Monday, November 16, 2009

Dirty Words

Recently, I heard a woman who had delayed reconstruction describe her experience. She had wanted immediate reconstruction but was forced to delay for medical reasons. After her mastectomy but before her reconstruction, she said she felt "mutilated" and "disfigured." She believed that she had lost her sexual attractiveness along with her breasts. She hated the very idea of prostheses, with their connotation of "amputation," yet she couldn't bear to go flat.

I cringed at the words this woman chose to describe her breastless state. Her comments reminded me that although I don't think of myself as mutilated or disfigured, others may regard me that way. As anyone who's visited BreastFree.org knows, I view my decision not to have reconstruction as a positive one. I think of myself as "breast-free," not breastless. But I realize that not all women feel as I do about living without breasts. There seems to be a special kind of self-confidence possessed by women who don't feel the need for reconstruction.

That's not to say we all have fantastic body images. I've got plenty of insecurities—my feet are too big, my eyebrows too wiry, my legs too skinny, and on and on. But for some reason, I never regarded having a mastectomy as mutilation or disfigurement. Nor do I feel as if I've had an amputation. That's why I prefer the term "breast form" to "prosthesis." When I look in the mirror, I think I look okay. Not gorgeous, mind you, but just fine. And when I go out into the world, I feel just as good about myself as I ever did.

Choosing to live breast-free also reflects my belief that our culture is far too obsessed with youth and beauty, and particularly obsessed with breasts. I feel that ideally I should focus on what's inside, not that I've always succeeded in doing that. But needing a mastectomy really forced me to put my beliefs to the test. I wondered if I could I feel whole and attractive without my breasts. To my relief, I've found that living breast-free truly hasn't made me feel less beautiful, less womanly, or less loved. So in a certain sense, I regard myself as lucky to have been through this experience. Not that I'd wish it on anyone else. But sometimes misfortune really does create an opportunity for personal growth.

If you've chosen not to have reconstruction, I'd love to hear your thoughts on why you're comfortable with your decision and I'm sure others would read them with interest. Please feel free to comment below.