New Body, New Options + Newfound Freedom and (a Few) Restrictions

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Remember that pinup contest I wrote about entering at the beginning of 2019?

I ended up dropping out. Not because I thought I couldn't be a mono-boobed Bettie, but because I thought I would be in the throes of chemo—and that didn't seem at all practical.

Turns out, for better or worse, chemo was not in my cards. The treatment I'm on now is more manageable but has no end.

That's OK with me.

I'm just happy to be here.

I still went to the Intro to Pinup class I'd signed up for before all these shenanigans. That was a few weeks ago.

That night, I squeezed into my black corselette (that's a pretty word for girdle), donned my best leopard-print dress, and popped my fake ta-ta in place. And I thought: Hey, I am pulling this off!

But when I leaned in the mirror for one last lipstick check, I realized that with one bend, everything—I mean EVERYTHING—was on display. The hills and valleys surrounding my scar, the scattered dents, the absolute absence of breast.

I heard the words of Nietzsche in my head, "And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee," and shuddered. But there was nothing to do but say f$%* it and run out the door.

Despite that moment of mild horror, I felt amazing.

It was the first time I'd been decked out since my diagnosis. I decided I didn't care if everyone would see my prosthesis peeking out from my neckline or the train wreck that was underneath it. I hopped in my red car, turned the stereo up to 11, and jammed the accelerator with my kitten-heel-clad foot. I felt like a movie star and that everyone's heads were turning as I whizzed past.

(They probably weren't. More on that in a sec.)

This was my first experience of trying to look normal in my pre-mastectomy clothes. Before and since then, I have many times pondered the question: To boob or not to boob?

I can't tell you how many times I've not boobed. The grocery store, Tai Chi class, even a client meeting once. I'm either delusional or I'm right that no one really notices when I'm not wearing it. In these instances, I remember the Spotlight Effect and how very real it is. While I'm deeply aware of how affected my body and appearance are to me, most people are so concerned with their own selves that what I know and see, they just don't.

And if they do—and they're taken aback—I remind myself that I'm not obligated to make them feel comfortable.

As I approach summer, though, things are about to get trickier—even if my bag of cares is empty. When I do want to wear my prosthesis, I don't necessarily look balanced. (Ain't nothin' like the real thing.) And I still have to deal with the challenges of certain cuts and styles. Swimsuits? Ugh. Talk to me in June; I'll have a plan.

For now, here's what I've found works:

  • Large prints, patterns, and asymmetrical designs. I'm not much for solids, anyway, but when I first test-drove the new girl, it became evident they weren't helping her fit in. There's simply nothing to divert the attention.

  • Lightly flowy fabrics. I'm not saying you need to wear a muumuu, but chiffons and georgettes that drape loosely are better than form-fitting knits. That said, if spandex is on your menu, refer to my first point.

  • Button-downs, gathers and pockets. Or, as I like to say, distractions, distractions, distractions. Anything that disrupts the landscape is your friend. I have a solid T-shirt that goes against points one and two, but because it has a graphic that runs across my bustline, it wins. Scarves, layers and strategically worn accessories work, too.

What about all those scoops, vees and surplices? I have a few that I'm not ready to part with, so I bought a pack of lace-trimmed bralettes to go under them. They fit high enough that they hug my chest, leaving what's going on further down to everyone's imagination. Whew!

In writing this, I realize that most of my readers are not going through this—that these tips are not for you. But I like to think what I'm communicating still resonates. And that is ...

It really is possible to still feel confident and sexy, even if you don't have all the bits the universe gave you when you were born. Or if those bits have shifted, sagged, expanded or shrunk in ways you do not approve of.

Your body and its parts don't have the power. Your brain does.

And you get to choose what you want to put on.

Like we learned in that "24 Things Women Over 30 Should Wear" article that was going around, what any woman should wear—not just a woman with an unreconstructed mastectomy—is whatever she wants.

Allison Kay Bannister, a West Michigan resident since 1987, professional writer since 2002 and GVSU alumna, recently launched her own freelance writing business. Allison enjoys travel, art, dance, food and exploring world cultures—and, of course, writing about all these and more.

Photo courtesy of Allison Kay Bannister. 

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