Breasts. They are so important to us! We can’t live without them. We want them on display in videos and on billboards. We want them big, round and firm. And we really don’t want to be reminded of their primary function.
1,649,271 breast augmentation operations were performed in 2016*
583 197 breast lifts.
465 665 breast reduction.
Compared to the previous number in 2015, the number of surgical interventions in the aesthetic vision of female breasts has jumped by 11%.
There are no official statistics on aesthetic surgery in Bulgaria but we can assume that we are not far away from the world’s trends. A pair of silicone implants has become a common high-school graduation gift. Naked female breasts are playfully peeking from every advertisement and youtube video, so much so that flashing a nipple whilst performing on stage no longer makes it to page 6, or any page for that matter.
At the same time, breastfeeding in public fires up heated public debates. Is it appropriate? Is it moral? Should it be allowed? After all – breasts are being shown in public!
This double standard imposed on female breasts clearly tells us that if they are there to excite the sexual fantasies of the (male) audience – breasts are warmly welcome, however everything else related to their real functions are unacceptable and should not exist.
This puts a massive weight of social expectations on women’s backs (breasts) that often remains unconscious until a breast/health decision needs to take place.
In recent years, along with the advancement of science and technology in breast reconstruction after mastectomy, alternative trends have also emerged. Many women make the conscious decision not to have their breast reconstructed. This is not a widespread alternative, however, those who have made that choice are campaigning for no reconstruction and living breast free to be an active and equal treatment choice to reconstruction.
The English NGO Flat Friends is one of the organisations that stands behind that cause. Initially launched as a Facebook group of several women who were brought together by their breast free choice, they are now over a thousand and one of their goals as a non-governmental organization is to have the refusal of reconstruction and complete mastectomy viewed as an equal option for any woman who goes along this path.
Breast Cancer – Bulgaria
2015 – A total 51 108 with 3819 newly discovered
2016 – A total of 52 055 with 3526 newly discovered
Ah, breasts. We can’t live without them. Or can we?
Juliet Fitzpatrick did not recognize reconstruction as an acceptable option. “I thought it was a very brutal and complicated way to make a lump-shaped breast attached to my chest. The new “breast” will never be the same as my natural breast and there will be no nipple. I did not want to live the rest of my life with one huge breast and nothing on the other side.”
Now, I feel much better in my body, says Juliet. She is much happier looking at her body in the mirror now that there are no breasts than when there was only one after her first operation. “I think I look beautiful as a flat woman – it’s almost as if I have the body that I always should have done, although I think small breasts may be better than no breasts. I feel empowered and strong because I made the decision to have the other breast removed.”
Juliet acknowledges the importance of the breast in the woman’s social presence. “They are definitely seen as a big part of the sexual makeup of a woman and it seems at the moment that large, round and firm breasts are the most sought after.
Older and sagging breasts aren’t seen and I think this is part of the process by which women become invisible in society when they hit middle age.
I think it’s important to highlight that flat is an acceptable option, as the more that it’s out there, the more it will be seen as something that is not taboo.
For Juliet, the benefits of going flat are many – from symmetry and better self-esteem and control to reduced risk of recurrence of the disease. After the shock of diagnosis, the fear, the painful therapy, surgery, and her new body, she now feels good with herself. After her story made it to the Huffington Post and gained astonishing popularity, Juliet and I sat down, put fingers to keyboard and talked about female breasts – her personal experience in retrospect, the disease, the new female body, and the power to give up the perceived attributes of social femininity.
|This is Juliet. She is 56. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2016. The diagnosis was followed by a lumpectomy, mastectomy, chemotherapy and Herceptin. She had her second mastectomy for symmetry in November 2017 and is now am living flat. Juliet writes runs a blog – Blooming Cancer – “Odd companions you may think, but the second grew out of the first! I hope to write about my cancer and its treatment, and my fledgeling flower farm business. We’ll see!”|
Juliet, what was your relation to your breasts throughout time? Can you please start with your first breast memory – do you remember seeing your mother’s breast or another adult woman and what were your first impression? (I, for instance, remember thinking my mother has strange nipples and wished that I never had breast).
I remember always seeing my mother’s breasts as we never hid our bodies in our family. I didn’t like her breasts as they seemed very large and saggy to me. I hoped that I wouldn’t develop the same breasts as her, but unfortunately I did! I’ve always been a little jealous of my three sisters’ breasts as they are much smaller than mine and seem more easy to live with.
