Via Jezebel, which has a sharp post on female confessional journalism: Christa D’Souza writes about her breast implant saga in the Daily Fail. D’Souza clearly had a terrible time, and her article highlights the ways in which the reality of implants differs from the promise of implants. The short version is: she’s dissatisfied with her post-baby 34B breasts; she gets implants (34E), which “encapsulate” (i.e., scar tissue wrapped around them, making them hard and immobile); she downsizes to 34D, which encapsulate; she downsizes to 30D; she gets breast cancer, has radiation, and decides to remove the implants altogether when radiation is done. Clearly, D’Souza has had a complicated relationship with her breasts, driven partly by self-consciousness brought on by teasing as a girl, partly by her regret at the drastic solution she opted for. Getting breast cancer must have felt even more hideously unfair than it always is. I wish her well and hope she continues to recover safely.
But, since this is SP and I am a humorless feminist, I want to talk about the body-shaming language D’Souza uses throughout the article. You’d think that a confession about what a mistake it was to get implants would have a less judgmental about the female body than other articles; you’d be wrong. Here’s how she describes her natural breasts: spaniels’ ears, fried eggs, a bog standard 34B, virtually flat-chested. Here’s how she describes her enhanced breasts:
when I unwrapped the bandages a few days later my breasts were . . . gargantuan.
Instead of feeling sexy and young, I felt like a superannuated porn star. And when I didn’t feel like a superannuated porn star, I felt like Alastair Sim in St Trinian’s, with this new massive ‘monobosom’.
So here I was . . . wearing a puffa jacket, two cardigans, two sweatshirts and a pair of scruffy Ugg boots – and still attracting wolf whistles from workmen in the street.
The truth was I felt like a transvestite. Instead of giving me the desired Jessica Rabbit silhouette, the implants had made me feel butch (if you don’t have the hourglass waist to begin with, that’s what happens).
This is not an article about the size of her breasts. This is an article about self-hatred, only D’Souza doesn’t know it.
This article boggled me even more than I expected it to at first glance because the size that makes D’Souza feel like a gargantuan, transvestite porn star—34E—is my natural size. (Most of the time, anyway.) Now, I’m not as thin as D’Souza seems to be in the old (implant-having) pictures, but still: I don’t feel like a superannuated porn star. I don’t feel like Jessica Rabbit, either. I feel like a woman with big tits. There is very little acknowledgment in the article that some women actually do have naturally large breasts. Everything that is described as a post-implant horror—except for the encapsulation—is something that just comes with having large breasts, whether they’re natural or not.
I couldn’t see my feet in the shower, which was strangely disturbing, and I’d also started to hunch my shoulders in the way congenitally huge breasted women find themselves doing.
I have spent most of the past decade having to wear two sports ‘minimiser’ bras if I want to go for a run, and having to buy separate bikini bottoms and tops because the tops would never normally fit, of looking improper in anything even vaguely tight.
Now I long to go braless, to wear all those pretty little spaghetti strapped tops, to have that elegant, cherry-pipped silhouette that all the models in the magazines have.
Sound familiar to anyone? I haven’t gone braless since I was 12, personally.
The problem is not that D’Souza didn’t like her implants; it’s her body and her life, and I’m sorry that she had what was clearly an awful experience with plastic surgery. The problem is that her article perpetuates the distortions about the female body that are so prevalent in our culture. Big breasts are gargantuan, improper; small breasts are elegant and let you wear pretty clothes. 34E is a “massive” size, but 34B looks like a 12-year-old. The range of acceptable racks, like the range of acceptable dress sizes, is shockingly narrow. On either size, you’re not “really” a woman at all: you’re a transvestite or a prepubescent, unwomanly, unnatural even if what we are talking about is your natural body.
The most telling line in the article, to me, is this one: Implants point not only to footballers’ wives, but a bygone era. In a nutshell, I feel terribly ’20th Century’ with these two boulders of silicone in my chest. What body types are fashionable changes, and quickly. Keeping up a trendy body costs money, time, and pain. My gargantuan tits and I are just fine being out of style.