Unboxing Challenge — Day 8: Breast Implants

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Me. At 19. That sad / cheated / broken / deformed / ashamed / terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad self-esteem period.
a.k.a., “pre-op.” 🙃

I was agonizing recently over the decision between a boat-sized chaise, a sofa-bed sectional, or a (tiny) proper bed for my new apartment (#therecanonlybeone) — when suddenly I had this funny daydream: I imagined myself in the spirit world, prior to this lifetime. If it’s so hard to pick something to sleep on, I wonder how hard it must’ve been for me to choose a BODY!, I thought.

Immediately, I heard myself answer, silently, You took FOREVERRRRR! And I chuckled.

But then I thought, Wait — but I picked one with a boob deformity. I imagined my soul in some sort of otherworldly showroom, pointing to the model I was digging — the body I have now — and saying, But… the breasts? One of the breasts is kind of… partially… not there?

And then, as if receiving a response from the showroom attendants of this weird daydream, I “heard,” Yes, but those are optional add-ons!

I sprang for the add-ons. Here’s that story!

 

At age 21, I had a breast reconstruction. “Reconstruction” because it wasn’t a normal surgery. I was about 12 when my breasts had developed enough to be noticeable but about 14 when I noticed that one of them wasn’t looking, well, much like a breast. One was round, one was not, and this was all the more apparent because my breasts weren’t small. I hoped and prayed for a long time that this asymmetry would correct itself as I matured. That didn’t happen; instead, my breasts only became more asymmetrical as they grew larger, not just in volume, but especially in shape.

Breast asymmetry is super-common, and it’s my understanding that most women come to accept the fact that one usually ends up larger than the other. I might’ve been able to make peace with that too, had that been my case. Instead, since no bras were capable of fitting me adequately, I was always worried about nip-slips; it was hard to find tops that fit both sides at once; and the half-boob (as I often called it) grew more physically uncomfortable over time, between its lack of bra support and the fact that most of its tissue was concentrated densely in one spot.

 

This was all bad enough, but here was the real problem: I felt deeply ashamed. As in, I felt literal disgust at my own reflection. I always zeroed in on the misshapen part, along with fixating on and mourning the “piece” of the half-boob that felt missing (even though that “piece” was just empty air and had never existed in the first place). What else did I feel?

  • Sad — over a piece of my anatomy being “missing”
  • Cheated — why couldn’t I have two breasts?
  • Angry — not just because there was this missing piece, but because I would have to pay thousands of dollars to purchase what hadn’t grown on its own. (My insurance, like most in the U.S., would not cover treatment for breast deformities. Should’ve checked the fine print in the spirit world regarding those add-ons. 😜)

Aaaaaand I felt broken. Less-than. Defective. Deformed. BECAUSE I did, indeed, have a deformity: tuberous breast deformity.

Nobody likes feeling defective. Even if that “defect” is in a hidden place. Suffice it to say, being diagnosably “defective” in an intimate way is really darn difficult.

Hence, regardless of the fact that breasts are hidden, this absolutely influenced my sense of self-worth. My first partner was abusive, and I stayed with him for YEARS, in no small part because it felt extremely scary to risk baring myself to anybody new. I was afraid of anyone seeing my breasts (more like breast-and-a-half), rejecting me, and — worst — telling people about it,*** so it felt “safer” to stay with the abusive guy. He HAD seen and was sticking around.

(***Yes, I’m aware that I’M telling people about it right now. That’s different. That’s on my terms. Thanks for reading! 😃)

When that relationship ended and I started seeing someone new, THAT relationship turned out to be abusive too, and while fear of being seen was not such a factor that time around (I’d gotten older and built a little more confidence), I still felt less-than-valuable on a very. deep. level. Though that relationship became very serious (talk of marriage) and though he (…occasionally) loved my body as it was, I still felt bothered by looking at my deformity in the mirror. (Not to mention, again, the increasing physical discomfort.) Hence, toward the end of college, I decided to get surgery.

HERE IS AN IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE, which contextualizes this too: as part of my complex about not looking “feminine” enough, I decided I wanted a nose job too; I had inherited a nose that felt too large for my features, something that had bothered me since elementary school. With my nose, too, I was tired looking in the mirror and fixating on what I saw as a “flaw.” So I decided to do both of these surgeries at once, to minimize the risk attendant to going under anesthesia.

How did people react to my choice?

We pretend that people are vain for wanting plastic surgery. We forget about, or arrogantly dismiss, the fact that we genuinely DO live in a society where people are judged (often negatively) for their appearance. While my best friend and everyone in my family were supportive, and my ex was supportive as long as I kept it a secret (He was uncomfortable with people knowing.), I was shamed by some others for wanting breast surgery. In that latter group’s eyes, while purely cosmetic rhinoplasty was perfectly acceptable, breast surgery was not; to them, if implants wouldn’t make my breasts “work” any better, then my objectives were indefensible. I asked these people: if I were missing an eye and I wanted a glass one, even though a glass eye would NEVER help a person see — just so I could look symmetrical — would that be wrong? They didn’t have an answer.