How did you feel when your breasts started developing? Did it change anything about the perception of your body and who you are?
I think I felt glad because it was a sign that I was becoming a woman. When I was young, I had small breasts which was good because I was a real tomboy. I played a lot of sport when I was at school and university and I liked having small breasts because they didn’t bounce around too much. But as I got older, my breasts got a lot larger and I started to dislike them.
Have you ever wanted to change anything about them – bigger, smaller, rounder, higher, lower…?
Yes, once they got really big, I wanted them to smaller and not so droopy. But I never considered having them reduced.
Have you ever felt stared at, judged, pressured or uncomfortable in any way in social situation (because of your breasts)?
I think I made myself feel uncomfortable because of the size of my breasts. There were definitely clothes that I didn’t wear as I didn’t want to draw attention to them. It was often a bit of a joke that I had such large breasts, especially for someone of my small size.
How did you feel about breastfeeding? Did it change anything about the perception of your body and who you are?
I was very happy to breastfeed both of my children. I fed them both until they were a year old, and I loved it. I missed doing it once I stopped. It made me feel like a mother and a nurturing woman and it felt very natural to me.
When and how were you diagnosed with breast cancer?
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2016. It was picked up on by a routine screening mammogram. I hadn’t felt any lumps or seen any of the other signs of breast cancer.
What were your initial fears and how did they change over time?
My initial fear was that I was going to die and after that, I was worried about how I would tell my children even though they were 20 and 24 years old. Over time, I learnt that my particular diagnosis meant that after my treatment (surgery, chemotherapy, and drugs) I. have a very low risk of recurrence. The fear of the cancer coming back is still with me but it’s usually at the back of my mind and I don’t worry too much about it now. I was very scared about losing my breast when I was told I needed a mastectomy, but now I’m happy with my decision to have the other one removed too.
What made you feel repulsed by the reconstruction option?
I didn’t feel repulsed, but I was very anxious about the long operation and recovery time. My reconstruction option was the DIEP flap which entails a long hip to hip incision and fat from the stomach being used to fashion a new breast. It seemed a very brutal and difficult way to get a breast-shaped lump of fat onto my chest. The new “breast” would never be the same as my own and wouldn’t include a nipple. I decided that it was not an option for me.
What are the benefits of double mastectomy?
For me the benefit is symmetry. I didn’t want to live the rest of my life with one large breast and nothing on the other side. After my second mastectomy, I feel so much more positive about my body, I no longer have to wear a bra and prosthesis an I feel a lot lighter. I guess that now that I have had all of my breast tissue removed there is less chance of a recurrence of the cancer, but that was always an additional benefit for me.
How your decision to go flat has changed your own body perception?
I feel so much better about my body now. I never thought that I would ever say that I like my body without breasts. I much prefer to look at myself in the mirror now that I’m flat than when I had just one breast. I think I look beautiful as a flat woman – it’s almost as if I have the body that I always should have done, although I think small breasts may be better than no breasts. I feel empowered and strong because I made the decision to have the other breast removed.
How much weight do you think society puts on women’s breast?
I think that some parts of society very much judge a woman by their breasts. I know that I got a lot of stares from men and women when I had breasts and a lot of women commented on the size of my breasts. They are definitely seen as a big part of the sexual makeup of a woman and it seems at the moment that large, round and firm breasts are the most sought after. Older and sagging breasts aren’t seen and I think this is part of the process by which women become invisible in society when they hit middle age.
What is the breast – femininity connection and why unibreast-ism or going full-flat is important to be put out there as an equally acceptable option?
I never saw my breasts as being part of my femininity. Maybe this is because I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy, and have never dressed in a terribly pretty way. I don’t wear a lot of makeup either. But I have always felt like a woman and to a large extent feminine. A flat or uniboobed woman can be just as feminine as a woman with two breasts. I think it’s down to the individual and how she feels about herself and her body confidence. Apart from straight after my operation, I haven’t really missed my breasts, although I do sometimes think it’s a bit strange that I have reached this body shape. I think it’s important to highlight that flat is an acceptable option, as the more that it’s out there, the more it will be seen as something that is not taboo.
Photos: Sue Lacey Photography