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Getting My Body Back

From the time my breasts started to develop, at about age twelve, I thought something was wrong with them. Four of my five sisters had “normal” breasts; one other sister and I had tiny breasts.

My breasts never developed beyond the budding stage. All my friends were wearing and talking about bras. My mum had never had such a conversation with me, let alone1 take me shopping to get fitted for a bra. Clearly she thought there was no need. Physically there may have been no need, but emotionally there was a great need. I wanted to be the same as the other girls.

I was sent to boarding school. Still no bra. I remember a girl showing me her large breasts. Mine were not anything like hers.

Later I was sent to a co-educational high school.2 The boys there would flick girls’ bra straps. I didn’t have a bra to flick and was often teased by the boys—a major embarrassment. I went home and found an old, small bra of one of my sisters and decided I’d wear that. This was all done secretively. There was no one I could open up to about it, for fear of further criticism.

By age sixteen I had a boyfriend. That two-year relationship developed into a sexual one; however, I never allowed him to touch my breasts. We married, and the shame still sat there. He never did touch my breasts in the eighteen years of our relationship. We split up, and I thought it was because I didn’t have breasts (that was not true). As a result, I went to see a cosmetic surgeon about breast augmentation.

That doctor told me that I had breasts like a light switch. Even though I didn’t like him, I was too frightened to say anything and in my desperation went ahead with the surgery.

So at age thirty-four my breasts were cut underneath and silicone implants were inserted. I healed quickly and was pleased with my new figure. I had the “right” shape at last.3 Having my new breasts (I chose the smallest size) made a huge difference in my self-esteem, self-confidence, and just feeling “normal.” I felt much more attractive and was not so scared to have sexual relationships.

But now I carried the shame of having had cosmetic surgery. I believed that I had to explain myself to my new partner—why my breasts felt and looked the way they did. Thankfully they were never an issue in that relationship. In fact, I got to be open and free with my body in a new and delightful way. For the first time I experienced a pleasing, fun, satisfying sexual relationship in which I didn’t hold myself back.

That relationship, however, had its difficulties. I was not in Co-Counselling at the time and didn’t have the tools or insight to understand what was going on4 at a deeper level. After ten years I ended the relationship.

Then Co-Counselling came into my life, and a year later I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was terrified. My thinking was, “Have the implants caused this cancer? Has my time on the contraceptive pill caused it?” Whatever the cause, I did not want that part of my body chopped off.

A lumpectomy was performed and the cancer removed. Radiotherapy followed, which caused the implants to become harder. The doctors advised me to leave them intact, but by that time I had counselled hard and long on “getting my body back.” I decided I would have them taken out, after there had been enough tracking of my breasts for my ongoing health and well-being. That took three years.

My Co-Counsellors were a vital support. My long-term Co-Counsellor came with me to the operation, which I went into laughing and in excellent spirits. However, facing my changed body was hard. It remains hard all these years later. I have had to continue to counsel on the chronic distress. The old feelings that I’m not quite right are not yet totally discharged, even though at a deep level I am pleased to have my body back.

I asked my mother about an incident I remembered in my Co-Counselling sessions. She remembered it immediately and told me the story: When I was six months old, she was feeding me on her right breast. I had my left hand on the side of her breast and was drinking contentedly. My father came into the house and yelled at her, “Are you still feeding that baby?” I remember looking at her and feeling scared and noticing that she was scared, too. I think we both got to5 feeling bad about ourselves, and a piece of terror about breasts was installed in me.


Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of women

“Let alone” means much less.
2 “Co-educational high school” means high school for both boys and girls.
“At last” means finally.
4 “Going on” means happening.
5 “Got to” means began.

Last modified: 2020-07-17 20:50:52+00