Women have a love, hate relationship with their mirror. Not surprising given she can have a personality all of her own, somedays giving you a high five, you got this kinda look, and other days staring back at you, all judgey, as if you’ve gained weight overnight. And I’m not gonna lie, I find myself sometimes standing in front of her completely naked, inviting criticism, searching for change, seeking hope. In fact, ‘my truth’ (that’s what I call going inside myself and fessing up. In other words, the thing(s) I seldom share with others) is that I’ve always had a complicated relationship with my body, especially my breasts, ever since I can remember.
As it turns out, I’m not alone. In all the conversations, gatherings and workshops I’ve facilitated or attended over the years, negative body image is a common theme.
I’d go so far as to say that YES, it’s completely normal to have a complicated relationship with your body, especially your breasts, particularly as we age.
It’s not that surprising either. Besides our ovaries, breasts pretty much define our female anatomy. And let’s be honest, they also play a huge role in our sexuality —they can make us feel either incredibly sexy or wildly insecure. And to make things even more complicated, its annoyingly unpredictable based on things like your menstrual cycle, emotional well-being, and life-stage (pregnant, nursing, perimenopause, menopause). Sprinkle in the laws of gravity, societal pressures that fifty is the new forty,is the new thirty, etc, not to mention the role of media, and it’s hard not to be at least somewhat curious about cosmetic surgery.
I think part of the problem is that we grow up with a preconceived notion of what the perfect breasts should look like. And if you don’t fit that description, it’s easy to feel less than and, even worse, alone. If I were to go back in time, I wish someone had told me that most girls, as well as grown women, at some point may feel insecure about their breasts. In fact, I think MAIDENFORM should do a national campaign entirely dedicated to portraying fully nude breasts. Breasts of all shapes, sizes, not to mention densities and nipple formations, to remind us that there is NO NORMAL.
They say fingerprints are unique, but I’d argue breasts are pretty darn unique, too.
Now lean in because here’s where it gets juicy. It was the summer of my sophomore year in college. I was visiting my friend Stefano, whose parents had a vacation house on a small island off the coast of Spain. Think platters of paella, vats of dripping cold beer, and Hotel Coste playing in the background. It was bliss except for the fact that all the girls on the beach were topless (everyone except for me that is) and even worse they all seemed so liberated and oddly casual about it. My nipples looked like huge flying saucers in comparison and my bikini was reinforced with underwire for support. But there was no flipping way I was going topless. But interestingly over the next few days, the combination of feeling like the ‘Ugly American:’ prudish, overly dressed, and way too loud, coupled with my visceral need to belong somehow won out. I dropped the top.
It was a massive inflection point for me, an exercise in letting go and daring to be seen, literally. But sadly my newfound inhibition was short-lived. Remember Stefano? Well he quickly noticed that I was sans top and, without skipping a beat, blatantly blurted out that his father could totally “fix them.” (Yup, you read that correctly, ‘fix them.’) His father was some sort of plastic surgeon back in Madrid. He did boobs all the time. I don’t remember what I said or how the conversation ended.
I only remember the words ‘fix them’ lingering in the air like a stale ashtray and falling into some huge mental sinkhole, caging every aspect of my youth and inhibition.
Over the next thirty years I learned how to change shirts without getting undressed, had sex in the dark, and eventually consulted a plastic surgeon who went Crayloa crazy on my chest with a large blue magic marker, warning me that nursing babies would be near impossible (so much for that idea). My droopy flying saucer breasts were apparently my cross to bear.
Fast forward to a husband and two children later and I found myself in another plastic surgeon’s office, this time discussing saggy earlobes. Well, it turned out I wasn’t a candidate for that either but after having paid the $150 consultation fee, I courageously lifted up my shirt and asked, “Can you do anything with these?”
Thankfully his approach was dramatically different. There were a plethora of options he explained, one of which, to my complete surprise, did NOT require implants. The procedure was called a breast lift. According to him, there were no hellacious scars, and, despite my incessant questioning, no imminent risk of bleeding out or dying either. In fact, the only real issue I had was unraveling my pent up, antiquated judgments about elective cosmetic surgery: the vanity, looking desperate and fake, clinging to youth, and getting old, etc. Even with the opportunity to finally fix what I saw as a deformity and to let go of the insecurity that had paralyzed me, I was rattled with guilt and shame about doing something about it.
What I realized over time was that being able to repair and/or alter something that causes you deep emotional discomfort is not only a gift but a privilege.
We live in a world where, given the resources, we can opt to have elective surgery. And if something bothers you so much that it significantly inhibits you or keeps you up at night, and you have the opportunity to do something about it, why not do it? Life is too short to stay true to a thought or a belief that no longer serves us. As we mature, my friend and life coach, Stef Ziev, says we need a ‘bigger pot’ in order to keep growing. In other words, you need to give yourself permission and grace to continue to evolve, and changing your mind or your opinions is part of that journey.
So yes, I did have the breast lift. I made peace with myself and my preconceptions. I had a deeply supportive conversation with my husband who had seen and felt my insecurity for over twenty years. And then I sat with my then thirteen-year-old daughter and awkwardly tried to explain the difference between wanting to change something versus trying to be someone different. Today, almost one year later, I feel physically reborn (I really do): no longer hiding behind a towel, proud and set-free. (and all hail a bra-less morning.)
Looking back, the surgery was only one part of the transformation.
The real process of exploring cosmetic surgery started with asking myself WHY am I doing this? Is this for me or for someone else? If the answer is for you, then take pride in that, and give yourself permission to do what feels right. But recognize that decisions like these take time and intention, so be gentle with yourself and remember it’s more about feeling comfortable in your body than wanting to look perfect. Because none of us are perfect, we’re all just perfectly unique.
Thanks for taking a few minutes to read this post. These ‘truths’ are part of a much larger conversation about how we as women feel, but don’t openly share. By putting these thoughts + reflections out there, my hope is that others feel less alone and instead more supported + inspired. If this essay resonated with you, let’s keep the conversation going. Forward to others: friends, neighbors, sisters, colleagues. We all need to feel a bit more connected. And as always, don’t forget to subscribe to the blog (see footer below) so that I know where to send the next edition. best… julie
Julie Flakstad is a coach | advisor, speaker | writer and small group facilitator with a passion for helping support women + entrepreneurs through transitions and life stages. Follow her @jtflakstad and learn more at julieflakstad.com