Here’s two stories that maybe don’t look to be that connected that floated across my social media newsfeed.
First, there was all the fuss about Florence Pugh’s sheer bright pink dress, both from people who were appalled about seeing her breasts and nipples, and then from men who were critical of what her breasts look like.
“I’ve lived in my body for a long time. I’m fully aware of my breast size and am not scared of it,” she wrote. “What’s more concerning is… Why are you so scared of breasts? Small? Large? Left? Right? Only one? Maybe none? What. Is. So. Terrifying,”
“It has always been my mission in this industry to say ‘f*** it and f*** that’ whenever anyone expects my body to morph into an opinion of what’s hot or sexually attractive.”
If you’ve read my story, you may be wondering if things have panned out the way I anticipated. Am I still feeling upbeat about my diagnosis and prognosis? Am I as happy as I expected to be without breasts? Do I love my new body?
Yes, yes and yes.
According to the medical professionals involved in my treatment (nurses who’ve assessed and tended my incisions; my surgeon; my registered massage therapist), I’m healing at a blisteringly fast rate. I have nothing to compare my experience to – I’ve never had any other surgery. What I know for sure is that I don’t feel held back in any way since having my breasts cut off.
I had a few very short (seconds-long) moments of panic before my operation, but they passed as soon as I noticed them. I was calm (and bored) while I waited in “surgical daycare” (yes, that’s what it’s called) before my noon-hour date with the knife. I remember being pretty nonchalant immediately after I woke up from the anesthetic.
They sent me home about three hours after I left the operating room. I was cared for in the week following my surgery by my mom and a dear family friend.
The pain was bad. I will say that. I have a pretty high tolerance for pain (I barely noticed when I broke my collarbone and dislocated my a/c joint last fall), so I expected the surgical pain to fade quickly. Many women I’d spoken to had been able to quit their narcotics within three or four days of their mastectomies. That wasn’t my experience. The pain was an excruciating, burning sensation that covered a large area where my breasts used to be, and the narcotics they gave me didn’t touch it. (I stopped taking any kind of painkiller after about a week, since nothing seemed to help.) The pain was worse when I stretched or moved, so I became very tentative about moving too vigorously, and I couldn’t bear to be touched around my incision, or even wear tight clothing.
I sought help for the pain twice, but the doctors didn’t seem to have anything to recommend. They kept telling me to wait and see if the pain got better. Thankfully I have an excellent registered massage therapist who does myofascial work, and with my surgeon’s okay I started massage treatment 2 1/2 weeks after surgery to work on the tissue adhesions and restrictions around my incisions. I experienced an astonishing reduction in my pain after only one treatment, and after my second treatment was almost completely pain free. I would highly recommend myofascial work to anyone who’s had surgery. There are still many numb areas across my chest that may never recover feeling, but they don’t bother me.
The surgeon gave me exercises to do after surgery to help with the range of motion in my arms, and I had good range of motion within a week of surgery. The massage therapy has helped with range of motion as well. With my surgeon’s okay, I resumed my aikido practice two weeks after my surgery, and was immediately doing full practice with full contact and advanced breakfalls. I’ve lost nothing in terms of strength or stamina as far as my aikido is concerned. It’s been very physically and emotionally healing for me to do aikido, and I feel blessed to be able to continue with my practice.
I started a new job two weeks after my surgery, and have regularly been putting in 10-hour days, trying to accumulate some lieu time before my chemotherapy starts. Quite honestly, most days I forget all about the breast cancer. Life is good.
And I absolutely love my new body. Going through life without breasts is easy. It was an adjustment at first to see myself in the mirror – I look so different. I lost 40 pounds in the five months before my surgery, so I literally have a completely different body now that my breasts are gone. Plus I got my hair cut before surgery, so that I could donate it pre-chemo. It’s taken a few weeks to figure out what kind of clothes I like to wear now, but that part has been fun.
I’m not looking forward to some of the more troubling side-effects from chemo, but I won’t mind losing my hair. I’m more concerned about feeling weak and tired, and possibly having to give up aikido for a time.
