So last week the whole world was a-buzz and slightly obsessed by the arrival of Caitlyn. And in case you have been living under a rock somewhere or taken a hiatus from television and social media and unsure of whom I am talking about, here is the synopsis: Bruce Jenner aka the dad from Keeping up with the Kardashian fame (and some of his own fame) has undergone (and I think is still busy undergoing) gender transformation surgery …..enter Caitlyn with a “C” not a “K” 😉
Images of Caitlyn, scantily clad on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine have been tweeted and shared around the globe, bringing worldwide attention and resultant worldwide judgement on transgender issues. I have read varied reports calling Bruce/ Caitlyn brave and courageous to confused, an abomination and un-Christian like (Christ not Grey!), the latter also in the news this past week!
Staring at her image on my twitter feed I was quite surprised how much it actually really REALLY REALLY irked me! And before I incur the wrath of the transgender community and their supporters … let me try and explain. Ladies and gents, it’s not about YOU it’s about ME!
Looking at what could be seen of Caitlyn’s newly (grown?) boobs circa 2015 made me take another mental look at my newly constructed boobs circa 2014, and with NO disrespect to Dr B, they seem rather inadequate by comparison. OK, so even allowing a little leeway for Photoshop tweaks and possibly hiring the best photoshoot crew money can buy, Caitlyn’s boobs look truly amazing. So, herein lies the essence of my irk-ed-ness…. In what kind of universe does a 65 year old, male born mortal, have the audacity to show off boobs that look that incredible!
Maybe I was feeling a little over sensitive at the time for different reasons: my right radiated boob is still heading North, determined to have some kind of long lost reunion with my thyroid; and I have had some pretty tough talks of late with some young breast cancer survivors. Specifically about body image and gender sensitivity issues in life after breast cancer surgery. And more specifically their fears of ever being considered attractive to husbands or partners again after undergoing the removal of what essentially, according to accepted societal norms, makes them a woman.
It’s an uncomfortable discussion because how do you honestly answer those questions? You can tell them what you like about it not mattering to those who love them and that “boobs” do not represent the only aspect of their lives that make them a woman, or what seemingly makes them beautiful. AND yes, although this IS completely true… in the same vein, you don’t see transgender Caitlyn on the magazine cover proudly showing off her flat chest!
Every day we are confronted by images of what society deems women should look like. And where in our society it is quite acceptable and even encouraged for us to undergo some seriously life threatening surgeries to change the things we don’t like about ourselves.
And then for some of us, just when you get to an age where you start accepting what you see warts and all… BAM ….. enter breast cancer and simultaneously exit stage left: all those great pep talks you have ever given yourself and more than likely other women or even your own children on how “beauty is only skin deep” and that “it’s only what’s on the inside that counts”, etc etc etc.
These discussions have also been bringing back some uncomfortable memories which I had almost forgotten. Like our very first visit to the plastic surgeon’s office. Pete and I were pretty naive ….ok, let that read CLUELESS about breast reconstruction options after a bilateral mastectomy. I mean how could we not be? It’s not like it’s covered in any marriage counselling manual or anything! I remember her going through all our options and then outlined pros and cons about immediate reconstruction versus having reconstruction surgery later on. She said the first pro of starting the procedure straight away was that you didn’t have to wait too long to have boobs again. And the con was…. starting the procedure so you didn’t have to wait too long to have boobs again.
She then, taking into account our confused expressions, explained very carefully that no matter her or any other plastic surgeon’s skill when it came to creating a boob, whether it was from taking tissue from my abdomen or back or bum or whether it was from a silicone implant, they would never be able to re-create what God had originally done.
So when reconstruction was started immediately after a mastectomy you kinda wake up with a certain expectation of what these new lady lumps would be like and they may not quite match the seriously flawed expectations you have in your head of “boob jobs”. But when you chose reconstruction a year or more down the line…. you are just grateful to have boobs………. ANY boobs.
I thought I understood what she meant at the time, I mean my boobs were far from perfect before, but a year and a half and two surgeries later I finally understood the friendly warning of even loosely unrealistic expectations.
The reality is that reconstruction, no matter how far it has come and how miraculous the procedures are in creating something out of a whole load of nothing, certainly does not leave you with boobs resembling the seemingly perfection of Caitlyn’s…
Reconstruction after a mastectomy is not for sissies and it’s not a decision made lightly or primarily for ego and certainly not for vanity. It’s a hard and often long road. It’s harrowing. It’s painful.
And it’s a personal choice.
I have met many, many women who have chosen not to undergo reconstruction for all sorts of reasons, some medical, some financial and some simply because they hadn’t an inclination to do so. But like all gender related issues, everyone has an opinion. I have heard people comment negatively about women choosing to undergo reconstruction after breast cancer surgery, especially once they have reached “a certain age”; as if it was somehow unacceptable, or that there is some sort of expiry date for women to even have this particular choice.
I guess the point I’m trying to make in a very roundabout way, is that we all do what we need to do so that we can get up in the morning, bravely face ourselves in the mirror and carry on with our lives, even when it may not be the way someone else would have done it.
So I guess being irked and having boob envy over a 65 year old Bruce / Caitlyn, when I’m alive and perhaps just having a bad boob day, just seems awfully ungracious …….doesn’t it?
“There is nothing more rare, nor more beautiful, than a woman being unapologetically herself; comfortable in her perfect imperfection. To me, that is the true essence of beauty.”
― Steve Maraboli
“You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful.”
― Amy Bloom
“That’s sad. How plastic and artificial life has become. It gets harder and harder to find something…real.” Nin interlocked his fingers, and stretched out his arms. “Real love, real friends, real body parts…”
― Jess C. Scott, The Other Side of Life
“You are not a mistake. You are not a problem to be solved. But you won’t discover this until you are willing to stop banging your head against the wall of shaming and caging and fearing yourself. (p. 84)”
― Geneen Roth
“Beauty shouldn’t be about changing yourself to achieve an ideal or be more socially acceptable. Real beauty, the interesting, truly pleasing kind, is about honoring the beauty within you and without you. It’s about knowing that someone else’s definition of pretty has no hold over you.”
― Golda Poretsky