"I am the only woman in the room with shirt on at the VIP Strip Club"
April 4, 2005 11:59 AM   Subscribe

Showing Off a Little (Inner) Cleavage. Author Geralyn Lucas wore bright, red lipstick to her mastectomy. "It was my way of saying I knew I would still be a woman when I woke up with a blood-soaked bandage where my breast used to be... women have sacrificed breasts and hair to try to save their lives. We have traded in our beauty for some kind of cure. But something strange often happens when we lose the bling — the big boobs and big hair — of womanhood. We're left with what I call 'inner cleavage,' and no plastic surgeon can sculpt it. It is the beauty that exists when everything else has been stripped away".
Lauren Greenfield photographs here. More inside.
posted by matteo (19 comments total)
After her mastectomy, Lucas decided not to create an artificial nipple through reconstructive surgery. Instead, she tattooed her breast with a heart and wings. "Lipstick was about living. Lipstick was being hopeful and having a future. I think lipstick is the antithesis of all the things breast cancer patients go through, and to somehow reclaim it, to wear it on my terms felt so crazy but also made perfect sense."
posted by matteo at 12:01 PM on April 4, 2005

I'm a guy, but damn, awesome FPP, awesome woman.
posted by mrbill at 12:07 PM on April 4, 2005

Here's a link to a Barbara Ehrenreich talk where she asks some serious questions about breast cancer culture and what it asks of women:
Is there any other disease that has been so warmly embraced by its victims? (And yes, I use the word “victim”—that’s another part of the perkiness—the failure to acknowledge that some of us are in fact victims of a hideous disease.) No one thinks TB, AIDS, or heart disease is supposed to be a “growth opportunity” and make you into a better person. No one is thankful for colon cancer, diabetes or gonorrhea. Why, I began to wonder, is a disease that primarily attacks women supposed to be something they should be grateful for?
I don't think Lucas is pushing that, although it's hard to tell since the post is a bit PepsiBlue. I just like Ehrenreich's take on her cancer.
posted by OmieWise at 12:14 PM on April 4, 2005

That made me cry. Thank you.
posted by corvine at 12:20 PM on April 4, 2005

Interesting post.

Why, I began to wonder, is a disease that primarily attacks women supposed to be something they should be grateful for?

I dont' follow this really, one either thinks of disease as part of the general lousiness of the world and victimhood or as part of a process of spiritual development depending, but I don't see how this one lousy thing among many has been singled out for special treatment.

inner cleavage

Some think of a woman's inner beauty as her soul and this beauty remains forever through sickness, old age, and death, but if 'inner cleavage' is a starting point well ok, it's her experience to describe and who could argue she has a hugely positive message.
posted by scheptech at 12:35 PM on April 4, 2005

OmieWise, thank you for linking to that perspective as well.

I have previously heard criticism of the pink ribbon because it seems weak and friendly compared to the red AIDS ribbon because red is the colour of blood (and by association, death) and anger. So the red ribbon is a call to action, and the pink ribbon doesn't carry that same intensity. Pink is "nice". This arguement seems to be related to / and extention of the point that Ehrenreich is making.
posted by raedyn at 12:39 PM on April 4, 2005

The Ehrenreich article is much more thought provoking and, I would say, important to read than the Lucas article. Thanks for the link OmieWise.
posted by Hildago at 12:46 PM on April 4, 2005

MSN Article with Video
posted by psychotic_venom at 1:19 PM on April 4, 2005

From that Ehrenreich link: There is, I would point out, nothing similar for me. At least men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer are not given gifts of matchbox cars.

Thanks for that. The teddy bear/lipstick approach to breast cancer has always bugged me a bit, too, and it's nice to see other women share that sentiment. Men can get breast cancer, too - it's less likely, but it does happen.

But, re: cancer as a learning experience, I don't know that that's limited to breast cancer. I was treated for lymphoma a few years ago, and I found ways to think about it to help me get through... I would never say I'd rather it have happened than not, but given that it did happen, I tried to take something from the experience, and I think it probably did change me a bit (not sure if in good or bad ways :))
posted by mdn at 1:28 PM on April 4, 2005

See also Illness as Metaphor by the late great Susan Sontag, herself a "survivor."
posted by rustcellar at 1:50 PM on April 4, 2005

I'm not sure where I've read that Ehrenreich piece before, but I remember agreeing with it wholeheartedly.