My odds of surviving cancer aren’t the very best they could be – I’m pre-menopausal, had an invasive cancer that was sensitive to estrogen and progesterone, had five tumours in my right breast, the largest of which was 4 cm, and one of my lymph nodes tested positive for cancer. But I’m so happy to be alive right now, in this moment. I’m going to die someday; whether it’s 25 years from now or 25 months from now, I don’t want to waste my time worrying about how I’ll die.
I want to walk in the sunshine when it’s sunny, and dance in the rain when it pours. And flip upside-down, unharmed, when I’m thrown.
You may also be interested in these blog posts by Michelle about her breast cancer experience:
Is there a mold that fits every person that tells if he or she is beautiful or not?
Thank God there isn’t, although we have somehow taken it upon ourselves to judge people under false and pretentious standards, to measure the heights and widths of other people’s bodies; impose value upon their skin tone and clothing style.
For once, we’d like you to take a breather and explore the “other beauty” that exists above societal norms. These nine women have taken their insecurities and turned them into their biggest virtues, inspiring other people to feel comfortable in their own skin.
Question: What’s a more unstoppable force than a hundred drunk Santas on a Santacon rampage of your local pubs?
Answer: A shirtless #FreetheNipple team of women in hot pink beanies tearing through New York to reclaim the power of their bodies.
The women fighting to desexualize nipples in Free the Nipple aren’t Instagram celebrities so if you’re here for it, even you can join the battle. It’s garnered big support, and now the cause is going to be big screen-amplified. In the trailer, it’s hard to take the leaders that seriously, but countless women are marshaled to the cause, which is the high point for the movement.
Watch it and just try not to get fired up by the music and the toplessness.
Earlier this month, The Atlantic’s Kriston Capps proposed a curious question: What if Banksy is a woman? In his following analysis, Capps went as far to claim that the cheeky British street artist is “probably” a she, chastising the public for assuming that such a dominant pop cultural force is a man.
Of course, the hypothesis is interesting — we’re certainly supportive of publications pointing out the the lack of diversity in art worlds, one of them being street art. However, Capps claim was based on little real evidence, a factor Animal NY’s Bucky Turco was quick to discuss. Nonetheless, the original essay spawned more than a few speculative treatises: see this one, this one, this one and this one.
We’ve commented on the Banksy hysteria before. Yes, the anonymous graffiti master is probably the most well-known figure in street art — there was “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” and now there’s “Banksy Does New York,” documenting his month-long NYC residence in 2013. But the endless fascination with this one character can sometimes overshadow the rest of the identifiable artists making waves in their medium.
When The Guardian proclaimed Bambi the female Banksy, we responded by highlighting 10 other female street artists worthy of the moniker. Now that Capps has opened the door to more serious talk of women in street art, we’re extending our list. Behold, 24 real women pushing the limits of street art around the globe.
Sam wrote about “Nipple Phobia and Padded Sports Bras” way back in the early days of the blog. There she lamented the ubiquity of the padded sports bra (indeed, the padded bra more generally). Where we used to be able to find lots of unpadded bras and sports bras, nowadays it’s a real search.
Part of the reason for this, hypothesized Sam, is that we are caught in the grips of nipple phobia. We don’t want to see them or show them. As Sam said, they’ve become what the visible panty-line used to be — an unsightly reminder of the natural bodies that actually live under our clothing.
Enter the Tata top. This bikini top got a lot of press last week on-line. From a distance, if you’re a white woman with an average sized chest wearing the light-tone Tata, it looks from afar as if you’re going topless.
I say if you’re a white woman because the medium tone and dark tone Tatas are not yet available. They are expected to ship in mid-August. I say if you’re “average sized” because at present the tops are only available in small (A-B) and medium sizes (B-C). Anything larger than a C-cup is also on backorder, with this apology to larger women from the creators: “LARGE CHESTED LADIES…WE UNDERESTIMATED YOU BUT IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN!”
The Tata top is supposed to help fight breast stigma, topless inequality, and nipple phobia. According to this Daily Beast article, it’s meant to help fight gender inequality. That makes it sound like a feminist statement if there ever was one. The article continues:
The underlying goal of the bikini, however, is meant to desexualize the idea of female nipples and eliminate gendered double standards. Why should it be laughable, or even uncomfortable, for a woman to bare her breasts in public?
