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Exploitative Telly? How very dare they!

March 5, 2010

In today’s Daily Mail I see that a woman in America is suing her surgeon for leaving her with four breasts.

Uh oh. There may be jokes about this from comedians around the world.

But truly, my heart goes out to Mrs Alamo. Disfigurement is not funny. I should know. In a mild way, I have suffered from it myself.

In 1996 I had a mastectomy and reconstruction. That went well, but I refused the offer of a nipple.  Why?

I was in pain from the recent operation and the surgeon said they would construct it with skin grafted from my privates. He was surprised when I gracefully declined. Apart from the extra pain, the idea of walking around with a bit of my arse on my chest didn’t appeal.

So, one nipple short of a pair, I slowly recovered. Then I lost four and a half stone. That was largely a good thing, but because my reconstructed breast was made of stomach muscle and fat, it clung to its weight while the natural breast didn’t.

Stomach fat is programmed to hang around and make our lives a misery. Ain’t that the truth? And mine did. So after the weight-loss I ended up with asymmetrical breasts and no nipple.

Trying to achieve symmetry I had liposuction on the over-large, reconstructed breast. Alas, it made no difference.

One surgeon advised me to live with it.

‘You will never look normal again,’ he said. That was hard to hear. And I didn’t want to hear it, refusing to give up until the fat lady had sung. Like many people in our image-obsessed culture, I felt my physical inadequacy keenly.

So I opted to have the natural breast made bigger to match the two in size. However, the new surgeon went overboard and gave me a massive implant.

Still asymmetrical and with one over-large knocker, I felt like a right tit.

He also put the implant in through the nipple and sewed it up badly so it was distorted out of shape. So then the right breast was bigger than the left, and the one remaining nipple was misshapen. I was a vision. Things were definitely getting worse. I didn’t know how to go forward and sadly, I couldn’t go back.

Obligingly, he put an implant into the left breast. For a while I was symmetrical, albeit with only one distorted nipple. I had a stick-on nipple made, but of course it had to match the other, so it was distorted too.

That would have been ok, but then I lost my last two and a half stone. Oops. This time the reconstructed breast ended up smaller than the other.

I couldn’t help it, she whined. I wanted to be slim. Is it a sin? Is it a crime? The NHS clearly thought so and refused my funding application for more corrective surgery. This is cosmetic, they said. On your bike.

I thought I was stuck then with the disfigured nipple and obviously asymmetrical breasts and wondered how I’d ever have the guts to date again. And then…cue music….Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies came to the rescue.

Yes, it was embarrassing to go on national television and bare my all, but it was a small price to pay for getting my body sorted out.

It also fulfilled another ambition of mine, which was to help other women to feel less frightened of mastectomy. That had seemed impossible when my body was – how can I put it – funny-looking. Not horrific, but not great. I didn’t think it would help anyone to see that. But now it’s different.

I’m extremely grateful that my positive experience of cosmetic surgery is captured in film and available on the Embarrassing Bodies website, so that anyone who wants to know about implants and nipple reconstruction can check it out.

How can that service be called exploitative television? The idea’s ridiculous. The corrective procedures provided by Embarrassing Bodies are not only entertaining but informative too. They help people like me to live more fulfilled lives, and that’s a public service.

The issue we really need to address – and one which is definitely exploited by other programmes – is why we are all chasing the body beautiful in the first place….

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