The “N” Word
[Today’s guest post is written by Debi Memmolo, breast cancer survivor and friend of David Jay, in response to the most recent removal of SCAR images from Facebook.]
Just after my 38th birthday, I had the life-changing pleasure of attending an exhibit of The SCAR Project, a series of large-scale portraits of young women confronting breast cancer, shot by fashion photographer David Jay. I saw myself in each of these women. I saw, in real life, the ravages of this disease. I saw beauty. I walked away with an invaluable gift: I do not need breasts to be beautiful.
A few months later, I too had my breasts removed to fight the cancer that was growing inside me. Yes, I had them “reconstructed,” but what remains on my chest are two, uneven mounds covered in taut skin and some scars. As it turns out, this now gives me the legal right to walk down the streets of New York City bare chested. (Nudity, it turns out, is defined as exposure of a woman’s nipple.) Well, aren’t I lucky?
This week Facebook removed the SCAR Project’s photographs, posted to honor one of the SCAR girls in light of her recent passing, February 23. Hundreds of followers of The SCAR Project wrote beautiful messages upon seeing these photographs (while they were still up) and hearing the news of her death. And then, without warning (or apparently a deep thought), Facebook took them all down and locked David Jay out of his own page. Why? Because nipples are improper nudity on Facebook and a hint of one of Vanessa’s nipples was in one of the images.
With some protest, some (not all) of the images were replaced. David was still denied access. I may have left this alone, but then I learned this was not the first time Facebook acted this way. In fact, it has happened several times. In mid-2013, there was a media frenzy regarding Facebook’s policies and its impact on The SCAR Project and young women with breast cancer. Facebook reversed itself then too. Nothing really changed though.
It is, perhaps, not fair to hold Facebook accountable for this action. I do not think that its policies are aimed at maligning the goodwill served by such things as The SCAR Project. This is clearly a response to something larger in our society – the female nipple and its tie to sexuality.
Innumerable people have asked me why I have not decided to have nipple reconstruction. (The “reconstruction” is performed either by twisting and stitching skin or getting a tattoo of a nipple). I am truly dumbfounded by this question. My nipples served their purpose: I had the immense fortune of nursing two children with them. Now, this disease has taken my fertility and the utility of a nipple.
And I do not need nipples anymore. While nursing, my real nipples were exposed in some of the finest restaurants, from coast to coast. They also were out on airplanes, on the side of the road and, in moving vehicles. No one seemed aroused or stimulated by the sight of a woman using her breast for its intended purpose, feeding her young.
The right to breast feed in public has seen its day in the media, but those battles, too, did not really get to the point. Why are we so fixated on the female nipple? And why is it so different from that of the male?
We are living in modern times, with modern sensibilities. This is not the Victorian Era. Why are we still struggling to acknowledge that exposure of a female nipple can, perhaps, be no less pornographic than the exposure of a man’s? Why are we still objectifying body parts?
A prosthetic nipple will make me no more or less a woman than I already am. Despite my SCARs [Surviving Cancer.] [Absolute Reality.] I am, after all, still a woman.
[Debi Memmolo lives in NYC and spends her days raising her two young children. Prior to battling cancer and being a full-time mom, Debi was an elementary school teacher, technology marketer and certified public accountant. She thinks a lot about writing but rarely writes.]