Women in today’s world are, unfortunately, subjected to all types of shaming. Sometimes it is “Mommy Shaming” for the way they choose to feed their baby, how their baby sleeps, or whether they choose to work or stay at home. Other times it may be “body shaming” for how much they weigh or what they choose to wear. It would seem that no one would have the audacity to shame a woman who chooses to have breast reconstruction following a mastectomy, sadly, that is not the case.
Basically, both of these incredibly biased articles suggest women are being forced into the decision to have breast reconstruction by the medical community or social pressures. They insist breast reconstruction is unnecessarily and inherently risky, painstaking, and can never come close to resembling the native breasts. While I personally feel many of the details of the articles, such as complication rates, could definitely use some fact checking and there is an appalling lack of respect for the many dedicated and incredibly skilled surgeons who make it their life’s work to offer women breast reconstruction, I think the biggest issue is the shaming. These articles are shaming women who choose reconstruction by making their choice seem vain and uninformed.
Breast reconstruction should always be about having options. For many years, having aesthetically pleasing reconstruction was not always possible. Thankfully, the techniques have vastly improved and the results can be very good in terms of symmetry and appearance. Both of the New York Times pieces failed to mention autologous reconstruction. DIEP flap and other flap procedures give patients reconstruction results that look and feel very natural. Having this type of reconstruction option would have alleviated many of the concerns raised by the article, such as infection rates and constant foreign body issues with the implants. Some women prefer the “perkier” look of implant based reconstruction, and some women may feel comfortable choosing to go flat. Many factors determine why each woman would want to have reconstruction or which type they are a good candidate for, the most important thing is having choices. The original article states “a reconstructed breast is often numb and can no longer play a role in sexual arousal. It often lacks a nipple…” One woman is quoted saying she was horrified, “you don’t have nipples and you have scars everywhere.” The women quoted in these articles must have visited with surgeons who are not very experienced at breast reconstruction. Any well-informed patient would know there are options for nipple reconstruction and even 3D tattoos that can make the reconstructed breasts appear quite normal. In some cases, nipple sparing is even an option. I am absolutely amazed when I see the results of breasts that have been reconstructed by qualified surgeons.
The way I see it, when you look good, you feel good. Some women feel better with a certain pair of shoes, hair style, clothing, or artistic expression and some feel better filling out a bra or certain top in a way that only breasts can do. Having the desire for breast reconstruction following the loss of your natural breasts is not about trying to conform to what society sees as feminine, it is about what makes you feel whole. I know, as a larger chested woman prior to mastectomy, I could not imagine how I would have felt if breast reconstruction was not an option for me. After mastectomy every woman wants to feel good and comfortable in or out of clothing. No woman should be made to feel guilty about having surgery to accomplish these goals, if necessary.