The Poetics of Prosthetic Bras

Even if being asymmetrical or flat is a valid choice for women who have undergone mastectomies, and that is how I usually feel best, there are no rules that say we should not wear a prosthetic bra now and then, or every single day, if it makes us smile or forget for a fleeting second that cancer can be disfiguring. There is no reason to feel self-conscious.
PUBLISHED May 22, 2018
Felicia Mitchell is a poet and writer who makes her home in southwestern Virginia, where she teaches at Emory & Henry College. She was diagnosed with Stage 2b HER2-positive breast cancer in 2010. Website: www.feliciamitchell.net
 
Is it hypocritical for me to wear a bra with a prosthetic breast? I pondered this question as I stumbled on my own words while reading my poem, "Cancerversary" recently. In this poem, I talk about holding another woman's infant in the crevice of my chest. The poem clearly identifies me, the narrator, as a woman missing a breast. Yet there I was at the podium, wearing a blouse that revealed two breasts.

Years can go by without my wanting to wear any kind of bra. In the past month, I have worn my prosthesis three times. The trend started when I dressed up for a 1920s-themed party. While the only thing that really matched the Roaring Twenties was an art deco necklace from one of my grandmothers; the little girl in the 62-year-old me had a ball getting dressed up.

I wore a purple sheath I bought when I was still in treatment because I needed more colorful clothing. On my head, I fashioned a headband of a favorite chemo scarf, silk tie-dye. At the last minute, I decided to wear the bra, too, for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is every now and then I try it out. (I have had it for years. It will never wear out.) To top the outfit off, I used eyeliner.

What does it matter if I wore a bra to the poetry reading as well? It is not as if, on days when I am not playing dress up, I do not wear lipstick or use a tinted sunscreen. Why should pretending I have two breasts feel as awkward as pretending I do not have naturally splotchy skin? Truth be told, I have worn the bra more recently because of a photograph somebody took recently at a family gathering. Looking at this photo, for the first time since surgery, I felt nostalgic about my body. I missed my missing breast and felt lopsided.

A few days after that, I wondered if in the future, instead of reconstruction, we can get stem-cell injections and grow new breasts. Of course, such a futuristic innovation would require some gene editing to prevent cancer in the new breast. In the meantime, short of reconstruction, which I do not want, a bra can be functional, right?

Even if being asymmetrical or flat is a valid choice for women who have undergone mastectomies, and that is how I usually feel best, there are no rules that say we should not wear a prosthetic bra now and then, or every single day, if it makes us smile or forget for a fleeting second that cancer can be disfiguring. There is no reason to feel self-conscious.

It is, therefore, not hypocritical for me to wear a prosthesis now and then, if I want to, even when I am reading a poem about breast cancer. The fact that I can play dress-up means that the spirited little girl in my 62-year-old self is still alive and kicking.
 

 
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