Sunday, September 16, 2007

Lookin' Good

I was reading this New York Times article this morning which lead me to this activist group, Be Bright Pink, mentioned in the article. One of the cool things about this site is that they offer a monthly email service that will remind women to conduct self-exams for breast cancer. The site allows you to select the week of the month when you are most likely to get your period and then it will send you an email that week (if your period isn't enough of reminder, which for me it isn't). I do wish that the site mentioned that a self-exam should take place a week after a woman's period starts and not during her period when her breast might be swollen. Check this out for more general information on self-exams.

I found the NY times article about one woman's decision to get a preventive mastectomy to be very interesting. At first I was disgusted with how the article repeatedly returned to the question "Would Lindner be able to get a man?" if she got the preventative surgery. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it would be my main dilemma with getting a potentially life-saving surgery that would radically alter my appearance. Would I still be attractive afterwards? And underneath that question, the other question, would anyone ever love me again?

I think those are real fears that speak to human beings need to be loved and to relate to others in a meaningful way. But even before the happy ending where Lindner's boyfriend supports her decision whole-heartedly, it's clear that she is loved and would continue to be loved deeply, by her family. So it's not just love that creates the tension behind the "will I still be attractive?" question, there are (at least) two other things there; first, another question: will I still be valuable to society if I am not sexual attractive? and secondly, the position that a romantic relationship's love has more value than other types of love.

I feel like these fears about appearance (which are linked a sense of diminished self-worth), stem from the real consequence people face when they do not meet normal body standards. And, I believe these consequences are a result a consumer-driven society, where acceptance of self means not buying new products, so corporations had better be pushing feelings of inadequacy onto people. Meanwhile, while we're worried about how we look, people in power are getting away with a lot.

Although I understand Lindner's dilemma in the article and also feel like it would be my dilemma too where I faced with that choice, the reason I initially balked at the "find a man" problem presented in the article is because I think society pushes successful romantic relationships as the ultimate goal in life (for women at least) devaluing women who do not find such relationships. I think that leads to ignoring the value of other love-relationships in people's lives (friendship, family, coworkers). It also contributes to the perception that women should be driven to "find a man" (or even just one woman to be a life-long romantic partner) rather than be involved in the public sphere of "real" work. In that way, this article reads a bit like a romantic comedy. Girl overcomes obstacle (serious risk of cancer) and on the way, lands herself a man.

I think it's fine if romantic love is an individual's definition of self-fulfillment, but I think that it is pushed on everyone. For example, those doctors mentioned in the article who would not perform the surgery because Lindner is too young in their opinion. Is "too young" code for "hasn't found a man yet and had babies with that man"? What if those things weren't in Lindner's life plan? I bet those doctors would still feel justified in telling Lindner that though she may think she doesn't want to marry and have babies she will at some point (just ask a young woman who has tried to get a tubal ligation).

Just some food for thought.

1 comment:

Julia said...

Yay! Blogs! I guess I'm cheating because we already talked about this at dinner last night, but I found your thoughts interesting...another thing I wish the article had delved into is that two of the women featured most prominently were getting implants post-mastectomy. Are there young women opting for no implants? The idea of two halved tennis balls on my chest gives me the heebie-jeebies (sp?). I know for a lot women, my mom included, her post-cancer reconstruction included using part of her abs (where she now has metal mesh) to add to her breasts, which makes it hard to keep a flat stomach, but is more natural looking (and feeling!). I don't know if they'd do that on a younger woman. Anyway. Interesting article, and fabulous blog!