Tuesday, March 01, 2011
You Are Beautiful
In the six months preceding my breast cancer diagnosis, I figured out a few things about how I was caring for my body, made some changes, and lost about twenty pounds. Shortly after diagnosis, I remember a moment of comic relief in the midst of tears about my impending doom, when I told Jim, "Great, now everyone will think I lost weight because of cancer."
It wasn't until after I knew I had cancer that I had my first mammogram. I've always dreaded mammograms, partly because I have a perhaps overblown fear of radiation, but partly also because I feared seeing the silhouette of my squished boobs, figuring the image would burn itself on my retinas and color my already far less than perfect self-esteem.
In actuality it wasn't so bad. The technician handled me gently and I thought my breasts looked rather nice in those images. Cancer aside, of course.
As I anticipated my dreaded mastectomy, I caught myself staring at a lot of naked breasts (sorry locker room pals, hope I didn't make anyone uncomfortable.) It struck me that there was not a one that wasn't beautiful, regardless of age, size, shape, color, or symmetry, or lack thereof.
And then I found out that most women with breast cancer gain weight during chemo. Fat, pale, bloated, one-breasted, and bald, and then, just when the hair on my head is beginning to come back, goodbye eyebrows and eyelashes. That's what I had to look forward to.
If you know me, you may have noticed that I don't wear makeup, color my hair, paint my nails, or even shave my legs and armpits unless it's a very special occasion and I'm inexplicably in the mood to do so. Same goes for haircuts. It's not that I don't care how I look, it's just that I don't care to excess. And I certainly don't let what other people think about how I look dictate how I spend my time.
At least that's what I'd like to think.
I'm told by the media, just like all of us women are, that my appearance is my primary value. As much as I tell myself otherwise, the message seeps in around the edges, has been doing so all my life.
When J and I were a new couple and he told me how lucky he felt to be with me, launching into a list of compliments (smart, funny, talented...) I listened with bated breath, hoping with all my heart that the list would not end without some positive word about my looks. It surprised me to notice that I cared most of all that he thought I was pretty.
But why should this surprise me? Let's face it, we live in a world that gives very few women the time of day for being smart, funny, talented, unless they are, first and foremost, nice to look at.
When I recorded this second dance, I hesitated to share it. I drop some layers of clothing in this video, and my baldness and one-breastedness and a tad bit of extra-fleshedness are undeniable. I feared some of you who thought me beautiful would now change your mind. I thought maybe some would be upset to see the reality of my body post-mastectomy.
But then I recalled all those beautiful breasts in the locker room. Which reminded me that there is beauty in simply being alive. And that to be truly healthy and okay with ourselves, we need images of beauty that fall outside the bounds of fashion magazine standards.
I dream of a world where none of us feel the least smidgen of shame about our bodies. Where anyone can get up and dance whenever we darn well please, just to celebrate the beauty of being alive.
So here goes, bonus round: Dance With Me one more time.
The tune is "Rock on Hanuman by MC Yogi. Download it here.