Flat: Womanhood reshaped

(This post about going flat has been in the works for a couple of years now. As I dust off my blog, I thought I’d go ahead and send it up.)

Up until they were amputated, I didn’t give my breasts much thought. Like any other body part, they’d been mine for as long as I could remember and, frankly, I found them rather anticlimactic. I dressed them, undressed them, and washed them in the shower.

No big wup.

Occassionally I’d wonder what it would be like to have the kind of breasts I see in the movies. I’d watch a starlet’s double DDs burst out the top of her gown, like my iris bulbs heaving themselves unceremoniously out of their beds each spring, and I’d wonder “wowza, what would it be like to have a pair of those pups?”

But mostly, my feelings toward them vacillated from indifference to annoyance. They annoyed me because I hated wearing a bra, especially in the summer. I wanted the freedom to walk my dog to the park wearing nothing up top but a cool, wispy T-shirt. But, too embarrassed by the bounce-factor, I’d pull on a bra, sure to be damp and sticky within 5 minutes and squeeze my chest like an anemic boa constrictor.

Given my ho-hum attitude toward my breasts, I was (and still am) shocked at the depth of sadness I feel by their passing. The double mastectomy wiped my chest clean. If it weren’t for two, neat scars, you’d never know they’d existed at all. I wonder if I’ll forget what they looked like, like the fading memory of a past lover.

Dana Jennings, my favorite NYT blogger, wrote here about how his erectile dysfunction (a side effect of prostate cancer treatment) made him reconsider what makes a man. The one sentence that resonated most deeply for me is: “I’m just trying to understand, trying to articulate, what it feels like to be damaged goods in our oversexualized culture.”

Some days I feel like damaged goods. Those days are often sparked by a look in the mirror. As both a yogi and a yoga teacher, I spend an inordinate amount of time in mirror-lined yoga studios, dressed in tiny tank-tops, surrounded by other women in tiny tank tops…most of whom are under 30 and all of whom have breasts. Now, I’ve always had a pretty healthy body image, but, on a daily basis, this scenario can kick my sense of womanhood in the teeth.

Of course, as Jennings points out, being a man or a woman is about much more than the fleshy bits. But, in a culture obsessed by the fleshy bits, being without them makes me feel “less than” in some intrinsic way. The deep sense of loss I felt after my surgery and continue to feel shocked the pants off me. At least once a day, I am caught off-guard by a stabbing sense of sadness.

I still avoid looking in the mirror when I step out of the shower. And trying on clothes in women’s dressing rooms is like entering the 6th circle of Hell, between the flourescent lights and the fact that the article of clothing I am about to slip over my head may fit nicely or it may droop listlessly, extra material bunched like two flat tires pinned to the front of my chest. I have fleeting moments of wondering what reconstruction would be like. Wondering if I would be happier. Wondering if it would be fun to have bigger breasts than I had before. But then I slip on a cool, crisp T-shirt leash the dog and walk out the door reveling in my new found freedom.

5 Responses

  1. Ginny Delaney says:

    Thank you. You are an amazing woman and writer. I am proud to call you my sister. I love you!

  2. shoofoolatte says:

    I found your writings last night as I was searching for women who choose NOT to deconstruct. There aren’t many.

    5 years after a slam-bam-thankyoumaam mastectomy and silicon implant reconstruction, I am waiting for the insurance authorization to have the implant removed and my right chest smoothed over or something – deconstruction. Psychologically preparing myself to be a one-breasted woman is a lonely venture and I sure am glad that there are others out there who have faced this whole breast thing with honesty and courage. I wish there were more of us, and we had a broader voice.

    I am looking forward to getting my body back. I feel like the integrity of my body (and soul?) have been compromised these last 5 years. I recognize many of my confusing feelings in your writing. Thank you for putting it out there.

    • Catherine Guthrie says:

      Thank you for sharing your story. I agree. This is a lonely road. But a voice in the wilderness can make all the difference. Good luck with your surgery. May it be the first step to a deeper healing.

      ~C

  3. amen. amen. I think that when you said above that you had found a new freedom, it meant more than just freedom from breasts.
    Beth

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