I looked at myself, both inside and out. There are fewer unrealistic expectations of perfection, although I’m still shooting for excellence and authenticity. In some ways, it is a return to the wide-eyed innocence of youth. It has made it easier for me to appreciate every blossom, not just my own. I’m more aware of the fleeting aspect and exceptional beauty of nature. And I’m reminded that everything growing in my garden is perfect. Right now. Just as it is.
What about you? Ever judged your body too harshly or too highly? What have you found helps your life's garden grow?