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In honor of international women's day...
yes they're real -- they're not mine but
wrin
Let me fill you in on an ongoing dialogue a friend and I have been having.

Those who know me well know that I'm not someone who's always 100% satisfied with her body. I have very small breasts, a rather large ass, some dimples in places I'd prefer not be dimpled, and were you to let me go on, I could fill a page.

I suspect that this is not unique to me. Ask any woman what she hates about her body and you could come up with a smattering of answers. There's therefore built up an entire industry motivated to 'help' women change their bodies in order to meet their imagined ideals.

Some people have quite legitimate reasons for wanting to have cosmetic procedures done. The conversations that a friend and I have been having on the subject seem to end up with me being judgmental about plastic surgery, and him saying that he finds it inappropriate to judge another's decisions of what to do with their body.

I frame it in my mind in the context of my own struggles with body image. Babysitters (parents of daughters themselves) who've called me fat, little brothers who've done the same, kids at school making fun of me for not having developed breasts at the same ages they did, snide comments about my big ass and what I call my "skier's legs" left me with the feeling I was ugly and woefully inadequate, unattractive and disgusting. (Note: I was never an overweight kid, so in retrospect having adults with kids of their own call me 'fat' is particularly deplorable.) Consequently, while actively aware that simply refusing to eat wasn't going to be a good method of not getting called fat (I had a cousin who sewed weights into her bathrobe for when her parents weighed her, so she could lose weight without them noticing,) I spent some time researching the object which gave me the most grief: my complete and utter lack of breasts.

I spent some time researching breast augmentation quite in depth, and was shocked at what I found. Turns out a majority of women (exact figures depend on how many years 'after surgery' you're talking -- but generally the longer after surgery the higher the rate, as high as 2/3 of women with the procedure) will have to have their surgery redone (called 'revision') due to complications -- even some that are not directly harmful and 'merely' look ugly. This needs to be budgeted for, even just budgeting for removal surgery -- so the actual procedure is far more expensive than initially assumed. This doesn't include the most common reason for revision -- "I wish I had gotten bigger implants."

The other thing I learned was that the smaller and slimmer you are, the less likely you are to get realistic results. Essentially, the people most predisposed to small breasts are most likely to end up with the "half a canteloupe in my shirt" look. This is even worse when considering that as you age, your implants will not change in the way that a normal body does -- leaving you looking quite grotesque and almost obscene as you get older. There are few things more off-putting than a huge pair of fake cans on an older lady. There's also the issue of breastfeeding difficulties, lack of sensation in the nipple, and any of a host of other less common complications. Essentially, I'd have to decide if bigger breasts were more important to me than having functioning breasts that really weren't causing me any discomfort or harm.

It was only at the point where I discovered this wouldn't be a quick and easy path to bigger tits that I started to examine the reasons why I wanted to do this. I had no deformity. I hadn't had a mastectomy. The only people who'd ever expressed displeasure at my breasts were people who I wasn't even remotely interested in or attracted to. These were people who had only ever invested interest in trying to hurt me. What would I accomplish by changing my appearance to suit those who would likely only find something else to make fun of me for?

Time went on and I still didn't like my body. That said, I met someone (who I married) who was very insistent on the subject of who has to like my outward appearance and find it attractive. I'm not dating myself. He was quite insistent that he found me more than beautiful, that my body was fine the way it was, and why would I go hurting myself with surgery in order to please... who? I had grown familiar with my body and had learned to appreciate its features -- the fact that I can just go for a run or do yoga without $400 worth of scaffolding in my shirt. I had had classmates with large breasts subjecting themselves to surgery to reduce their size. I discovered that there were sexy bras that could fill out my shirts a bit better and still look beautiful. (This was after the initial experience of being told that I should go shop at a pre-teen girl's store because they didn't have anything small enough.) I realized that many of the bodies I idolized were bodies with breast implants. I watched movies filmed in the '70s, prior to every star having had breast implants. I began to see what a real, normal looking woman looked like.

I began to see the fake bodies, and recognize them when I saw them. Some are tastefully done and subtle, but still there nonetheless. Instead of thinking of how beautiful they were and coveting their silhouette, I began to wonder whose idea their implants were, who told them they'd be more beautiful with them, and began to realize that even the most beautiful people in the world were dissatisfied with their bodies, or were told that their bodies were dissatisfying to the audience that was there to gawk at their beauty -- when their body changes were enforced by the world around them.

