I can’t recall when the lump fully developed. It’s not visible in its shadow, but it follows me the way uncertainty follows a curious mind.
In the United States, nearly 1 in 8 million women will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime. This year, 246,660 cases will be diagnosed in women, along with 61,000 new cases of women with carcinoma, the non-invasive form of breast cancer.
My mother is one of 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.
Her sister, Amalia, conquered the same malicious disease in 2007. Their youngest sister, Beatrice, is currently battling a cancer that began in her breasts and spread through her entire body.
I fear the possibility of confronting similar health concerns.
Oftentimes we are told to conquer our fears. In order to do so, we must first dissect and analyze them. This photo series is a reflection of my discoveries.
The project began because of the reoccurring appearance of my left breast’s shadow on the walls, cupboards and floors of my small Parisian studio.
Like many American women, I am laden by the societal expectations of what a female body should look like. America has capitalized on the natural curvature and voluptuousness of a woman’s breast. I notice a similar marketing technique in Paris, France where I currently live.
Sarah Murnen, a seasoned social psychologist whose research includes the hypersexualisation of women in media, agrees that images in magazines are overtly sexual.
In 2013, she told the Public Broadcasting Service, “It’s now common to see more parts of the body exposed. There is more emphasis on the size of women’s breasts.”
Meanwhile, film and television networks do the same to attract a particular audience. The general idea is large breasts appeal to nearly everybody, from a newborn child to the lascivious man who watches Baywatch reruns alone at home.
Thus I’m compelled to ask myself, if my breasts are surgically removed, will I become less appealing?
Instinctively, I answer with a firm “NO” because I’m aware that my worth goes far beyond my physical characteristics. Then, the image of my mother self-consciously covering the scar on her right breast with her hands' surfaces.
Scar Treatment – You don’t always need it.
Mederma’s ad campaign targets women in need of scar treatment. The product claims to minimize the appearance of scars and suggests it combats the visibility of stretch marks.
The product website features success stories. Nearly all of their consumers are women. I purchased an $18 tube of Mederma when I was a teenager in hopes that it would remove the light stretch marks that hug my upper arms. The “miracle cream” was merely two inches long. Never having much money, my hopefulness trumped pragmatism and I purchased it in the name of superficiality.
Seven years later, I’m questioning why these products are targeted to women, or more importantly, young girls. Would I have been as insecure if this product targeted men or extreme athletes?
Imagine a warped world where men are encouraged to hide or erase their scars and stretch marks. Or better yet, a world where these trivial details on the human body are not magnified, or deemed ugly.
Unfortunately, it is more socially acceptable for a man to proudly bear a battle scar than it is for a woman to flaunt evidence of cancer survival.
The Today Show recently featured a male tattoo artist whose work is dedicated to creating realistic nipple tattoos on women who have undergone mastectomies.
“My mission is to make women look good in the mirror, naked. I want them to feel good when they’re looking at themselves,” Vinnie Myers, 53, told Today.
New data released this year showed a 36% increase of women undergoing mastectomies since 2005.
This medical epidemic should be met by social change. America needs to shift the way it perceives women with scars. These strong individuals should be encouraged to wear them confidently. Examples of such progress can be seen in BUST Magazine, Bitch Media and The New York Times.
Angelina Jolie — It’s easier to be brave when medical bills don’t terrorize you.
The famous director and actress sparked breast cancer awareness after sharing her family’s history with the disease and documenting her decision to preemptively remove both breasts.
As noted in Jolie’s essay, early testing is not acceptable to all women due to its high cost. Affordable health care is a major concern for low-income women, women of color, and immigrant woman who are at a greater risk of being uninsured in the United States.
For women without insurance, there are programs that will cover certain medical costs. Reconstructive surgery is not always included.
Taking control of your body and health is evidently easier to do if you are not burdened by financial struggles. One way to eliminate this monetary issue is by encouraging women to opt out of reconstructive surgery.
Perhaps the shadow of my left breast will transform, or disappear completely. If that day comes I intend to feel whole in a beautifully scarred body.
All photos © Sarah Aboulkheir
Sarah Aboulkheir is an artist based in Paris, France. Her photos and illustrations can be found at http://soapercool.tumblr.com. For a look at her tattoo work, check out http://soapertattoo.tumblr.com. Follow her on Instagram at @supersavon.
More from BUSTMatter magazine and follow her on Medium.