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!

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