Written by Jessie Sage, originally published in the Pittsburgh City Paper.
I have a breast augmentation surgery scheduled for next month. If previous behavior is any indication of the future, I will likely bump the procedure to November or December. I put the deposit down nearly two years ago and keep shifting the date.
The reason for my indecisiveness is complicated. I am 41 now, and I have wanted a boob job for close to 20 years. I didn’t get one when I was younger, in part because I was busy having kids, and in part because I was still trying to reconcile my feminist ideals with what I was trained to understand as oppressive beauty standards. I have spent a lot of time interrogating myself: Why do I want a boob job? Do I think it will make me sexier? Sexier to whom? And I am not alone. Even a cursory Google search on “feminism and boob jobs” brings up dozens of articles on whether or not you can be a feminist with a boob job.
I am almost embarrassed to voice this concern. The more rational part of me wants to scream “Of course feminists can have implants!” Feminists, in fact, should be able to do whatever they want with their bodies; they should feel free to reject social pressure to conform their body to narrow conceptions of beauty, but they should also feel free to embrace the things which appeal to them, and not be apologetic for either of those choices.
Yet, such decisions are never that simple for women. Even feminists have a hard time imagining that women make decisions about their appearance or their bodies outside of the male gaze. Aesthetic choices like boob jobs are thought to be a direct reflection of our willingness to alter our bodies to fit male desire.
Ironically, this view represents its own kind of misogyny. First, it assumes that women don’t have their own preferences or desires. But second, and perhaps more importantly, it devalues high femininity. This is true not only of breasts but of all aesthetic choices coded as feminine. I can remember being a grad student at feminist philosophy conferences, for example, where I was made to feel ashamed for wearing eyeliner and red lipstick, both of which are pretty on brand for me and have been since I was young.
Pushing back against the expectations of the male gaze is an important political project; women shouldn’t have to comport their bodies for the pleasure of others. However, if femmes are thrown under the bus and made to feel ashamed for their aesthetic choices in the process of meeting these ends, this isn’t feminism, it’s internalized misogyny. Our feminism is stunted when it moves from asserting what we should not have to do, to limiting what we feel like we can legitimately do.
While I do not think that there is anything objectively better about the sort of high femme aesthetic that appeals to me (one that big boobs would be a nice complement to), I do think that it is a valid choice that should be recognized as such. In fact, I no longer feel conflicted about my desire, and I will certainly not be apologetic when I do it (which I will). The only conflict that I have now is giving myself permission to spend this kind of money on myself. Valuing my own desires enough to pay for them is perhaps the next feminist project that I need to spend time wrestling with.