I scanned ads in the backs of magazines, advertising for financing and ultra-low-prices for their plastic surgery services -- wondering how predatory these seemingly profit-motivated surgeons would be in their glossing over of the 'risks of surgery,' wondering how quickly they'd skip over the "how realistic are your expectations" portion of the pre-surgical consultation. (A plastic surgeon that'd look at someone who wanted breast enlargement, knowing full well she wanted bigger breasts than she initially had put in, and knowing full well that she will still want bigger breasts once her second, larger set has healed, and not proceed by telling her her expectations are unrealistic and that it's unhealthy to have 3, 4 breast augmentation procedures, progressively going bigger and bigger, is an irresponsible surgeon.)

Porn was the thing I noticed the most. I remembered the debates about women and their insecurities in letting their husbands or boyfriends look at porn, knowing full well that they would never have the body of that woman in the video. These bodies are almost all surgically created. The bodies in Maxim and other men's magazines are almost all surgery supplemented with Photoshop to create a body that's completely impossible in reality. These, however, were the women that we were comparing ourselves to -- these were the women that men were looking at and (in some cases) thinking were the real thing.

I noticed this disconnect at a party, once upon a time. I was at a sex toy party with a number of girlfriends, some very close ones. There were a few cocktails involved. The toys all purchased, the merchant having left, we were passing around our new purchases and boyfriends had arrived. Some boys who were friends but single themselves had also arrived.

Maybe part of the issue is that women, being owners of breasts, have kind of an idea of what they are capable of. How they move, how they feel, how gravity changes their position, their shape, ... we know things like the fact that the larger they get, the less they tend to stick out horizontally, unsupported. One girl at the party had particularly large breasts -- DDs, if not larger. She was also a bit of an exhibitionist -- and had been known to go topless with nary a care.

I was shocked to hear boys outside having a smoke discussing how 'disgusting' and 'saggy' her breasts were. She's a 25 year old woman. They are incredibly large for her frame. They aren't going to jut out into mid air and float there! They are body parts, and they have weight to them! I hid my incredulity, but something else popped into my mind -- the only breasts these boys had likely ever seen of that size on a woman as slender as my friend ... were fake.

Joke's on them, of course -- judgemental assholes like that rarely end up with lovely girls like my friend. However, as a result of that experience, I became far more attuned to the bodily expectations of other people -- and acutely aware of the fact that the people we need to please the least are the people who will judge us by our bra size.

A third, and final story: in the breakroom at work, reading trashy magazines, the kind of magazines that take pictures of people sitting in bikinis bent over and blow them up to ridiculous sizes, speculating at what awful dietary choices could result in this star's obscenely obese weight of 130 pounds. A coworker exclaimed, "Taylor Swift needs to get a boob job." When pressed for details, it turns out that she was judging Taylor Swift's breasts as 'too small' and in need of enlargement.

I think this is the experience that's shocked me the most. This is a woman of not yet 40, with a body type most definitely not featured in celebrity fitness magazines, with two young daughters of her own, judging another person by her lack of breasts. I felt immediately put on the spot, in the sense of, if she'd judge her, what stops her from judging me? My greater tact squelched the most immediate thought on my tongue, which was to make an incisive comment about whether she'd recommend plastic surgery to her two young girls if their bodies didn't live up to their standard.

This last scene is the most insidious, in my mind. It shows how people have absorbed this image of the fake female body into their minds, and how even those who have no interest in these people on a physical level feel it is safe to judge them based on how they look. The greater kick in the throat for me was that this is a mother, whose daughters are going to grow up with this kind of flippant disregard for their self-image.

I won't paternalize women who've chosen to change their bodies with surgery. I don't judge them for their decision. It's unfortunate, however, that when they want to be admired for their outward appearance, all the feelings I can muster up are feelings of pity. I can't help but look at them and wonder if their mothers called them ugly, if they were bullied for their appearance, if they had lovers that turned away from their natural bodies in disgust. I don't judge them for their surgery -- I wonder who judged them before, that they felt like they needed it. I wonder how we can help these women fix their emotional scars, before we give them physical ones. I wonder if a predatory surgeon pushed the surgery on her. I wonder if she's trying to heal an old hurt by creating a new wound.

Most of all, I swear to myself every time that I will not allow myself or my children to be made to feel ugly because of our appearance. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and it is high time we learned to love our bodies the way that they are.

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vaginapagina has a Everyday Bodies project that really opened my eyes to just how many different shapes and sizes the female body has. It helped me look at my own body a little more kindly and appreciate the true form as opposed to what media has placed before me.

BTW- I read something once how Keira Knightley expressly refused magazines to photoshop her breasts to appear bigger. Like Taylor Swift, Keira Knightley is a very lovely girl but rather "flat chested" for Hollywood's standards. After I read that about her (and I wish I could pull up the source, but this was a year or more ago) I wished every other actress had the strength she had.

Edited at 2010-03-10 10:20 pm (UTC)

I wish I could explain the problems that I have with my body.

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