Over at I Blame the Patriarchy (IBTP), there has been a discussion about Jodi Jaecks, who after having a double mastectomy due to breast cancer was thrown out of a swimming pool for swimming topless. Blisstree have reported the reasons for this as her not wearing “gender appropriate swimwear”, although I wonder how useful such swimwear would be considering they are made for the accommodation of breasts. Her local swimming pool have since told her she can swim topless, but only during adult times, which gives credence to Twisty’s assertion that it has less to do with her being topless and more to do with “the sight of her horrible post-surgical chest… grossing everyone the fuck out. There was no choice but to go all Taliban on her ass and inform her that her body is too offensive for public display”.
There are many concepts at work in how Jaecks was treated. One, which is touched upon by both IBTP and Blisstree is that people are afraid children are going to be scared by what they see and are worried about having a discussion with them about cancer. The general stance we take with children these days is that we must protect them from anything and everything, imagined or very, very real. For instance, the hysteria over paedophilia has resulted in people, especially men, being afraid to approach a lone child in the street who looks like s/he may be lost and ask if s/he is alright for fear of being accused of paedophilia. Neuberger (2005) has outlined how this hysteria over protecting children may actually be damaging them, in the paedophilia case “destroying valuable relationships between young people and their elders” (The Moral State We’re In, p.xi). In the case of Jaecks, this worry over whether her post-surgical body will scare children is preventing children from having a valuable discussion with their parents about cancer, and, as Blisstree says, discussing ways to keep healthy and keep risks to a minimum. Cancer can attack anyone, but knowing the risks of certain things can help reduce the chances of you getting it.
Another concept at work is the strange way in which the female body is viewed. The female body is usually seen from a male viewpoint. The casual way in which the words “It’s alright, men prefer curvy women” are bounded around to mollify a woman who is worried about her size, or “Don’t wear too much make-up. It’s a myth that men prefer women in lots of make-up” demonstrate that the default viewpoint from which we see women is a male perspective, i.e. a woman should feel good about herself knowing that men like the look of her. And don’t think the recent emphasis on ‘real women’ and ‘women feeling good about themselves for themselves’ completely departs from this. As Gawker found out, the women in Dove’s ‘real women’ ad campaign were photoshopped to hell for the following reason – “it was great to do, a challenge, to keep everyone’s skin and faces showing the mileage but not looking unattractive”. The wording here is the important thing – he states that it was a ‘challenge’. Yep, it doesn’t matter how good you feel about yourself, if you don’t conform to the conventional level of attractiveness (defined by men, for men), you need to be moulded until you do.
We can see this default male viewpoint in how women’s breasts are viewed. In popular culture, the preferred size of a woman’s breasts is quite large, but not too large. What is my reasoning behind this? Because men who like women with enormous breasts are considered to have a fetish. The general disinclination in mainstream culture towards enormous breasts has nothing to do with the fact that women who have them get back problems and other health problems. Nope, I would suggest that it’s because they’re in the fetish part of sexual attraction. And what about the other end of the scale, where women have very small breasts? There is the constant pressure that they should be bigger. A lot of cosmetic companies take advantage of the idea that a woman’s self-esteem resides in her breasts, and suggest that with bigger breasts (but not too big) women would feel better about themselves and more capable of taking on the world. Just take a look at the Harley Medical Group page for breast surgery – “breast enlargement surgery is our most commonly performed procedure for women and many patients report a boost in self confidence following the surgery”. It’s basically saying, ‘We’re sorry you were born this way, but we can fix your faulty breasts for you. It’s your breasts’ fault you feel bad about yourself, not societal expectations, and as such, society doesn’t need to change, but your breasts do’. Honestly, the whole page is comedy gold in the way it brings out all the standard ways to make women feel bad about themselves.
So how does this link in with Jodi Jaecks? Jaecks decided against reconstructive surgery after her mastectomy, and given that she wants to go swimming topless and is posing topless for the photo in Blisstree, I would guess that she’s comfortable not having breasts. The main issue behind Jaecks’ ejection from the swimming pool seems to me to be that a woman’s chest is almost always sexualised. Without breasts or nipples, and only scars, her chest does not comply with how a woman’s chest should look. It can’t be sexualised in a ‘healthy’ way (i.e. in a way which ‘healthy’ adult men would approve), and as such, like with enormous breasts, falls into the category of a fetish.
This brings me to a subject which deserves a post all of its own. Women who do not have breast cancer and are not trans, who feel no attachment to their breasts whatsoever and wish they were completely flat-chested. Take a look at this video, wherein the speaker discusses how she sees expectations upon women to have breasts, not just of a certain shape or size, but just to have them in general.
What are your thoughts on this?
Was it right for Jodi Jaecks to be removed from the swimming pool?
If women were allowed to have their breasts removed, as discussed in the video, would it open the way for people who didn’t like other parts of their bodies, such as limbs, to have them removed?