Society wants me to have boobs

Before my explant surgery I trained my brain to view “flatties” (a breast cancer survivor term) as normal so that when I came out of surgery I wouldn’t feel shocked. I did this by looking at images on social media of women who did not choose reconstruction. They bravely pose without tops showing off scars where their fullness used to lay. Of course, now that I’m a flattie I think society should start to embrace the “breastless” body. However, that is difficult because society thinks I should have boobs. As I type, the word breastless doesn’t even register in Microsoft Word dictionary. Even a software program has a red underline and suggests I change the word to bristles.

People who hear my story assume I will buy a prosthetic bra. I tell them my plan to wear tight Fruit of the Loom tee shirts and risk people calling me sir. They bristle in their reaction. Microsoft would approve of my word choice.  From the moment I made the decision to go flat I pictured myself wearing tight-fitting tops. For me it is a point of pride to show what I’ve endured. But, I ran into road blocks because society has its own ideas of what I should do with my body.

I assumed other women who chose to go flat would feel the same as me and want to show off a flat chest defying societal norms. I was wrong. Many other women are struggling with leaving the house in a tank top, or going on a date and revealing the truth. I read about a grade school teacher looking for tops with ruffles and pleats so her young students wouldn’t ask questions. Other women struggle with online dating, wondering if they should expose themselves with the truth in their profile or wait until they meet the guy. In my own online dating experience I talked with a man about my breast cancer. He asked if I was going to get implants. I explained that I had the implants removed. I never heard from him again.

Other women wake up from surgery to find the doctor left extra skin in case they weren’t in their right mind choosing the radical. That’s what docs call mastectomies without reconstruction – radical. Interesting, considering the brutal process of reconstruction. The women who had these monsters preform their surgeries didn’t know they would be left with hanging lumps of skin until they awoke from anesthesia. My own surgeon explained that she sees many women who had botched surgeries from other docs. Fortunately, my doc is an amazing woman who respected my decision about my own body.

Women can be amazing gifts lifting each other up when it is most needed. My mom and my daughters looked at my scars, tilted their heads with a smile and said I looked beautiful. It was amazing to see the reaction of typical teenage girls who I thought might tease me, as my family likes to do. No, their reaction was true and honest and brought tears to my eyes. My mother reacted in the same manner, telling me my skin looked pretty and she could tell I felt confident.

Breast cancer survivors need to support one another and surround themselves with people who support them because society won’t do that for us. Society has a different plan and it is up to us to teach people what is honest, raw and beautiful. Don’t let someone else define who they think you should be.

Cheers!

The Power of No

 

Something new happened this week. I said no. You see, I have a hard time saying no. You probably are familiar with my type – nice, agreeable, a people pleaser. I stepped out of my affable behavioral pattern to say no to something that would have affected my self-respect and value as a human being. I not only said no, I stuck up for myself.

Acknowledging my people pleasing character flaw at the age of 48 has been a huge detriment to my life as a grown-ass woman. I apply my unfortunate characteristic to any type of relationship whether it be co-workers, family members I haven’t seen in years, romantic interests. My flaw does not discriminate. It opens the door to all types of folks from all walks-of-life. Anyone who encounters me gets my very best…and more. That “and more” part? That is where the problem lies.

I market myself as a warm, giving human and while there is nothing wrong with said attributes, I seem to move well beyond a caring individual and create this whole other platform in which to sell my duties as a friend or companion. Part of the issue with people pleasing is that I’m naturally an extrovert. I’ve always worked in career positions where my paycheck relies on building relationships with other people in a community. My unique self-branding skills are a big part of my appeal. Still, my personality type is not an excuse for allowing other people to take advantage of me.

I am trustworthy; therefore, I assume everyone I meet is extending the same courtesy. When you assume the people you meet are trustworthy, and you are a people pleaser who has trouble saying no, you put yourself in a vulnerable position. For some reason I completely forget my own self-worth, my core values and boundaries. I get stuck into doing what someone else wants without expressing my own needs. The worst part is that when I don’t put myself first it lessens my significance. It robs me of my dreams. It breaks my heart.

I called my very best friend and told her about my big, “just say no” power move. I told her how someone attempted to lessen my self-worth and I squashed it with brevity. She asked what made me stand up for myself this time. I think it is due to my upcoming explant surgery, my choice to go flat. I chose to take control over my body and in turn, it has offered me a sense of empowerment that I have never felt before – a strength I never had. I feel that making the choice to go flat has given me great value. Now that I’ve allowed myself value, it has shaken my core, gifting me with more power. The power to say no.

I have to admit I’m ashamed I didn’t catch on to this “learning to say no thing” until now. I suspect other women have similar experiences. What is the turning point for us? What must happen to achieve self-love before we find ourselves drowning in the demands of others? For me it took an incredible, life-altering decision that will change my body and my mentality forever. I’ve had other significant life events that directed me on a path of self-discovery, but none of those events turned me into the powerful being I am at this moment. I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time being afraid to say no for fear that people wouldn’t like or respect me.

This week the word no worked for me. I think I might use it more often.

Dating, Sex, and Empowerment

I’ve been thinking about what dating will be like without breasts. Not that dating WITH boobs is a walk in the park, but I suppose I’m worried about limiting my dating pool when potential partners discover my body sans boobs. Who can blame a man, really? Boobs are wonderfully attractive. I’m a straight middle-aged woman and I LOVE a great set of tits. A woman with beautiful curves is a sexy woman, in my opinion.

I never lacked in the boob department. I had fantastic, big boobs. I loved them, my friends loved them, and men in my life loved them. I remember when I was a newlywed and my mother-in-law, in her chipper tone advised, “If you’ve got them, flaunt them!” I was never a woman who flaunted her breasts. Even my mother tried to get me to wear low-cut tops more often. My senior year of high-school the boy who had a locker next to mine put his hands on my shoulders, looked at my chest and exclaimed, “Melissa! I’ve watched you grow through the years!”. He was a friend and we had the same last name so we shared the same commons space all through high school. Indeed, he did watch me grow!

I didn’t hide my curves, but I didn’t show them off much either. Turtlenecks and loose tops were my standard. I regret that now. If I had known I would lose my breasts at the age of 46 I would have entered armature night at the local strip club a long time ago. I would have strapped myself into a demi-cut, push-up bra for a girls-night-out. No shame. Just unabashed voyeurism. Womanhood in all of its glory. (Who am I kidding? I wouldn’t be caught dead swinging from a pole.) What I would have done is used my breasts to elicit a bit more feminine prowess.

While it is true that I didn’t expose my cleavage as much as I could have, my sexual identity revolved around my boobs. The problem is that I didn’t realize this until they were gone. The door to my sexual self, resided under my shirt. I placed so much value on them – my value as a woman. Yes, there were times I was annoyed with my big, laborious chest. They made buying clothes very difficult. They made me look fat in photos. They would get very sore during menstruation. After children and with age they changed. Still, I loved that part of my body and occasionally, so did others. In rare moments, there were times that a man would look at me like a dish of ice cream just waiting to be devoured. I will never forget a man bravely telling me I had “fat tits”. It sounds so vulgar, but to him it was a compliment. I tossed my hair and playfully thanked him. I worry I’ll never be looked at like a dish of ice cream again.

This process of going flat is about self-love. I am learning to throw caution to the wind and take this risk. I am not doing this for the approval of others, for a man’s love. No, I am doing this for me. This is truly the most empowering moment in my life.