The Breast: Fear, loathing, and mutilation

Yesterday, a Facebook friend posted a story from Natural News about this year's Miss District of Columbia who planned to have a "preventative" double mastectomy after competing in the Miss America pageant.  This young woman did not have breast cancer.  The source for the story in Natural News was from a blog in the Washington Post.  This young woman's  mother died from breast cancer when she was 16 years old.  According to the Washington Post blog the young woman who is now 24 years old stated, "My dad looked me in the face and said, 'You're going to end up dead just like your mother."

According to the article she does not have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations that indicated a high risk for breast cancer.  Some women who carry these mutations have "preventative" mastectomies. But she is a carrier for Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome.  Her doctors "suspect a correlation between the mutation and breast cancer," despite the fact that this immune disorder is mostly found in men.   All the women in her family have died from breast cancer.  I assume this is the reason they suspect that this syndrome predicts that she too will die from breast cancer.

I made a rather ugly comment on Facebook to this article because it hit me hard.  Why?  Because my mother died when I was 14 years old of breast cancer.  And I cannot fathom a father telling his daughter that she was going to end up dead just like her mother.  Thank you Dad, although you are no longer in this world.  Thank you for not making me believe that I was doomed to die like my mother.  My mother died a young 47 years old.  My world as a teenager went from normal to up-side-down rather quickly.  

I am thankful that what happened to my family so many years ago came before genetic testing and this belief in a infallible medical community that can predict death, disease through gene technology.  My mom died in the 1960's.  She had a mastectomy and radiation.  They didn't have chemo back then.  The radiation was bad enoughShe suffered greatly from the treatment.  But as a 14 year old, I never expected her to die.  It was a shock.  And the reality that life is fragile and far too short suddenly became part of who I am.

So I feel a kinship with this young woman because we both at a young, impressionable age suffered the deaths of our mothers.   It's a loss that never, ever really goes away.  Even in childbirth in my 30's, I cried out for my mother.  I wanted her there to hold my hand, to see my babies.  Only in my dreams do we share the wonder of those births.  She didn't breastfeed me.  I feel that loss but I was born into the bottlefeeding world of the 50's.

Has anything changed in the interim of the 50 years since my mother's death?  It seems more women are dying of breast cancer.  And many women with cancer face mastectomies, chemo, and radiation.  But why are some young women so willing to chop off healthy breasts?  Why do we believe that we are helpless in the face of breast cancer?  We believe that prevention is giving our breasts a good dose of radiation.  Yet, our science tells us that breast tissue is very sensitive to radiation, more so than other tissue.  Is mammograms preventative?  Or do they cause more cancers?  If everyone in a family got brain cancer?  Would a person schedule surgery to take out their healthy brain? We'd consider that odd because a brain is a vital body part. Why are we so willing to mutilate breasts?  Do we believe that breasts serve no purpose?  They are just female decorations?

Why do young women of wealthier families get breast implants as graduation gifts?  Why are women so unhappy with their breasts, that they willingly risk surgery and damaging the functioning of their breasts?  Who are we really trying to please?  Is this mutilation any different than our willingness to chop off our breasts to save ourselves from breast cancer?  

Is public disgust of breastfeeding another side of the coinOur society cannot bear to see the breast as a functioning organ in the survival of infants.  Instead, our society honors the mythical, sexualized breast of Hugh Hefner's Playboy Palace.  We can view that naked breast and even the nipple but heaven forbid we see a baby at the breast, even when the breast is covered up.  A sexualized breast is acceptable but a working, functioning body part is not.  And if we can't sexualize it, then we really don't need it.  So it becomes easy for young women to believe in our society that breasts can be manipulated and carved into something betterWomen don't need functioning breasts because afterall we have our designer infant formulas. 

So, we women in this society seem to be giving our bodies, our cells, our tissues to science.  A male-dominated science that believes that nature can always be improvedOf course,  I start to wonder if this young woman will be donating her healthy breast tissue to science after her double mastectomy.  I guess lately I am always thinking about patenting and how breast tissue is a great source of stem cells.  Yes, suspicious soul that I am, I wonder about medical care providers that do surgery on people that want healthy body parts taken off.  

Why in our society are we so crazy, fearful, and full of loathing regarding the female breast?  Why do women accept that mentality and draw within their souls this self-loathing?  Why do we believe that breasts represent female sexuality, when their function is to feed babies?  Is it akin to the view of female feet in China, where the female foot was bound because small feet were viewed as sexually attractive?  We bind our breasts with bras to make our breasts appear attractive.  We surgically enhance them.  We surgically remove healthy breasts.  How far have we come, we liberated women?  Not very far at all.
Copyright 2012 Valerie W. McClain


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