Ellyn in a backless dress
Breast Cancer,  Female Identity,  Women's Health

Do We Need Breasts to Feel Feminine? 

While it’s true that many women associate their breasts with their womanhood and deeply value them as a part of their femininity, it’s also true that not all of us feel this way. Breast cancer clarified this for me, in a stark and surreal fashion. The disease, insidious and grand, stripped me of what society holds as an emblem of femininity – my breasts. Through it, I met the uncloaked and cruel specter of societal expectations.

I discovered that society, medical practitioners, and even the fashion industry seemed to hold an archaic perception – a woman needs her breasts to be complete, to be wholly feminine. As if womanhood was strictly tied to the shape of our bodies, and our choices should inherently lead us to replicate what was lost, be it through prosthetics or reconstruction surgery. An implicit pressure to conform, to hush our differences under a veil of perceived normal.

But what is ‘normal’ for a woman post-mastectomy? Isn’t the journey of survival, of resilience through a brutal assault on our bodies and spirit, enough? Isn’t the choice of aesthetic flat closure valid as well? To me, it entirely is.

I have chosen to remain flat post my mastectomy. Strangely liberated, I now feel bolder, exploring plunging necklines, backless dresses, and a whole new world of fashion. The woman staring back in the mirror is me, whole, and thrumming with life. My journey towards acceptance of this new form was gruelling but rewarding; nonetheless, it’s baffling that society still teeters on outdated perceptions.

While society can push a distorted lens of beauty and femininity onto those of us who have chosen a different path, I am proud to say that we are more than sums of our physical parts. Our womanhood is not restricted to having breasts. We are loved, valued, and seen for who we are – strong survivors, capable warriors, vibrant women. In the face of adversity, we embraced resilience and reclaimed the power to redefine our own femininity. We are not ‘less than’ for choosing to remain flat. No, not at all. To the world, I say this: we don’t need breasts to feel whole or feminine, and it’s time that societies everywhere understand and appreciate this. Like a canvas left blank has limitless potential for what might fill it, so do we. Flat Denial is all too real, and it’s time to challenge such debilitating narratives. I, for one, stand tall, a ‘flattie’, in this fight!

Ellyn Winters-Robinson is a breast cancer survivor, entrepreneur, author, in-demand speaker, women’s health advocate, professional communicator and a globally recognized health rebel. Ellyn's best-selling book "Flat Please Hold the Shame," is a girlfriend’s companion guide for those on the breast cancer journey. She is also the co-creator of AskEllyn.ai, the world’s first conversational AI companion for those on the breast cancer journey. With Dense Breasts Canada and award-winning photographer Hilary Gauld, Ellyn also co-produced I WANT YOU TO KNOW, a celebrated photo essay showing the diverse faces and stories of 31 individuals on the breast cancer journey. Ellyn’s story and AskEllyn.ai have been featured in People Magazine, Chatelaine Magazine, the Globe and Mail, CTV National News and Your Morning, and Fast Company.

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