Teaching One-Breasted

Today was the second and last day of the workshops led by my students. I had to fill in for one of them for about 30 minutes today. I was wearing a long-sleeved hot pink shirt that clearly hugs my right breast and left non-breast. I'd been wearing it all day but hadn't spent much time in front of a crowd, though I had made quick announcements all day. I felt like there was something obscene about revealing my lack of breast in public. Which is interesting. I think revealing a nipple is officially obscene, and that's why go-go dancers have to wear tassels. Or used to have to. I looked all this stuff up years ago, when I was writing about Playboy--an article which, alas, never saw the light of day because my vision of it was different from my editor's. Anyway, pubic hair is or was obscene and that's why exotic dancers wore merkins, which are wigs that cover the pubic hair. Which is absurd. I don't know why pubic hair is obscene in the first place, because it's the stuff that covers the genitals. But I digress. I feel like I'm flaunting my one-breastedness, while at the same time I feel defiant: Hey, world, this is what breast cancer looks like. If one in seven or eight women will have breast cancer at some point in their lives, and if some of these women (I don't know what percent) will have a breast removed, cut out, slashed and scooped, amputated, what have you--then it seems that one-breasted women would therefore be fixtures in our grocery stores, offices, restaurants, classrooms and so on. Of course, they are all around us but they're wearing prostheses. Or they've had reconstruction and have been restored to double-breastedness. I don't know what percent opts for reconstruction. I don't even know if I'm going to opt for reconstruction.

You might say that the women who are padding one cup of their bras are opting for privacy. Or you could say they're being dishonest by covering up the results of surgery. You could also say that their breasts are a lot bigger than mine, and you'd be right. My remaining breast is small, and so it's easier for me to go without a bra, and easier for me to escape notice. How defiant would I be if I had a flatness on one side, and on the other side had a breast the size of a child's head?

To be perfectly accurate, I must say that I'm not flat-flat-flat on the left side. I had a skin-sparing mastectomy, so there's still a little roundness along the edges. I was floored a few months ago when a friend of a friend admired the image of Sarah Bernhardt on my close-fitting t-shirt, and then asked, as the conversation turned to cancer later, if I'd had surgery. Maybe he just wasn't a breast man. Maybe he was so entranced by the picture of Sarah that he didn't notice the asymmetry of the surface on which she was displayed.

So maybe no one noticed.

Now is when I should say that a pink ribbon that's fashioned out of plastic or fabric or metal or ceramic is much easier to look at than the half-empty chest of a real live woman. And that the widespread pollution that leads to cancer is what's truly obscene, and that my poor innocent body, which has been cut open and sewn back together, should be considered anything but.


Anonymous said...

Wow, Sandi. That last paragraph is hard core. Economical. Incisive. Brutal. And brilliant. Thanks for writing and posting it.

Anonymous said...

As one of those students, one who infrequently remembers to say so, I'd like to publicly thank you for the weekend workshops. The classes your students taught were excellent (should I perhaps suggest that they somehow picked up their ability from their teacher?).

Anyway, since I've finished the classroom portion of my MFA program at Other School, and am deep into the isolating task of writing my thesis, I find myself in need of technical inspiration from time to time, and your Apprentices program provided it in abundance.

And yes, the sweater was noticed. The courage, fortitude, and wit of the wearer were also on display.

Thanks again for a wonderful and helpful experience.


jacqueline said...

Actually, many women are moving forward without that social buffer known as the prosthesis and some are even embracing their new architecture...
and not as an advertisement for breast cancer or a woman's worst nightmare but simply an option that makes sense and jives with her personal ideologies:



and last but not least

"Going public" with these bodies shouldn't even be a post-diagnosis issue/topic considering exactly what you mention in the last paragraph- BRAVO! Not to mention that it only makes sense to move forward without the humiliation and discomfort of the prosthesis or the additional mutilating trauma of reconstruction to our bodies- where skin and muscle are stretched to it's limits, bellies become breast and eyelids become nipples.

Jacqueline, founder of Rebel1in8 and Rhea Belle clothing.

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