Tuesday, January 5, 2010

On the Nature of Boobs

What are boobs?

At the risk of this sounding like the trite introduction to a grade-school essay, let's turn to the dictionary, shall we? Merriam-Webster is a little vague. Sayeth he: breasts are "either of the pair of mammary glands extending from the front of the chest in pubescent and adult human females and some other mammals." The answer, in short, is that boobs are glands. Gotcha.

That's the dictionary definition. But do prepubescent boys fantasize about getting their hands on some glands? Do anxious middle school girls stare hopefully into the mirror, waiting for their glands to show up? No. They are both waiting for something else. If the dictionary definition of boobs defines them by what's inside, then society's definition of boobs defines them by what's outside.

Sure, boobs are filled with tissue and ducts and lobules (a word I swear I'm not making up). But only surgeons think of boobs that way. No construction worker has ever catcalled a chesty babe with the line, "Hey lady, I like your lobules!" To everyone else, boobs are the mounds of flesh and fat that fill out a sweater or substitute for radio dials in 80s movies (Anyone remember that one? "Tune in Tokyo"? Girls Just Wanna Have Fun? Sound of crickets chirping...).

The reason I'm thinking about this is because I've found myself wondering, do I have boobs? (Doesn't that sound like the title of a Judy Blume novel? "Are You There God? It's Me, Steph Wondering If I Have Boobs." That one isn't as well known as the one with Margaret in the title. Anyhoo...) Because here's the thing, according to stodgy ol' Merriam-Webster, I don't. Glands? Got those scraped clean out. Lobules? Negatory. Tissue? Zip. But, if it were construction season, I bet I could count on a few wolf whistles from the scaffolding. So, who is right? The dictionary men or the professional sexual harassers?

It's a bit of a philosophical dilemma. Sure, I just had a mastectomy. I had all of the inner-workings of my breasts scooped out. So, technically, I'm boobless. But then, I was restuffed. I was reconstructed (like a cyborg machine that had experienced technical failures). And now, lobules aside, I have those fleshy mounds teenage boys (OK. All straight men) salivate over.

So, do I have boobs?

I'd like to think I do. A lot of women in the BRCA community refer to their reconstructions as "foobs" (as in "fake boobs"), which, to be fair is both accurate and catchy. But as a descriptive term, I don't think foobs is going to work for me. Am I really supposed to have to remind myself (and others) every time I refer to my bosom that they are fake? Clothes shopping with a girlfriend scenario: "How does this sweater look? It is too tight around my foobs? You know, my fake boobs? Oh, you didn't know? Yeah, I had a double mastectomy. You had no idea? Well, yeah, they're fake! Fake! Fake! Fake!" I mean, isn't the point of reconstruction to pass as normal? Why continually draw attention to the fact that we're not?

And are my boobs more fake because they are made of implants? If I had used belly fat or ass fat or back fat or thigh fat, would they be more real? No lobules in those recons, either. But I think because there are, let's be frank, foreign bodies sewed into my chest, implant reconstructions seem faker than most.

But yet, and here's the thing, they are mine. I said it in the last paragraph: "my boobs." If I keep calling them fake, I feel like I'm not claiming ownership of them, like I'm disavowing and disowning them somehow, or explaining them away. This was my choice, and these are my boobs, and no matter what the dictionary might say, they feel real to me. And they have to be. I can't possibly live the rest of my life looking at my body in the mirror, dismissing my reconstruction, constantly reminding myself I had a mastectomy. That would drive anyone, even the most confident woman, to shame. I'm not going to spend my life hating my body, treating it with contempt and revulsion. My sense of self is strong enough to accept the choice I've made, the implants I have. They are a part of me now, and I don't want to draw unnecessary distinctions just because I'm missing a few lobules.

So you won't catch me calling these things "foobs." They deserve better than that, and so do I.


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  2. I just shared this post on the sisterhood page today. I'm surprised I hadn't commented on it before, but I agree. I don't think of mine as foobs either. I still refer to them as breasts, and that's how I feel about them too. :)


  3. Mam' (get it? It's a breast joke!) The way you described your mastectomy just makes me nauseous. Ugh, the thought of any body part having it's insides "scooped out" just makes me... bleh.