Breasts, Society, and Decisions

A post-op photo of a woman who had a double mastectomy. This is about 5 weeks after the surgery.

A post-op photo of a woman who had a double mastectomy. This is about 5 weeks after the surgery.

Wow. Now this is some interesting news this morning. Angelina Jolie had her money makers removed to try and prevent the cancer that killed her mother (Read the article). All I can say really is that as much as I am not really a fan of hers, what a brave and scary move to make. I am also glad that she came forward and told us all about it. I would hate to be a celebrity where every move I make in life is some sort of statement and I know she spends a lot of time out of the public eye just to maintain what little privacy she can muster. To be as private as she is, and let the world know that she had both her breasts removed – well, I am forced to actually support her. I mean her boobs are part of why she is who she is today. Before anyone knew her name, they knew her boobs. They were some great boobs and served her well – but when they threatened her life and family, well she made a tough choice and I think she made the right one.

There are a lot of arguments around gene testing and having medical procedures (like a mastectomy) because of the results. Women seem to have the burden of this technology. We do tests to determine if we should carry a pregnancy to term, to see if our boobs threaten our existence, and our reproductive systems are removed (hysterectomy) to prevent or stop all kinds of difficulties. Women are complicated creatures – not just emotionally, but physically as well.

I like this post and this subject because I get to talk about boobs and the absolute unreasonable attraction and importance we have placed on them in our society. I am constantly annoyed by people being offended about breastfeeding in public, the fact that men can run around with no shirt but for women it is a crime, and the fact that a woman’s breasts are somehow a reflection of who she is; well, I don’t know – it just brings boobs into the spotlight – not for sexuality purposes but for the understanding of what their real purpose is, and if they threaten our life – we should have no issue getting rid of them. Breasts are a point of concern for women and girls the moment they start to develop  until we reach old age and they hang to our knees.

I have been told many times in my life what great boobs I have. They are actually one of my few body parts that I like. I have great boobs. 15 years of push-ups have made them what they are today – I am 40 with the tits of a 25 year old. However, if some test came back that said they were possibly going to kill me, they would be gone. I don’t think I would even miss them. As a gay woman, and someone who never wants to have biological children – they serve no purpose. Sure in an overly sexualized society they are the only reason I don’t get called, “Sir” more often (because of my short hair) people look at my boobs then my hair and determine that I am a booby guy or a butchy woman – but I would rather be called “Sir” at Home Depot than dead. So yeah – the choice would be easy for me to make.

For women like Angeline Jolie however who have made an entire career on her beauty and our society that says that her boobs are an integral part of that beauty – well, to get rid of them for preventative reasons speaks volumes about her priorities. She isn’t going to have more babies to feed – so they are now more of a detriment to her health and family than an asset. She can afford to go out and get new ones, and her next role in a film, well we won’t even be able to tell that her “real” boobs are gone. She can go buy better ones. Even being able to go get new ones though does not detract from the decision to have a major surgery to get rid of two pieces of flesh and fat that we women often use to judge our own appearance by. Even with new boobs, when she gets out of the shower and looks in the mirror she will be reminded everyday of the choice she made, why she made it, and that her body is no longer what she once thought it was.

Breasts are there for a biological purpose. They exist for one reason and one reason only; to feed babies. It is kind of like our uterus – only we don’t see that as a sex organ, so when women have that removed it is no big deal. When a woman has her breasts removed however we see it as extreme. The fact that women are BANNED from using their breasts for the reason GOD (if you believe in God) intended for feeding our children its a ridiculous notion to me. Even if you don’t believe in God and you just believe in science – our boobs are still there for a purpose and we criminalize that purpose. The fact that we have seen boobs as something to play with and not some intended purpose – means women who use them for feeding babies are marginalized and ridiculed. We would be less offended by a man sucking on a woman’s breast in public than a woman feeding a child. That is offensive to me.

Because of my life and the choice I made to never have children of my own makes my breasts biologically useless. The fact that they contribute to my self-esteem is a purely societal construct. If I had that gene test (and someday I might because I have no idea of my own medical history) and that test came back and said that my breasts were a threat to my life – well I wouldn’t have second thought about getting rid of them; just in case. I won’t have any self-esteem to protect if I am dead right?

The people who are offended by breastfeeding in public are (in my opinion) the most selfish and hypocritical people out there. The fact that so many women choose not to breastfeed because of the inconvenience it causes makes me sad. We have a lot of kids out there who never bonded with their mothers because they were never fed the way biology intended because we have made breasts a sex toy and not a biological function. Now I understand that some babies just don’t take to it – and for that we have solutions. However the fact that many women don’t even try to breastfeed because it will be an issue in public – well we are doing women and children a great disservice because we think boobs are more of a toy than the most perfect delivery system for nutrition we can give our children.

So I will just end this with this thought: Thank you to all the women (Angelina included) who have made the hard decision either to get rid of their breasts altogether, or who are unafraid to use them as biology intended. For people like me where they are like decorations on a Christmas tree – well, sometimes we just need to buy new decorations.

Are you a woman who breastfed your children? What challenges did you face? Are you a man who values breasts so much that you would be against your wife or girlfriend having a preventative surgery such as this? As a woman, what choice do you think you would make in this situation? 

10 thoughts on “Breasts, Society, and Decisions

  1. What a difficult decision for any woman to have to make in a society that places such an emphasis on breasts and either glorifying them or hating them with a passion.

