I now have permission to show you my mastectomy scar on Facebook. On page 3 of today’s Chicago Tribune, a headline announces “Facebook clarifies: Mastectomy photos OK.” Obviously, this story is very personal for me.
Don’t worry; I’m not going to run and grab my camera. I have no desire to show you my mastectomy scar. I don’t let anyone outside of my immediate family see me without my bra and my prosthesis, and if I do, you can be sure I’ll be wearing a nice, heavy sweatshirt to cover my lopsidedness. I’ve been living with a mastectomy for seventeen years, and I still have anxiety about certain situations.
On Monday, for example, I was with my family at Great America. The girls were eager to ride the roller coasters in the morning and swim at the water park after lunch. As I entered a changing room to switch from my clothes to my swimming suit, there was one itty-bitty problem. The curtain hanging down provided practically no privacy. The vinyl curled in leaving huge gaps at the sides, and it wasn’t wide enough to cover the doorway in the first place. Forget about my scar; I had no desire to flash my derriere to anyone who might be walking by!
Having a silicone prosthesis in place of my left breast makes changing from bra to swimsuit a little more time consuming. I have to remove my breast form from my bra and transfer it to the pocket in my swimming suit top. Pulling on my tankini top with my breast form already in place takes a little more maneuvering and adjusting to get things in place and just right. As I heard a little girl in the next stall fussing about the lack of privacy, I took a deep breath and changed. Quickly.
Even with my changing room anxieties, I have a positive self-image. I’m comfortable with my scar. I don’t regret my decision and I like the way I look. I just prefer that you all see me dressed. Although I hide my mastectomy scar from the world, Facebook’s decision to allow mastectomy scar photos caught my attention.
It all began with Facebook removing four photos from The Scar Project’s Facebook page along with banning photographer David Jay for 30 days for posting these photos. Facebook has a policy about publishing nude photos, which in my opinion is a good thing. In this case, however, blogger Scorchy Barrington felt there should be an exception. She started a petition on change.org to protest the photo removal, and is quoted in the Tribune as saying, “[Breast cancer is] life and death in some cases. It’s not a pink ribbon, it’s not a pink mixer.”
Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis or deciding to have a prophylactic mastectomy (as Angelina Jolie did) is not an “opportunity to get an upgrade” to bigger or perkier breasts. To remove the breast, the surgeon cuts into nerves. “New” breasts from reconstructive surgery do not feel like breasts. Even though I opted not to have reconstruction, I know this is true. At the site of my scar and under my arm, I am numb due to nerve damage from my surgery. There is nothing more annoying to us who have scars and numbed tissue when breast cancer is sexualized. “Save the Boobies!” is often a rally cry, and it annoys me to no end.
The first time I looked at the photos of The Scar Project, I cried. I saw myself at 27 with a brand new, bright red scar where there used to be a breast. I saw myself at 33, trying to find a wedding dress that would not reveal my lack of cleavage. I saw myself, pregnant at 35, wondering if I would be able to breastfeed my baby. The raw and naked emotions in these photos reveal so much. The women behind the scars are not fighting to save their boobs; they are fighting to save their lives.
And so while I’m glad Facebook is sticking to their policy to remove photos of nudity (I really don’t want nude photos popping up on Facebook), I feel like these brave women are showing us all how to live with our scars–whether we’ve survived cancer or other hardships. I think if you take a look at these photos, you’ll agree. Just grab a whole box of tissues before you look. By the way, David Jay’s next project is photographing scars of a different kind; scars received by soldiers from war. I only hope that this project toward peace receives just as much attention as the breast cancer project did.