Monday, October 31, 2016

Just a Flesh Wound

This is a figuring kind of post wherein I try to make sense of it all. I have all sorts of thoughts about breasts now.

I had to get the dressing changed today, so I got a glimpse of myself for the first time. The nurse at the CCAC was wonderful. She taught me to "milk" my drainage tubes so they don't get clots in them. When she asked how's my milking going, I thought she was talking about lactating, and I was baffled that it was still possible. It's not. Nobody had mentioned clearing the tubes before, so good to know. She was very gentle taking off all the bandages, and the only place that hurt were my armpits, which I predicted with all my feminist hairiness and all. It felt great to have the bandages off, to be able to scratch the sticky places and get nice and clean before it was all covered up again. I didn't look too closely at where the drains went in; that might have turned my stomach. But looking down at my flat chest wasn't so bad. It's absolutely amazing how quickly we can adapt to some pretty significant changes in our lives!

I'm deliberating over posting a picture of myself, not because of any sense of decency (since I have little in that respect), or because people might say mean things about my middle age body, but because I'm a teacher. We get fired or otherwise penalized for weird things from time to time. Supporting the BDS movement can be enough to get suspended. I'd hate for someone to be traumatized and then it be decided that the community has lost all faith in my ability to school the young because I'm willing to let people know I look like a boy. So maybe another day.

Pietro Boselli in some tiny shorts.
I didn't march in the topless parade, which happened here just over a year ago, for the same reason. Teachers generally have to remain covered up. Well, actually, it's perfectly okay for male teachers to have their shirts off. So, is it the case that it's okay because there's less fat on their pecs? Because then flat-chested females should be okay, but they're not. Facebook policy makes it clear that it's female nipples, specifically, that can't be seen. Women of any cup-size can bare their breasts if they have their nipples covered, but male nipples of any size or shape aren't nearly as offensive, which spurred the whole "free the nipple" campaign. Then Rolling Stone said they'd show uncovered nipples on men and trans women only, which implies that women's nipples are still offensive, and, worse, that trans women aren't really women so it's okay to show them too. I'm not sure if I fit in with the men or women now, but if it's only women's nipples that get censored, the fact that I don't have any nipples at all should mean it's okay to be topless, right? And it's legal in Ontario anyway. But there's always that community standards thing that can costs someone their job. Even this paragraph might be enough to do me in!

When I first signed a teaching contract in the early 90s, I was unmarried and just that day found out I was pregnant. A few older teachers I barely knew came out of the woodwork to suggest I couldn't continue to be pregnant and teach - that I'd have to make a choice - because what will people think?! I'll tell ya what they'll think: I had sex outside the confines of matrimony, like most people do. I wasn't doing anything harmful or immoral or beyond the boundaries of current customs, but carrying the pregnancy to term, unmarried, made it clearly known that this is what's acceptable to us now. I kept teaching and even had two more little bastards to complete the set. I was just showing us what we all knew already but weren't quite ready to see.

Mastectomies are nothing new, but I'm wary of sharing too much because it's still something women do privately. We're not really ready to see this part of our reality yet either. Women without breasts typically use something to make it appear that they have breasts sometimes just so as not to offend. Which is a shame. I don't think it's a problem if someone feels like breasts are an important part of their identity - that option of reconstruction should definitely be available, but I do think it's unfortunate if some women only want prosthetics so they don't freak people out.

Normal is overrated.

My surgeon did a great job! I was worried that I'd have little dog ears of fat or uneven bits, but it's pretty smooth. I feel like I'm ten-years-old again! And there's just enough fat in the middle that I could fake a bit of cleavage if I were so inclined.

I have some knitted knockers that I ordered weeks ago just in case. They're cute, soft prosthetics that a small army of volunteers knits and sends to women losing a breast or two. I can add or take out stuffing to make them any size I need for the occasion. I have a couple dresses with darts in them where breasts would go, so the top would droop and flap on someone flat-chested. I'd hate to never wear them again, but now I have options. I can use my prosthetics in a bra when I'm feeling like looking tailored and womanly, but when I'm biking or building or doing anything useful, I can be completely unencumbered.

