What Makes a Woman?

what-makes-a-womanWhen I was very young, my mother read to me the old nursery rhyme, “What Are Little Boys Made Of?” Little girls are made of “sugar and spice and everything nice.”

But what about women?

Those of us with breast cancer face many difficult questions, including treatment and surgery options. A part of this, of course, is reconstruction.

This is a very personal decision, and it is based on a variety of factors. As far as my own choice, it was made for me. I was strongly advised against reconstruction due to the type of cancer that I am currently fighting and the particular genetic mutation that led to this cancer. Considering these risks, I reluctantly agreed that I would not have reconstruction.

Perhaps it is just me, but going through this latest bout of cancer, I have noticed more and more often our society’s emphasis on breasts. The focus on this part of a woman’s body becomes all too clear as my upcoming surgery date draws closer. Indeed, I have frequently wondered, “What makes a woman in our society?”

Generally, the basis for being a woman seems to lie either in childbearing or sexuality. Whether it is women’s fashion or blogs about motherhood, these two bases for womanhood are dominant in our culture. Even some breast cancer charities focus on breasts–not on the women themselves–with their sexualized slogans such as “Save the Tatas!”

What does this mean for those of us who have never had children and who will soon be living “flat“? What happens when you are desperate to save your life, and in order to do so, your breasts must be sacrificed?

I have lived with these questions every day lately. And I was confronted with it head on last night during a conversation about avatars in Second Life. My husband and a friend were discussing men who choose to have female avatars in this virtual world. The friend pondered this for awhile and then jokingly said, “Who wouldn’t want breasts if they could have them!”

Who wouldn’t want breasts if they could have them? Indeed.

My heart sunk as I realized the implications of this and knew how society would view me after my surgery. My husband hugged me later and apologized for the trend of that conversation.

I still wonder, though, about life after my upcoming surgeries. Sometimes, I feel I don’t have the courage to live through this. Reading more in Ann Voskamp’s book, The Broken Way, I found these words:

“God’s mercies are new every morning–not as an obligation to you, but as an affirmation of you….I’m the broken…and I’m the beloved. Were there more healing words to be heard in the universe? Was there a more soothing balm for all my brokenness?”

Right now, the belief that I am loved by Him keeps me going and gives me the courage to move forward. Redefining what makes a woman not based on what society says, but rather our identity as His beloved.

Do I feel courageous? No, I feel very weak. And it still hurts to think about all of this. I’m trying to trust, praying that God will strengthen me enough to live, truly live through all that lies ahead.

For  more information on going through mastectomy (either single or bilateral) without reconstruction:

Living without Breasts

“Going Flat” after Breast Cancer

Flat & Fabulous on Facebook

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