Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Photographs from My Former Life
Five days before my surgery, I posed for some nudie photos. Well, technically speaking, I was only topless, but it was the nudest I've ever been in front of a camera. The photographs weren't intended to be raunchy. They weren't supposed to be sexy. They weren't even intended for my husband -- I took them for me. And as such, they were to be documentary. They were to be true. They were to capture my body as it existed at that moment, my body as it existed before it changed. They were to be my memories.
I got a DVD of the photos a few weeks ago. It was a odd anti-climax: I was glad to have the document, but I wasn't anxious to look at it. I was afraid I'd be overcome by sadness, by regret. I feared that looking upon my old boobs would cause my post-surgery confidence to crumble. I didn't want to look at those pictures and envy the woman I saw in them, a woman with her natural breasts, a woman whole.
Last night, I finally looked at the photos. First, let me acknowledge that as a woman, I am hyper-critical of myself in photographs. I won't post pictures on Facebook taken from unflattering angles, allow others to post photos in which my arms look fat, my face looks fat, my fat looks fat, etc. And so my first reaction to my naked torso staring back at me from my computer screen wasn't so much "Hey, look! There are my old boobs!" as it was "Get thee to a gym, sister! The abs of steel have melted!" (and, to be fair, I'm a textbook stress-eater, so in the weeks before surgery, I was having my cake and eating it, too). But once I looked past the unsightly bulges, I saw something astonishing: peace. I was an absolute emotional zombie in the weeks leading up to surgery. Every waking moment of every day was devoted to thinking about surgery, worrying about surgery, fearing surgery. I was convinced I was going to die. At one point, I made a conscious decision not to buy conditioner even though I was running out because, in my warped thinking, it would just be another thing that would be of no use to me because I'd soon be dead. I was so burdened by my fears, I was lost in an emotional fog. I was out of my mind. But, yet, somehow, in those photographs, I look happy. I look confident, I look sure, I look proud.
But enough about my face. What about the hooters? Well, it was good to see the girls again. They are, for the most part, as I remember: uneven, slightly deflated, imperfectly mine. But seeing them again didn't make me sad. I didn't feel regret or pain or loss. It was kind of like looking back at pictures of my cats when they were just wee kittens; I was nostalgic. And the pictures made me smile. Yes, that was me then. And here I am now. And despite the changes, I'm still the same person. I can look at that version of me and empathize with her fear, remember the sting of her pain. But I know something she doesn't. I know how her story ends. I know, ultimately, it's a happy ending: she emerges from the clouds and is reborn with new breasts and a new hope. And yet, remarkably, there is that unexpected serenity, an optimism in my eyes, despite my uncertainty. And that's what I'm grateful for: not only do these pictures immortalize my old breasts, they capture my grace, my strength despite my circumstance. And in some ways, I'm more proud of that than I am of my rack.
I'm not sure what I'm going to do with the photos. I can't exactly put my favorites in a frame and set them in my living room. But perhaps I make an album, select a few and mount them in a book I can revisit from time to time. It will be just for me, a keepsake from a former life, a life in which the electricity of the unknown is still palpable. It will be a portal to a different, more troubled time. But it will also be a place I can check in on my former body, regard it with affection, and move on. I've got new boobs now, boobs I'm not afraid of, boobs that no longer rule my life.