30 November 2007

Thoughts on Reconstructive Surgery After Mastectomy

I've written before about my experience with a breast tumor, having it removed, and specifically telling the surgeon that I did NOT want reconstruction on my breast other than a tidy scar.* I'm really very small chested, 32A, and while my adolescence and early twenties were difficult, I've come to appreciate my itty bitty titties. So, when faced with the terror of possible cancer, I just wanted it out of me as soon as possible. Some friends thought it was silly of me not to get implants, because I would be knocked out anyway, spread out on a table with my boob cut open. Honestly, I didn't want to live life with big boobs. I'd worked so hard to accept my IBTs that I didn't want to throw it away. Not to mention that my recovery from a lumpectomy would be difficult enough without bags of saltwater sloshing around.

Following the Twisty Faster philosophy, I have since found myself disapproving of women who have reconstruction after a mastectomy. If I were to find myself getting a mastectomy, I probably wouldn't get reconstruction. I feel like women place too much importance on breasts because the patriarchy tells them that their value is wrapped up in their fuckability. People are so offended by boobless women because they force people to think about women as human beings who have feelings, struggles, illnesses, and probably a lot of other qualities we can't gather just by looking. I'm reminded of the movie "Pieces of April" where the mother, who is suffering through chemotherapy after a mastectomy, shows the senile grandmother a picture of her topless after her surgery, which was taken by the son. The grandmother is disgusted at the photo, which the mother treasures because it was taken by her son and quite beautifully done. The mother was proud of her son's talent and love, and the grandmother was just disgusted that she would put her booblessness on display.

I thought that women should be proud of mastectomy scars, and that they should show them so that people weren't so shocked to see a boobless woman. But today, reading Amanda's post about an article on the Details blog, I read a comment by Mnemosyne that really made me reconsider:
If you’d had, say, your ear removed because of cancer, no one would think it was bizarre for you to want to have something that at least vaguely resembled what had been there. But breasts have been so sexualized that some people have gone too far the other way and declared that replacing a missing body part is bowing to the patriarchy.
You know, she's right. If it were any other part of my body, I would most likely want reconstruction. If I lost my nose, or my lips, I'd want to have them rebuilt. If I had a giant chunk of flesh taken out of my body because of melanoma, I'd want to have reconstruction. So why was I so critical of breast reconstruction? I think this is what happens when body parts are sexualized -- we rebel against this sexualization by denying them existence. Is this a rational response? I don't know. I applaud the women who protest bans on toplessness by going topless, just to prove to people that breasts are not sexual by nature, but have been sexualized by our culture. We have internalized the sexuality of breasts so much that we even joke about babies loving the boobs.** What we forget is that babies love the boobs because they are the natural food source, not because they're pretty. It all boils down to the fact that sexualizing body parts is harmful to everyone and should never be taken lightly.

*My father, always the joker, was sitting by my bed as I was coming out of anesthesia. The first thing he said to me was, "Wow, they made your boobs huge!" Not. Funny. But so typical of my father's sense of humor.

**I'm really thinking of those stupid "Look Who's Talking" movies, which I refuse to link to. Talk about reinforcing gender norms!

08 November 2007

Lifestyles of the Rich and Pathetic

Via Jessica, this New York Times story was not fit to read over lunch, but I did anyway. Big mistake. *burp*

Summary: Really wealthy people with powerful careers hire a woman to plan their lifestyles. Clothes, social activities, living quarters, even friends. All of her clients are men, she's had only one female client, and it sounds like she only got help finding a place to live. Quite honestly, getting help finding a place to live is not such a bad idea, especially if you're new in town. And double especially if it's New York City, but I digress.
Most of Ms. Storr’s clients are single and too preoccupied with work to organize their personal lives, she says.
Isn't your personal life a pretty important part of the rest of your life? Aren't you missing out on a lot when you have someone else plan it for you? Are these people just so socially inept that they can't deal with social stuff and have to hire someone to make it a little easier?

Not really. Money quote:
He calls her an outsourced wife. “The nice thing is that when I ask her to do something, she gets it done and there’s no negative feelings."

In other words, he'd love to be able to boss around his wife, but that uppity bitch gets in his face, so now he pays someone to let him boss her around. Got it. I once dated a guy who used to bitch about all the things he had to do for himself (pick up drycleaning, grocery shopping, post office, regular daily stuff) and say that he needed a wife. When I corrected him and told him that what he really wanted was a personal assistant, he came right back and said he'd rather have a wife. Because they're basically free, and you can fuck them after a long day of bossing them around. I dumped him a few days later. I can't believe it took me so long.

At the end of the piece, we see that one of her clients is still lost:
Mr. Peik looked pleased but slightly out of his element, as if observing a diorama of his New York life and trying to figure out where he fit in. “It’s been a really fun night,” he said. “It didn’t feel forced and didn’t seem like we were the reason for Allison having a party.”
Really? Did he say that with a straight face? Here comes my chicken salad on rye . . .

01 November 2007

Is Bell's Palsy a Feminist Issue?

Hearing recently that Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! has Bell's Palsy, I was pleased to see her write about her experience in Alternet. Her story is very matter of fact, like much of her writing and other commentary, and I am proud to be in such good company. The story also had me asking an important question: Is Bell's Palsy a feminist issue?

After last week's post about the woman who wrote to Cary Tennis asking why she deserved Bell's, I've been thinking about it a lot. (A flare up in my residual spasming contributed a little, too.) So I've been talking to friends about it, and they have all said that they are amazed at my will to keep living my life as normally as I could through the worst of it. To which I have to answer, "Why would I stop living my life as normally as I could? Isn't that what we are supposed to do during a non-life threatening illness?"

One friend really brought it home for me. She said that it would devastate her, even though she saw me in the worst of my paralysis and didn't think I looked all that bad. But she feels uncomfortable leaving her house if her hair looks bad, or if she has a zit, or if she feels fat; how could she possibly brave the world with half of her face seemingly sliding off? For me, it was a no-brainer. My life couldn't wait for me to get over what was essentially a cosmetic condition. (Of course, that caught up with me when my facial muscles started to burn with pain and my ear became inflamed. There is a reason that the doctor tells you to rest!)

So, are we pushing women too far toward perfection? Are we too judgmental of imperfect women? Even my father will make insulting comments about women on TV who have a crooked tooth, asymmetrical eyes, or a big nose. I feel like my Bell's Palsy was a chance for me to face the world and force people to value me based on my personality, my intellect, all that stuff that really counts. I also realized that some people, complete strangers, were offended by my imposing my lopsided face on them. I got some of the rudest "Smile, dammit" comments I'd ever received. It all reinforced the idea that women are still considered decorative in our culture, as objects to be gazed upon, as if I were required to perform for men at all times. And I simply could not do that with Bell's Palsy.

I hope that most people with Bell's Palsy would take it as much in stride as possible, like I did. Unfortunately, after the Salon letter last week, I know that is not the case, and that there are women who are devastated by what is basically a temporary paralysis that is never life threatening. Vibrant women should not let facial paralysis cause emotional paralysis. I hope that someday, women will not be put under impossible pressure to maintain impossible beauty, and that they will embrace the flaws that life has given them. After all, my smile will always be wonky now, and my right eye will always close when I saw certain words. Such is Bell's Palsy, and I refuse to hide under a rock just to make people more comfortable.

Bell's Palsy Sufferers of the World, Unite and Take Over! ;-,