“I did not decide which were the weeds and which were the flowers, my child.” These words were not, surprisingly, uttered by Tolkien’s Gandalf and ripped straight from the pages of ‘Fellowship Of The Ring.’ They were, in fact, proclaimed mystically by mother over an otherwise fairly normal phone conversation. I paused, impressed by the profound theological impact of this statement. “Wow,” I said, “that was wise.” “Hmm,” she replied, unruffled. “Well, I’m sick of your dad digging all my nice flowers up.”
I have to say, I align with my dad on this one – I have on more than one occasion dug up some of mum’s bulbs in the garden under the mistaken impression that they were weeds. I found that whilst helping out in what I privately like to dub my ‘Paddington Style’, i.e ‘doing a magnificent job of well-meaningly f**king everything up’, it was actually really difficult to differentiate between a weed ripe for plucking and a sprout in need of cultivation. As much as I adore photographing, smelling and being generally appreciative of the existence of flowers (and some weeds, in fact) as a concept, Alan Titchmarsh will not be calling me up for gardening tips any time soon.
I actually find that the flower analogy is incredibly useful in thinking about our own beauty. An orchid doesn’t look much like a lily, and yet both are beautiful. People have different preferences, much as they are likely to in terms of physical appearance. Where someone else sees a weed to be eradicated, you may see a flower. You may prefer poppies to sunflowers. That doesn’t negate the fact that someone else might wish to fill every available surface in their home with the jolly yellow flower. (Disclaimer – the sunflower method is not necessarily a recommended style of interior design – the way my year 8 art teacher told it, it didn’t seem to cheer Van Gogh up much, unfortunately). A bluebell, I recently discovered, is technically a weed. I would actually argue that it’s my favourite wildflower. It’s all a matter of perception.
Model and actress Cara Delevingne mused on the subjective nature of beauty on a thought-provoking recent Instagram post. Her previously long, sleek, Barbie-esque blonde locks shaved off completely for her latest role, she looks powerful and starkly beautiful. This new, raw aesthetic is a complete departure from her previously carefully cultivated appearance.
“Its exhausting to be told what beauty should look like,” writes Delevingne. “I am tired of society defining beauty for us. Strip away the clothes, Wipe Off the make up, cut off the hair. Remove all the material possessions. Who are we? How are we defining beauty? What do we see as beautiful?”
Indeed. How are we defining beauty? Why should we be given rigid, and often paradoxical, standards to conform to in terms of how we should look? Why should we let society decide for us what is a weed and what is a flower?
Ultimately, as trite and cliché as the saying is, beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. The tulip doesn’t wish it were small and dainty like the daisy, and the rose doesn’t berate itself for the existence of its thorns. They just bloom where they are planted. We shouldn’t waste our time comparing ourselves to others, or view someone else’s body/smile/general appearance as ‘goals’. As hard as it is, we should aim to appreciate another’s beauty without questioning our own, without wishing that we were beautiful in the same way. As Miranda Kerr states; “All flowers are beautiful in their own way, and that’s like women too. I want to encourage women to embrace their own uniqueness.”
Like the flower, we all need sunlight, water, and space to spread our roots in order to flourish. Live a life that nourishes you, and you will undoubtedly bloom.