Five years ago, I was embarrassed to try on clothes at one of those open fitting rooms that exist at discount department stores. I shuddered with embarrassment at just the thought of getting undressed in front of other women. Not that there was anything wrong with my body. I was just young and self-conscious at the thought of others peering my way during a quick change of my shirt, or god forbid they see the sight of my heinie sticking out the side of my lace Hanky Panky thong. I was frightened to get a full body check at the dermatologist's office and nervous at the thought of the doctor, another female, peering at my private parts on her search for mysterious bumps. Going to the gynecologist and baring it all certainly wasn't my cup of tea either, but whose is it?
I heard that with age, one becomes more comfortable baring his or her body parts in front of others. For the most part, the only ones you see baring it all in gym locker rooms are older women with droopy body parts. I didn't think I would so easily lose my sense of humility, but after giving birth and having my lower half exposed in front of countless doctors and nurses — and then baring my upper half to breastfeed — all modesty flew out the window.
Alas, just seven months after giving birth to a healthy baby girl, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My body image completely shifted over the next few months — making me laugh at the younger self-conscious woman that I once was, who is no longer a part of who I am today. After countless breast exams, mammograms, sonograms, biopsies, surgery, and radiation, I was unenthusiastically exposed week after week for months at a time. I had a tumor the size of a grape — and a small amount of healthy tissue around it — cut out by a surgeon. The pathology report showed that all of the cancerous cells were removed, but I had to undergo seven weeks of radiation in order to ensure that no stray cancerous cells remained.
Each morning I arrived at radiation, grabbed a medical gown, went into a dressing room, took off my shirt and bra, and put on the gown. I was greeted by the technicians — two males about my age — laid on a table, and took my arm out of my gown on the side where the tumor was removed, exposing my breast. At first I felt a little self-conscious being so exposed, but it became routine after time — as though the technicians weren't looking at my breast at all, and that they weren't even men. I also laughed to myself when I was greeted by a handsome and well-dressed late-30-something doctor in my second week of radiation who checked my breast for skin irritation and other issues every week after that. There's nothing like showing your war-torn breast to a stranger — let alone a good-looking man about your age.
I definitely feel more comfortable having my body parts — which once were more "private" to me — checked out by female medical professionals. That being said, I'm starting to think of these parts just like any other part of me, say my mouth, my ears, or my feet.
I remember when I was younger, my mother told me that I shouldn't be embarrassed by my body. She explained to me that the human body is beautiful and natural. Her perspective didn't resonate with me until after I gave birth, and following my diagnosis, after being poked, prodded, and exposed for all to see. These experiences made me realize that the body parts I had before childbirth, surgery, and radiation were beautiful and natural — and that my body is just as beautiful following these experiences that changed it. As my daughter grows up, I'm going to make sure she knows how precious her body is, and I will make sure that she feels comfortable in it. I will try to instill that same self-assurance that my mom tried to instill in me.