But can I really be a different shape each day? It's curious that there's a certain consistency expected in our appearance. Changing wigs or style completely throws people off - unless someone changes styles so regularly that that is their style. Actually, on second thought we're okay with someone getting a hair transplant, or a good dye job, but not a crappy toupee or have monochromatic Grecian Formula hair. Sitcoms teach us it's acceptable to laugh at people doing a bad job of trying to improve themselves. I guess it's more the case that if we fake it, we have to fake it well enough to pass.  If you're going to the trouble to make yourself look better, then you have to do it well. You can get a boob job, but get caught stuffing with kleenexes and you risk being a laughingstock, like Jenna in the first ten seconds of this trailer.

Or in the last 20 seconds of this oldie, when Rob Lowe makes fun of her Spanx.

People laugh when we try to be something we're not, but only if we're not savvy enough to carry it off. It's the Caitlyn Jenner effect that she can be lauded because she's got the money for the best surgery and outfits going, but it's that much more difficult for Cathy down the street to be accepted in old Value Village outfits and falsies. It's not cool that we do that, but there it is.

So what drives that? It's curious that I'd also roll my eyes at anyone trying but failing. I'm wondering to what extent I can change my boob size daily as the mood shifts knowing that I might raise an eyebrow at someone stuffing their bra.

Natural beauty is what it's all about, right? We used to be told to accept ourselves as we are. That's trickier to teach now. It's still a good lesson in general, to appreciate what makes you unique instead of trying to match an inaccessible ideal, but then there's a wall that some people hit there. I can embrace who I am as a very short, stalky woman. I was never bothered by taunts of "thunder thighs" because somehow I had internalized how useful it was to have strong tree trunk legs (well, stumps really). I have no idea how to teach that kind of self-acceptance, though. The quest for perfection is a problem individually because it's unattainable and socially because it has us ignoring useful differences in a move towards uniformity, which, worst of all, is really boring. But if it can get us through the day, if it can help us to reach a modicum of social acceptance that allows us to manage our lives with fewer hassles, then sometimes a shift towards the narrow range of media-driven ideals might create more personal benefits than is lost by a rejection of our own "natural" beauty.

Watch out for some nightmarish results.

But sometimes we don't look anything like we think of ourselves as looking. Somehow I just adapt to however I look and move on even when others might be horrified, but others can't move on so easily. When my son was seven, he got some skin tags removed from his face. I left them there until he was old enough to make his own decision about them. If he ended up punk, I wanted him to have options of more things to pierce! But he wasn't headed in that direction, so off them came. It was a really minor event, and at no point did I think it necessary to try to convince him to embrace his natural self. He's still himself, just without the extra bits that didn't quite fit with his personal perception.

Sometimes the natural self isn't quite what works for us. So maybe it's not such a big deal to stuff and squeeze, to paint, powder, and pad as it suits us each day. Hmm...

Oh, what the hell:

72 hours after surgery.


Simon said...

hi Marie...congratulations on having faced your surgery so bravely, and I must say you look fabulous!!! What a lovely smile.
Years ago when I was at university I worked on a ward at the Royal Victoria Hospital where women came the day before their surgery. And since I almost always worked the night shift I was able to talk to many of them and try to encourage them and cheer them up. And they were some of the most profound conversations I have ever had. There were a lot of tears. Many were worried about whether their partners would still love them, and I told them they would, and more than before. Their courage inspired me, and we did have some great laughs. So being such a powerful woman I'm sure you will be fine. Not only will you be a faster biker, in the pool you will swim like an olympian. ;)
And of course if you want to go a little wild there is always this:

But you don't have to do anything to feel beautiful. Beauty is in the eyes of those who love us, and what counts is what's in your heart.
So carry on and all the best...

Marie Snyder said...

Thanks, Simon! I'm definitely getting a tattoo! My arms both have vines, so now they can all join together in the middle into some mass of plants and bugs. The only time I felt sad about losing my breasts was about losing my butterfly tattoo that I got when my son finished nursing. But they re-build it!