Today, the world is abuzz with news that Angelina Jolie had a prophylactic mastectomy to reduce her risk of developing breast cancer as a BRCA1 gene carrier. I’m sure it wasn’t as easy a decision as she made it sound on her New York Times column. After all, she’s an actress and makes her living from her image. Now that she has breast implants, it’ll be very obvious that her breasts are not natural whenever she wears clothes that bare her decolletage.
I would have few, if any, problems making the decision that Jolie did. Not so much because it makes medical sense, but because my breasts are a huge burden in every sense of the word. In primary school, I bore the brunt of my schoolmates’ jokes about my ampleness. Once when I found my training bra too uncomfortable after a PE lesson, I hid under a table in class and took it off, only to be discovered by my friends and have the aforementioned bra snatched from me and whirled in the air to the rousing chant of, “Jean’s wearing a bra! Jean’s wearing a bra!”
As a teenager, I would get heckled daily by workers at the shops near my home, on the way back from school. Thanks to them, I became an expert at the art of delivering the one finger salute. I’m no looker, but I still get cat calls and wolf whistles once in a while – I simply pretend that I’m deaf or, if I’m in a particularly foul mood, turn around and tell the offending idiot off.
Social inconveniences, however, are nothing compared to the physical limitations of being chesty. Most of my female friends who are much less well-endowed tell me they’d kill to have my boobs, but they don’t know what a challenge my breasts pose. I have limited choices when it comes to buying lingerie. Before La Senza opened in Singapore, it seemed that bras in size 34DD had to either come in ugly beige lace, or be built like industrial-grade hoists. Even though I now have a place to buy my bras, they rarely go on sale. I limit my shopping to my birthday month when I get a special discount. Definitely no impulse-buying of lingerie for me. When I need to buy clothes, I have to make sure that they will go with my bras because strapless and multi-way bras that are comfortable for someone of my size are hard to come by.
The physical discomforts of hefting the equivalent of two cantaloupes around all the time are also not to be scoffed at. I have had back and shoulder issues for years, and firmly believe that they are caused by the weight of my breasts. I hunch, because it’s difficult to sit and stand up straight. Since gravity will do its awful work, I am in perpetual danger of looking rather like one of those tribal women with breasts reaching down to her knees.
Still, whenever I suggest getting a breast reduction, K balks. Alison and Zoe, too, are attached to my breasts as they were breastfed for 21 months and 14 months respectively, and like to cuddle up against my side sometimes. I suppose I should be thankful that my breasts were useful for a time, and are appreciated. They are too much of a load to me to be viewed as anything other than burdens.
How liberating it would be to not have perpetual weights attached to my chest. Not having to wear a bra all the time would also be bliss. More realistically, if I ever need a mastectomy, I’d probably undergo reconstruction so that my husband won’t feel like he’s married to a boy. But I’d pick an A cup so I’d never again have to grapple with melons.
Edited to add: I feel compelled to state that I know full well that a mastectomy is major surgery and that the post-operative recovery is an arduous process. This post does not discount the difficulties of recovering from a mastectomy.