Recently in my private Facebook group, Breast Implant Through Explant (BRITE) Inner Companions, a member asked how to love your post-explant breasts when you don’t like how they look. As both a woman who explanted and an Acceptance & Commitment Therapy practitioner, I know this is an important topic to be open about. Breast implants impact women’s health and wellbeing in many ways and are not lifetime devices. Each year, more women are choosing to remove and not replace their implants. After explant, some women are thrilled with how their breasts look. Others are not. I’m in this latter group.
I don’t like how my post-explant breasts look
My post-explant breasts’ aesthetics are very unlike the established ideal for how a breast should appear. Though I anticipated wearing plunging necklines and proudly NOT having implants, it’s been 3.5 years since I explanted and my cleavage still looks like a partially deflated air mattress. Not only do I completely lack an upper pole, but I’m pretty sure I can still see where my implants previously rested atop my muscles. My body also decided to store fat directly in front of my armpits. (It never did this prior to explant.) My left breast, sadly, is permanently creased.
To say this crease disappoints me is an understatement. In my forthcoming self-help book for women whose lives have been impacted by breast implants, I share my thoughts and feelings about the crease. I describe how they pushed me around after explant. And I share how I used Acceptance & Commitment Therapy to respond differently. (You can keep “abreast” of my forthcoming book here.)
But I do love my post-explant breasts
You might expect me to write about how I feel so much better after explant, or how my scars honor my strength, or to go on and on about how much I love their warmth, softness, and much more natural appearance. I could also say how much I love hugging other people without freezing cold silicone gel between us and how fantastic it is to have breasts that aren’t painfully trapped in thick, calcified scar capsules. Perhaps you expect me to say that I love what my post-explant breasts teach me about self-acceptance. While ALL those things are true, none of them make me a woman who loves my post-explant breasts.
I am a woman who loves my post-explant breasts by acting lovingly toward them, not because of my regard toward them. Acting lovingly toward them is completely independent of what they give (or fail to give) me. How could I make my love toward them be conditional upon their appearance? They didn’t sign up for any of this!
But they soldiered on, making room for two oversized and super toxic uninvited guests. They worked 24/7 to separate themselves, and me, from the chemicals that inevitably and immediately begin leeching from implant shells. They even held it together when one of my gummy bear implants silently ruptured. And, to their immense credit, they’ve done their level best to heal after everything they endured.
Ways I act lovingly toward my post-explant breasts
Despite the crease and other disappointing features, I choose to love my post-explant breasts. I don’t talk badly about them. (Go back to the earlier paragraph where I reveal how my post-explant breasts appear and notice how the language is nonjudgmental and descriptive.) Nor do I talk badly about myself because of the way they appear. When a health professional examines me, I don’t lower my eyes or make apologies for their appearance. I catch when my mind tries to encourage me to “fix” them. Buying into those ideas will lead me to put my body and breasts through more surgical trauma, all in pursuit of patriarchal beauty standards. (I make that decision for my body without any judgment of others who choose differently for theirs.)
Instead of more surgeries, I protect my breasts and keep strong boundaries around them. I buy them comfortable bras and surround them in only the smoothest and softest fabrics. I gently check them each month for new lumps or bumps. And I let them receive tenderness from my partner.
Acceptance and change
I know that because of how the human mind works, I will never love the way my breasts look. I don’t spend one second of my life trying to convince myself that I’m ok with their appearance. I’m not.
But I DO accept the reality that, for many complex reasons, I surgically altered my naturally small breasts. Their current appearance reflects two things: 1. a decision I made while under the influence of toxic breast-related messaging, and 2. my ongoing choice to not do additional procedures. I want to let them be.
Accepting these things doesn’t mean I like or tolerate them. It means I allow my thoughts and feelings about my breasts to come, stay, and go on their own.
Acceptance also frees me to change. It allows me to be there for myself unlike any other time in my life. For me, this looks like giving myself support, kindness, and compassion, inside and out. It means validating my experience and allowing my disappointment. It means spending time taking care of my body and mind on my terms, not society’s.
Though my mind may never like how my post-explants breasts appear, acceptance frees me to be loving toward them. I feel it’s the least I can do after all we’ve been through.