I really find the idea that she equates wearing makeup with womanhood a little sad and scary, as was her presentation of the shocking idea that maybe, just maybe, she was still a person if she wasn't completely concordant with North American beauty standards.

And that she's selling branded "I wore lipstick" gear on her site. But I guess I'm a cynic, and if this is what helped her through what was no doubt a terrible experience, and if it helps other as well, well shucks, I guess I can't really argue with that.
posted by ITheCosmos at 2:00 PM on April 4, 2005

From the first link: "It was the confidence that came with knowing that I still existed as a woman, as a person, when my outer beauty fell away."

This is so sad. I'm going to do my damnedest to make sure that my daughter will not need to get breast cancer to understand how superficial, limiting, and mercurial mainstream "beauty" is.
posted by Cassford at 2:00 PM on April 4, 2005

For future reference, DO NOT wear lipstick before surgery, you life may depend on it. Blue lips are a clear sign to the anesthesiologist that you are not getting enough oxygen, and lipstick may hide this. The same rule applies to fingernail polish, as fingertip nail beds often exhibit the same, tell-tale blue color.
posted by kablam at 2:26 PM on April 4, 2005

posted by wheelieman at 2:39 PM on April 4, 2005

kablam : Which is why most doctors will smile and nod at you wearing lipstick to make a statement and then wipe it off once you're under anaesthesia.

Many women in my family have fought with breast cancer and I have trouble viewing it as a glamorous disease, I guess the same point a lot of other people have brought up in the thread. I confess that have bought a few of the kitsch items mentioned in the Ehrenreich article (stamps and a teddy bear) when they were things I was going to purchase anyway and thought it might be nice to give money to a "good cause." I do hope that these foundations which get a certain percentage of every pink-ribboned item that you buy are doing more to help than purchasing a few tubes of lipstick, I'd like to think so.

On the other hand, women in a America do have an awful lot of sense of beauty tied up with their breasts. Perhaps it would be more constructive as a society to change this from the inside rather than trying to treat the outside by giving breast cancer survivors some eyeshadow.

Then again, that doesn't sell. Let's just all watch The Swan!
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:59 PM on April 4, 2005

Kablam, I wondered why it was that I was instructed to remove my nail varnish before undergoing surgery, that would explain it!
posted by kumonoi at 3:15 PM on April 4, 2005

Those pink-ribbon themed lipsticks have generated more than $350 million for medical care and research in order to end breast cancer once and for all. Easy to knock it as fluffy on the surface, not so easy to knock the results of the sales of all those markers of outer beauty.
posted by Dreama at 4:36 PM on April 4, 2005

I find the attempt to make breast cancer a feminist issue a bit tiring. Breast cancer is a serious health problem, and the growing awareness of it has saved lives by alerting more women to get regular mammograms. But I wouldn't call it a sacred rite. I am amazed at how women's health issues have received major publicity, whereas men's health problems are glossed over or ignored. On average, men die like 7 years earlier than females. Culturally, they have always been considered as expendable. More males die of prostate cancer than women die of breast cancer, yet the research money is now going towards the latter. Men's illnesses should be considered just as glamorous as women's.
posted by ember at 9:13 PM on April 4, 2005

ember, I think you make your case a bit too strongly -- and I'm in possession of a prostate myself.

According to the American Cancer Society, about 230,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer annually in the United States and about 29,000 men die of the disease each year. Around 200,000 American women are diagnosed annually with breast cancer. And over 40,000 die annually from it. ACS stats. What this means is that a diagnosis of breast cancer is more deadly than a diagnosis of prostate cancer.

Anyway, research funding shouldn't be a zero sum game. I'm not sure that it is the cultural valuing one gneder of another either, by the way. I know in my family that the men who have had prostate cancer do not like to talk about it because of the stigma of impotency. This will likely change as the less stoic baby-boomer men age and get prostate cancer and as fewer and fewer men are made impotent by the evolving treatments.
posted by Cassford at 7:40 PM on April 6, 2005

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