Feminist Case for Breast Reduction


The first time I told him the story, I stood in a warm bath as steam rose up around me. My voice echoed on the tiled walls. It felt like a kind of baptism, my words naming something that didn’t quite exist before I said it, and that naming eventually made it mine.

it was weird feeling, looking at my breasts for the last time. Yes, there would be some of the same tissue and a new nipple would be cut off from the old one, but the breasts I had spent years wishing for different, for their special weight, would vanish forever. In the operating room, the body is sacred only to those who live in it. The morning of my surgery, as my surgeon squeezed, measured, and scribbled on my breasts with a pencil, this strange sense of sanctity sneaked up on me.

When I had my earlobe sutured at 32, I felt nothing—physically or emotionally—until I got up and looked at the metal instrument tray next to my operating bed. still lay like two chewed gums. “Oops,” said the surgical assistant. “I shouldn’t let you see them.” He folded them with the green paper covering the tray, then crumpled them up and tossed them into the steel bin. Something in me tugged, perhaps my body’s basic instinct to keep itself firm. I suddenly wished I had wished to hide them. The morning of my breast surgery, I was happy that I wouldn’t have to see my discarded pieces.

I was also pleased with the sweet nurses with their perfect make-up faces and chirping voices. I was used to being in female-dominated spaces, but these were often filled with feminists, queers, trans and non-binary people. The surgeon’s office was unabashedly feminine and sunk into the comfortable assumption that everyone who walked in was on the same page about beauty—how they would describe it and be sure they wanted it. Every time I got off the elevator, I felt like an intruder. If they had just one glanced at my hairy legs, I would have felt guilty, exposed in deep veil as a feminist Judas.

I found a strangely relaxing place. The implicit consensus quelled any tension in the atmosphere, and I realized that I had no desire to challenge the doctor when he said things like “They’ll be much fresher and younger” or when one of the nurses squeaked. touched my wife’s shoulder and told her, “You’re going to love them!” she promised.

All this is to say that the culture of cosmetic surgery offices, and perhaps the industry as a whole, is in line with the approach of second-wave feminists: an affirmation of patriarchal social structure, not just patriarchal beauty standards. I understand the temptation to extend this assessment to patients who choose to join the industry. But while writing this article, I spoke to several self-proclaimed feminists who felt no loss or regret about their surgeries, from thigh lift to tummy tuck to vaginoplasty. Above all, the prevailing emotion was victory and pleasure. It seems clear to me that any feminist stance on plastic surgery that does not take into account women’s relationships with their own bodies actually objectifies them.

i used to hate my body For years I have felt both in the dark and on display by him, and have been subjected to many actions that others want, regardless of my desires. These cumulative loads consumed an unpredictable amount of time and energy. To a large extent, they defined my relationship with myself. Years of therapy, recovery, writing, reading, and talking with friends had changed that. I no longer hated my body. My experience of the world no longer feels very defined by my bodily form. Physically changing my body felt like an important way to embody this work. It was not a substitute for psychological change, as some might assume, but rather a physical completion of what had already occurred: a ritual commemorating my reclaiming of my body once and for all. I didn’t want it to be a subtle process.



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