This photo was taken four years ago today. I was recovering from a double mastectomy without breast reconstruction. My incision was still healing. When I looked in the mirror I was a flatter, messier version of my former self.
When I was diagnosed , I quickly came to the decision that I would not reconstruct my breasts, because of the risks of infection, the need for more surgeries, the long list of possible complications, and the stress and drama of it all.
What it basically boiled down to was-, if I had cancer in a chunk of fatty tissue anywhere else on my body I’d simply have it cut out and sewn up and never worry about it again. So why not my breasts?
There are so many reasons why not, so much personal and societal pressure to reconstruct. Not least of all the fact that most doctors don’t even discuss flat closure as an option. They automatically assume and recommend reconstruction.
I understand and respect that everyone has to come to their own decisions and do what feels best for them. But, if society didn’t sexualize breast tissue from the moment our pre-pubescent nipples begin to bud the decision would be so much easier.
From a very young age we are taught to be differently aware of our breasts than any other part of our body. As soon as they begin to grow we are instructed to cover them up. Moms tug shirts up and tuck training bra straps in. Aging aunties comment on the newest developments every time they see us. When did that happen? …Look at that figure… She’s a woman now… The boys will all come sniffing around soon. <<What the hell kind of scary thing is that to say to a ten year old child?
From a very young age, school dress code policies police our skin at every turn. Because of the male gaze, because of someone else’s objectification, we have to cover our cleavage, our shoulders, our thighs. We can’t wear spaghetti strap shirts, but we can’t find any thick strapped tank tops in any ‘girls’ clothing departments.
Just this week, in Florida, a yearbook editor photoshopped the graduation photos of 80 girls because they were deemed inappropriate. The girls were all wearing dress code approved clothing, but even the mere suggestion of cleavage was covered up. And some of the photoshopping was horrendous. MEANWHILE, the boys on the swim team are all pictured in Speedos. Speedos for god’s sake! You can’t get any skimpier than that! How is this allowed to continue?
That’s a rhetorical question. I know how it’s allowed to continue. The patriarchy, that’s how.
When I posted this photo after my surgery, I heard some second hand comments through friends. Some folks asked why I would post a shirtless photo. Wasn’t I embarrassed? Had I no shame? Unbelievably, they were STILL shaming and sexualizing my breasts even after they were gone!
And no, I have no shame. None at all. I’m done with that.
I was shamed enough when I was young. Poked fun at by other kids. Grabbed and groped on the playground. Gawked at and talked about, by adult men and women. I was subconsciously embarrassed enough by my own natural shape to be round shouldered, to avoid hugs, and to never ever wear anything that in any way might accentuate my fullness.
The power of society’s gaze was so ingrained in me that even as a liberated educated adult, I struggled to keep my internalized shame from spilling out all over my children as they matured. There are still moments where I catch myself policing their fashion choices, and I realize it’s my own historical shame, and my own misplaced concern for society’s gaze.
The shaming of bodies has to stop. We must take notice when we do it to others, and think about the ingrained systemic reasons why we do it. We must take notice especially of when we do it to our own selves. The shaming of our beautiful, faithful, ever changing, life sustaining bodies has to stop.
We will NEVER be able to control someone else’s gaze, or stop someone else’s objectification. No matter what we choose to wear, to hide, to reveal, to minimize, or accentuate. Never. But it is not our job to do so. We are meant to move through this world comfortably in our own skin.
With our own curves, or lack thereof.