Beauty is a funny thing. My idea of what is beautiful has changed so many times over the years, at least when we're talking about what's on the outside. This past weekend I was talking with my friend Morgan, who actually took the photo above, about cancer. About how it's relevant to my family again, and about how much I hate it, and about how I will never ever understand the whys of such a terrible thing. We got on the subject of breast cancer, because both of our mothers are survivors. And we talked about beauty, and about the BRCA test, and what we would do if we were to test positive.
As a woman, and I'm speaking to my own experience here, our ideas of beauty are often tied to how we look, how we feel. Growing up I can remember carrying around a CoverGirl compact in the back pocket of my Levis. I was in 7th grade and pulling that out and powdering my nose made me feel beautiful. Later in college we would all get dressed up in our flouncy little skirts, tank tops and wedges, and spend hours putting on makeup. MAC eyeshadow and lip gloss, Victoria's Secret glitter body lotion and perfume. This was what we did to feel beautiful. Then at 22 I started getting tattooed because owning my body, putting things on it, that made me happy, that was beautiful to me...and it still is.
In my early twenties my Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. It came in like a tornado, quick and fast, and overnight it felt as if she was suddenly in the operating room, getting a double mastectomy. At the time this seemed so crazy to me- breasts were everything right? Somewhere along the line I had been taught that breasts meant femininity, they meant sexy, they meant beauty. And now my Mom's were gone. The cancer was in one breast, and my Mom elected to have both removed, as a precautionary measure. And she was one of the lucky ones. She had the surgery, she recovered, and then she called me one afternoon, asking- "Do you want my bras? I won't need them again." She had decided against reconstruction.
As parents we're always teaching our children, even when we don't realize we are. I don't think my Mom's decision to forgo breast reconstruction was a conscious teachable moment in her mind then, but now as a Mom myself, that's all I see. In that decision she taught me that beauty is not our breasts. Or our stomachs. Or our legs, arms, or faces. Truly. And it's beyond all of the clichés about beauty being skin deep, it's far past all of that. My Mom told me in that moment, "I don't give a fuck. I am a woman. I am beautiful. And I get to make my own definition of what that means." That's powerful. What that said to me, especially as a twenty-something who was still figuring out who I even was, was that I have the power to create my own idea of femininity and beauty, and then allow myself to accept that as my own truth. And what that says to me now, as a thirty-something still on the path to self-acceptance, is that it's okay to be exactly who I am, because that authenticity, that truth, that is beauty.
This post was originally shared in this space, a year ago. Today I am sharing it again in collaboration with a group of amazing bloggers that I love and admire. It's a project called Together We Mother. You can see the previous posts here! Also be sure to check out all of the women's blogs below.