“By censoring an image of a woman’s chest and not a man’s it doesn’t end with removing that image from your platform,” Graves and Lytle conclude. “Whether you like it or not you are confirming that YES, a woman’s nipples are indecent and are something that need to be kept covered. You are endorsing that train of thought. You take yourself out of the business of providing a forum for free thinking and place yourself in the position of deciding what is immoral and what isn’t.”
So why, then, is there such an outcry among some feminists about this top? Well, there are a number of reasons. The most common is that the first iteration — marketed to and for women with bodies that are white and slight — sends an unmistakable message about normative bodies.
The Jezebel article ends with this remark: “Like many aspects of modern-day feminism, right now, this one’s only available to women with light skin and disposable income. But the inventors of the Ta Ta Top promise that more colors are coming soon.”
The various attempts on the website to apologize, first to the “large-chested ladies” whom they “underestimated,” and then to women with “medium” or “dark” skintones don’t really succeed in overcoming the oversight. To the women with different skintones, they offered not so much an apology as a promise that the medium and dark tops will arrive and an excuse as to why they aren’t yet available:
Will you have other skin tones?
Absolutely but first we need to prove a market! Investing money and ending up with one TaTa Top is funny. Investing money in three tones and ending up with 2,000 TaTa’s is slightly less so. The more we sell the more tones and more styles we will able to offer. Take our TaTa Top poll to help us decide which direction to take next.
The “What’s Next?” poll on the Tata website focuses on extra small and extra large sizing and the turns to fashion, with four different piercing choices.
I also heard some people raising the usual questions about initiatives that raise their profile by aligning themselves with charities to support the already over-supported cause of breast cancer research. It might sound callous to roll one’s eyes whenever yet another thing promotes itself by raising money for breast cancer research, but the pink ribbon thing has many detractors, who complain about “pinkwashing”:
The term “pinkwashing” was coined by Breast Cancer Action in reference to companies that either promote breast cancer awareness without donating at all, are deceptive or not transparent about where any funds raised go, or put a pink ribbon on a product with known or suspected links to cancer.
By far the most interesting comment came to my from fellow feminist philosopher Kristin Rodier, who took issue with the claim that linked body exposure to freedom, and who very quickly asked about the range of sizes available. In order to further elaborate the point about exposure as freedom, she sent me Kelly Oliver’s paper, “Sexual Freedom as Global Freedom.”
The paper focuses on the Western “rhetoric of liberating ‘women of cover.” Oliver argues that we in the west have reduced women’s freedom “to freedom to to dress (especially in revealing clothes for the eyes of others), governed by market forces of fashion and consumerism.” She further claims that “this view of women’s freedom is used to justify military action elsewhere, and to reassure Western women of their own freedom at home. The rhetoric of liberating women elsewhere conceals women’s oppression here at home while at the same time reassuring us that we are liberated.”
How does the Tata top fit into this picture? By purporting to address the issue of women’s oppression through a top that mimics maximum exposure of women’s upper bodies. We may not (yet) have a achieved full gender equality because men can go topless while (for the most part) women cannot, but the Tata top is here to save the day.
I think the original limited offerings of this item only to light skinned women with pink nipples and A-C sized breasts demonstrates well whose nipple freedom “we” as a society will tolerate. Not everyone’s exposed skin is equally welcome, and when non-normative bodies are exposed, there is a different social meaning, a different kind of statement being made. It’s not just “fun.”
I get the impression from the website and different articles I’ve read that the company is not quite sure how to market the top. The equality card is one angle. But they also claim to be wanting to normalize the breast and nipple so that they’re de-sexualized. Somewhere on the site it talks about normalizing the sight of women breast-feeding in public, which certainly is a worthwhile cause.
But the website isn’t wholly on board with the desexualization of the breast, and in fact when I first went to the website last week it included a “warning” that said: ““Disclaimer: Wearers are cautioned to be prepared for the onslaught of pick up lines it is sure to elicit.” That message, which seems to celebrate the top as an expression of sexuality, has since been removed (or at least I couldn’t find it when I went back).
I also think that the top is likely to have more applications as a novelty item than as an item that plays a huge role in achieving gender equality. I think the size and skintone gaffes, as well as the more pointed perspective expressed in Oliver’s paper about how Westernized this idea of freedom through revealing clothing, raise serious questions about the top’s capacity to promote an inclusive feminist agenda.