People don’t criticize glass eyes, or surgeries (like rhinoplasty) that men might also get.

But they do criticize implants. Or, rather, they criticize women for caring about “women” things.

I went ahead with the surgeries anyway.

And. My. Life. Changed.

 

To be very, very honest, I NEVER could have foreseen all the ways in which my life would improve as a result. It’s only in hindsight that I have seen clearly how, and why, my self-consciousness about my nose and ESPECIALLY my about breast deformity had been holding me back. I genuinely believe that plastic surgery at age 21 helped me set a much more fulfilling direction for my future.

… and helped me become a better PERSON.

How? Let me count the ways.

It gave me the confidence I needed to stop feeling unworthy. To stop feeling ashamed to be seen uncovered. As I stopped comparing myself unfavorably to others, I also dropped the self-defensive, silent cattiness of younger years, when I scanned for “flaws” in other women so that I could feel less threatened. And when I stopped defining myself by what I saw as my flaws and inadequacies — and searching for these in others so that I could feel less alone – I started genuinely seeing beauty in EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE.

Hot damn, how MAGNIFICENT is that way of living!!

I also stopped spending my time with abusive men just because I was afraid of being seen by anyone else. Stopped feeling like I DESERVED abusive partners because my breast deformity and “masculine” nose made me feel “less-than” as a woman — and therefore less valuable as a human being. I no longer believed men were doing me a favor by being with me in all my “flaws.” Those “flaws” were non-issues now. So I gathered the courage, in time, to stop resigning myself to shitty treatment — and stopped telling myself (and stopped letting anyone else tell me) that my hopes, dreams, and preferences didn’t matter.

Instead, suddenly believing that I DID have value as a woman helped me to recognize that I had value as a person.

I had things worth sharing with the world!

(That’s key in life: recognizing your worth. Because when you can see your true worth, your spirit naturally wants to share it.)

I actually wrote a thank-you letter to my surgeon A DECADE later to thank him for all of this. (And he truly is an amazing surgeon: as kind and ethical as he is gifted. I feel blessed for his impact on my life.) Because when I looked back on the past ten years, I realized that I literally could not imagine what my life might have been like WITHOUT plastic surgery. Life has taken me to some amazing places as a result of the major perspective shift it made possible. Figuratively and literally. Would I even have had the life I have had to this point, if I were still defining myself by a “flaw”? Would I be freelancing, or living overseas, for instance, if I were still giving my energy and my will over to oppressive relationships, simply because I didn’t feel like I could ever hope to deserve something better?

I do not think so. And that is very sad.

Here is me NOT sad! Cleavage — and the ability to go safely braless — weren’t even the greatest benefits of surgery!

 

Here’s the thing. I am a feminist, with years of social sciences (including graduate-level social sciences) education. I am very aware of how unfair it is that society’s appraisal of women’s worth is tied SO much to their having “womanly” curves and “pretty” faces. In other words, I know it’s unjust that women’s value is EQUATED with their appearance. I understand that the anguish I felt over having a breast deformity had very much (if not everything) to do with that sort of social conditioning, and I know that spending thousands of dollars to, instead, sport a set of round, matching breasts does nothing to smash the patriarchy.

… Or does it? Because let’s not forget the ways that I became more comfortable with shutting down abuse and speaking my mind as a result of the fact that I stopped feeling defined by a “defect.” Stew on that.

Let’s be real though: patriarchy aside, I think most of us would feel some grief about a conspicuously missing body part. Hence, despite the fact that breasts are so politically charged in today’s world, here’s a truth I want you to swallow: a breast is no more AND NO LESS worthy of cosmetic correction.

As for my nose, in particular, in the years since my surgeries, I also became aware of how it had been racist and anti-Semitic “beauty” standards that made me self-conscious about this feature my whole life. Looking around any side of my family, I can see there was zero chance of my inheriting anything but a strong nose. My ancestry is predominantly Italian (blended with some North African and Middle Eastern roots), Eastern European, and Ashkenazi — each group of which has historically been (and sometimes still is, depending who you ask) considered non-“white”… if not outright dehumanized. I do wonder nowadays whether I might have eventually embraced my nose, if I had come to recognize sooner that my nose was never the problem, but rather that the problem was the subconsciously internalized ethnic prejudices (directed at groups that include me) that had primed me for self-rejection. After all, I stopped seeing strong noses as un-beautiful years ago. If I have children, they very well might inherit a nose like mine, and I will do my best to help them understand that their features are perfectly beautiful. Heck, hopefully, beauty standards will have broadened even more by then and they won’t even care!