    If I had a child and chose to breastfeed, being in public would not stop me from doing this. I think it’s preposterous that we shame women in our society for doing something that their bodies were naturally intended to do. Women who participate in this public shaming should have to hand in their woman card IMO.

    My great grandmother passed away from breast cancer at 33. I’m presently the same age and have gone for regular breast exams for the past few years now because of my associated medical history. I wish my insurance provided for the same type of testing that Angelina received, but of course that would be too much to expect from IBX However, should anything ever be remotely discovered, I would not hesitate to take the same action.

    • Thank you for sharing and commenting. I think one of the greatest things that will come out of Angelina’s decision is that this testing should be made more widely available and covered by insurance companies. Let’s face it, a mastectomy is cheaper than chemotherapy and radiation. A mastectomy in these circumstances – will cost less in the long run than yearly mammograms and cancer treatments. We just prioritize boobs to much to realize that – maybe she will help change the conversation.

  2. You know what will be wonderful? Watching Brad Pitt model his support and encouragement. That could maybe make a difference, the way our culture reacts to celebrities. Lost a friend to breast cancer because she couldn’t bear to face up to it, very sad.

    • Robin, I am sorry for the loss of your friend – especially because it could have been prevented.

      I think Brad will come out strong on this one. Give him a day or two. Personally – I am still pissed he ditched Jennifer Aniston but whatever. LOL It’s not my life.

      I think Brad Pitt needs to talk simply because it is the men who dictate our healthcare decisions right now (like it or not) and between the two of them, they can really change the conversation in our country. I certainly hope that they do.

  3. I cannot believe how much two women who are so seemingly different (I’m hetero, long time married, 3 biological kids) have so much in common. Every time I read one of your posts, I’m like YAY, someone else feels this way! I, too, have no idea of my family history of breast cancer, as all of my maternal and paternal grandparents were deceased by the time of my birth, and when I asked some of the relatives, including my own mom and dad, what they died so young from, I was told “some ‘female’ cancer.” So, was it breast, uterine, cervical, vaginal? No clues.

    I was a militant breastfeeder of my children, going so far as feeding my last ( disabled) child until almost 4 years of age, and suffering the wrath of many, many opinionated people who thought it was ‘gross, bovine, sexually motivated, and would cause untold psychological harm’ to my children. Please. Women in undeveloped countries where they struggle to find food know that breast is best and have no issues providing milk to their 6 and 7 year old children if they can find enough food for themselves to produce. My daughter had so many problems as a young child with eating solids and rejection of certain textures of food, her pediatrician said it was awesome that she was getting the perfect food (breast milk) while she overcame her issues.

    The sexualization of the human breast and the usurping of our mammary glands for the pleasure of men and the sale of products in pursuit of sexual fantasy angers me to no end. Yes, they can be fun and stimulating in sexual play, but, if for one minute anyone thinks that their sole purpose is not to nurture and provide sustenance for the young ones of our human race, the way nature intended; they are sadly misinformed. I applaud Angelina Jolie for choosing to be proactive in her health choices and I’d have no problem having mine removed if I thought they were going to kill me.

    • Derb, as always thanks for sharing and commenting. You also inadvertently helped write tomorrows post (maybe). You see, to think we would be so different because we are attracted to different types of people is one of the stigma’s I face each day – you are surprised (on at least some level) that you would have so much in common with me and at least from what you wrote here it is based on our sexuality. I realize you didn’t mean anything negative by what you said – I just wanted to point it out. Sexuality does not determine values or beliefs – nor does it make us all that different from one another. Its like me liking fat guys and you liking skinny guys – see what I mean? That is a blog post just waiting to be written. 🙂

      Gay or straight many women feel the burden of our breasts being sexualized to the point where we can’t use them, and God forbid if someone sees one [a breast] in public – we could get arrested.

      I can’t imagine the ridicule you faced breastfeeding an older child. I am in the camp that if they are old enough to ask for it, it’s time to stop. That opinion is based solely on our culture though. While I understand those in developing countries that breastfeed much longer and that we are capable of producing for children well after infancy – we usually do not need to do that here. Obviously, every case is different and saying who should keep going and when to stop is up to each mother/child. I do think about the social ramifications for kids who are used as a social statement that breastfeed well into and beyond kindergarten, but as your case points out – sometimes even when kids get older – it is still the perfect food for them, especially if they can’t or won’t go on to solid foods.

      The bottom line is that you did what you thought was right for your child and nothing about your choice hurts that child except for societal pressure and opinions of those who think they know best for YOUR kids. Our attitudes have more potential to harm than breastfeeding at any age if that’s what you want/need to do.

  4. I breastfed both of mine; and in public. I would just throw a blanket over my shoulder for privacy. And that was back in the early 70s when not even my pediatrician endorsed breastfeeding – dumbest thing ever. Thank goodness for La Leche League! And kudos to Angelina; that had to be a difficult decision. I say I would do it in a heartbeat if necessary, but not without a considerable amount of angst.

    • Ruth, I don’t think this decision is easy in any way for women who are faced with it. Even women who have the means to get reconstructive surgery.

      It is hard to believe that our society has spent so much time trying to deny the benefits of breastfeeding. We have made it inconvenient by regulating it or banning it outright and then we wonder why we have a generations of children plagued with allergies and ‘bonding’ issues.

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