Twenty-two years ago I chose not to have reconstructive surgery following my mastectomy. My reasons were psychological (I wanted to process the loss of my breast before adding anything new to my body) and practical (I figured I’d wait until after I had children then get both breasts done to match). There was nothing noble or moral or revolutionary about it. I just wasn’t ready.

I spent the next decade healing from my own disordered relationship with my body as I walked with others in the same journey. None of that was in my plan when I started graduate school training in marital and family therapy. Developing my own media literacy skills and teaching clients to critique cultural messages and social conditioning about beauty have played a critical role in deciding not to have reconstructive surgery, and to my commitment not to have cosmetic surgery of any kind in the future. It also plays a part in why I’ve chosen not to color my hair — although that is still negotiable as at some future date I may decide to go blonde or add an orange streak to my hair!

Why is having two breasts so important? Does having only one breast make me any less a woman or less sexy or less myself? Would I feel “more myself” and have greater love if I had two breasts? NO! And what about my softening neck or wrinkling eyes? Am I less beautiful with a sagging neckline?

Cultural critique was on my mind yesterday morning as I reflected on my experience at a self-help conference. The beauty and wellness communities are full of self-love messages. Ironically cosmetic surgery to alter self-perceived unacceptable aspects of physical appearance is often also viewed as an acceptable avenue to greater love and self-acceptance. How does “love and accept yourself” work together with choosing cosmetic surgery?