Still, I can’t be upset about the fact that, since my surgery, I never again looked in a mirror and felt like my nose WAS my whole face. (You know the saying, “can’t see the forest for the trees?” I couldn’t see the face for the nose. That’s not the case anymore, thankfully.)

 

So. I am aware of all of this. All of this. The patriarchy. The misogyny. The ethnic prejudice.

I know — and always knew — that beauty ≠ worth.

I also know — and always knew — that breasts ≠ woman.

But awareness is not immunity. And when society’s judgments were directed at my very (physical) BEING, particularly when I was younger and coming into myself as a woman, these messages congealed into a ball of insecurity, self-hatred, and pain. And I am very deeply, deeply grateful that those insecurities are not issues anymore… and that because of this, I enjoy a higher quality of life.

I like that now BOTH of my breasts can fill a bra, shirt, etc., without gaps that make me self-conscious and constantly worried about nip-slips. I like the fact that, being able to buy bras and bikini tops that fit both sides at once, I’m not left with physical discomfort from ones that are too small for a fuller breast, too unsupportive for a smaller breast, and the wrong shape for an un-round half-boob. I even love the fact that mentioning my breast surgery to new partners can be revelatory: though many of them literally do not notice until I say it, how they respond to the info can tell a lot about their character. (Everyone’s been nice about it, thankfully. My life has been full of good men. Best response I ever got? “Does that affect your pleasure?” TAKE NOTES, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! THIS is an amazing response; make it known that your partner’s pleasure is your chief concern!)

As for my nose, I like that the bridge of my nose is no longer CONSTANTLY in my field of vision. And that my eyes stand out more, given that my nose is no longer being the dominant feature on my face.

I like that I can look in the mirror at my bare breasts and not feel sad/cheated/angry/ashamed that “something’s missing.” And that I can look in the mirror at my face and not fixate on one single feature at the expense of appreciating all the rest. Instead, I can look in the mirror and… smile. 🙂

Sure, no one should HAVE to get plastic surgery in order to enjoy a higher quality of life, but neither should someone HAVE to, say, get a college education in order to enjoy the same either; the fact is, while we live in a society that is structured as it is, some things that shouldn’t matter, DO make a difference. And I feel for anyone who suffers those same pressures that I did.

Which just about everyone does. All in our own, very unique ways.

I really admire people who recognize that they don’t fit the cis-normative binary and who embrace that. Like Harnaam Kaur (her IG here) and others who realize they can love — and commit to loving — their mould-bending (or mould-shattering) features. These souls broaden the range of beauty that we are able to see because they shine their own splendor without conforming to all of society’s arbitrary, oppressive standards.

But I also really admire people who recognize that they, personally, would feel more “themselves” if they took medical steps to help the outside match the beauty they feel inside. And I know from my own life experience that making such a choice can be beautifully transformative in ways that go FAR beyond the body itself.

 

If you can relate to any of this, if you’ve ever considered altering your body for cosmetic purposes, all I can say is start where you are. Try to see past society’s ever-changing, arbitrary “beauty” standards to appreciate what’s actually BREATHTAKING in what makes your vessel unique. Recognize that you are perfect, exactly the way you are designed. But also recognize that your body was given to you as a canvas. And humans have been modifying their bodies since time immemorial. Body modification is seen in many cultures as a SACRED ritual. I like that way of looking at things. Search yourself, deep, to understand why you want the procedure(s) you want, and if you are at peace with your own reasons, then that seems like a wonderful place from which to make your choice.

Please, though, for the love of everything you are, research thoroughly and make sure you are choosing a professional with good qualifications and a great track record in your specific procedure. You deserve the extra couple bucks for a better doctor when you will be embodying your investment 24/7, potentially for the rest of your life.

Whatever you decide, just rest assured that there is no shame in wanting to change your appearance, just as there is no shame in how you already look.

Gas for spontaneous beach trip: $20. Bikini: $60. Surgical correction so that breasts fill both cups: several thousand $$$. Feeling “whole” and knowing that my life, my gifts, and my dreams have value: priceless.

There is no shame anywhere. Period.

 

What healthy (or neutral) step(s) have you taken to adorn yourself — to “decorate your temple” — that have helped you to feel more comfortable and confident? Can be body modification, clothing, exercise, etc. Reflect on why you’re grateful and how your life is better (or even just how particular days are better) because of it.

Want more inspiration for uncovering and celebrating the gifts in your own life? Read about it here and here, or follow lalabelle.rose on IG.

Laura
Laura left a Ph.D. program at age 26 to make good on long-forgotten dreams of nomad'ing and writing. She currently lives in Berlin and writes about the magic of everyday life — most especially, the magic we find when we open our hearts and choose to follow them.

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