Do boobs a woman make?

In the news this week – though it could have been any week, since these stories seem to crop up with increasing regularity – the sorry tale of a trans woman whose transition has not quite gone to plan.

Its left her – as the lazy stock journalistic quote has it – “half man, half woman”: and she’s not happy. Why? Basic lack of boobage!

She’s asked her local pct to stump up the funding for breast augmenttion and they have refused. Meanwhile, Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle has stuck in his two pennyworth, stating: “I completely agree with the NHS. Money should be spent on life-saving and urgent care treatment rather than on cosmetic surgery.”

Yes. Up to a point.

Dig thru the high comedy, which is how the tabloids like to present such a story, and you are faced with two quite serious issues.

What makes a woman?

First off is the question of whether one “needs” boobs – or long hair or hips or smooth skin or any of the other so-called “secondary sexual characteristics” that hormones/puberty give you to count “properly” as female.

That’s a toughie – and one much harder to answer from the relative luxury of a body that has “feminised” well. At the outset, i said absolutely that i didn’t wish to go for surrogates: one specialist advised that i ought to wear breast forms, as otherwise i might scare people (huh!). Ditto wigs. And the whole other host of tv paraphernalia.

My view was contrary: i’d see what i got… and if the result was not acceptable, then i’d contemplate other intervention. I’d love to be able to say that all was plain sailing. But i remember shedding absolute bucket loads of tears over the state of my hair at the outset.

Still not entirely happy with same – but its acceptable. So I can empathise. I’ve got boobs: and barring the occasional BHS-inspired glitch (their bra fitting service is a bit random!) i’m increasingly happy with what i have.

So. I’m fetishising the female form? No. Well, yes: a bit. But so does every woman.

For me, shape works in two ways. First, because i “socialise female”, the more acceptably female i look, the easier it is for me to live as a woman. So looks count in terms of how i function socially – and that’s no small thing!

Second, however much i protest it ISN’T the body, even i have been astonished at how post-op feels. Just…right. SO-O-O-O right. And the cofnidence boost has been immeasurable.

So clearly there is something about having the right shape that is important. For me, i still wish, wish, wish i was a bit shorter, had smaller feet and an all-round slighter shape. Well, let’s face it: i’d trade bodies for Haydn Panettiere in a flash (without the nasty tattoo)…and i guess that most women have similar thoughts from time to time.

Social conformity/ selfish cosmeticity

Second, though, is the public policy aspect of all this. It sounds so straightforward, mouthed by a smug male middle-aged MP. “Necessary” is OK: “cosmetic” is not OK. But hang on…why is breast augmentation post-mastectomy “necessary” or “life-saving”, when otherwise its merely “cosmetic”.

Talk to the psychs. Talk to my partner who claims that if ever – perish the thought – she had to have a mastectomy, she wouldn’t grieve the loss of her boobs. Some women have enormous issues over how they look: enormous to the point where medical intervention is absolutely necessary.

Others just get on with stuff.

Hirsutism is another of those odd conditions where appearance matters. Certain conditions – esp. polycystic ovary syndrome – give rise to hairy women. In such cases, the NHS will probably treat, paying for laser and/or electrolysis.

Why? Because presumably a psych evaluation suggests that failure to treat is likely to be so damaging to the individual’s self-esteem that it can’t not happen. Except much the same could be said for many trans women, for whom surplus hair – as opposed to lack of boobs – is often the most expensive issue.

Indeed, it could be argued that gender re-assignment surgery is just this entire principle writ large: aligning body with psyche, because the damage to self otherwise would be too immense to contemplate.

And sure: there is a good and arguable case as to why women “shouldn’t” want to look beautiful. But i’d suggest that that particular argument sits on a different plane altogether. Do we treat people the way they are – neuroses, hang-ups and all – or how they “ought to be. I think the former.

So, screw the tabloid comedy: this whole issue is a lot bigger and a lot more complicated than simple cosmetics…and maybe its time our MP’s grew up and read a few books (by women) on the subject instead.



6 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    paula madcat panther said,

    Unlike the tabloid garbage designed to again scapegoat us as “undeserving scroungers and freaks” there is a logical and thought out response to this story. Firstly she gets herself a GRC and then reapplies.. as a woman, legally. Women who have never developed breasts are fully entitled to breast augmentation on the NHS, so when she is refused again she can legally scream discrimination.
    These articles are not ever about the actual issue but instead are symptomatic if the continuing abuses of our tiny minority, like the deliberate skewing of figures this week running a “per transexual” costs to the NHS without ever pointing out that ONE hospital in Manchester 5 months ago spent MORE patching up drunks in ONE NIGHT than the entire trans services nationally for a year!!

  2. 2

    kathz said,

    The whole issue of women’s relationship to their body is, as you say, immensely complicated. I worry about the whole issue of women – particularly young women whose bodies are still developing – being pressured by the media and their peers into achieving an acceptable look, particularly when this is allied to the marketing of particular, expensive products. Some of that probably links me to my generation – I’m a couple of years older than you, I think – in being concerned about the pressures of the market. On the other hand I can see the impossibility of an entirely free choice – we have ideas about our bodies which are bound to be brought about the images we see and the things we read. The idea of a “natural” woman’s body doesn’t actually exist. (I expect the same is true of men’s bodies to some extent too.) So while I’d rather we could all be happy with our bodies as they are and explore whatever simple or complex gender identities we have, I know that’s not going to happen – and that many women (in which category I include anyone who identifies as a woman) will need to have medical intervention to feel comfortable and accepted in their gender identity. And I don’t think the reasons for their discomfort (which may societal, personal, medical, etc. or some complex combination) matter so much as their need to function properly, which is something only they can judge. And the NHS is or should be about helping people to function as fully as possible.

    I get the impression that women’s motives here are much more closely examined and criticised than men’s, but I may be missing something.

    Anyway, this is my attempt to add my own thoughts on the important question you’ve raised – and of course my knowledge and views are limited, as are everyone’s. I’m posting a comment because I think that the more views that are added the better the discussion will be – and the more likely to develop constructively.

    Incidentally my mum used to say repeatedly that breasts were an utter nuisance after breast-feeding children and she reckoned any decent evolutionary process would let them drop off or shrivel away when finished with! This, she pointed out, would also save the expense of buying bras. (Not a view I endorse but it always amused me.)

  3. 3

    katrina2 said,

    Breast augmentation is available for post-op, in all but a few pct boundrys, but you will have to fight for it, even those districs that say no, you can take them to court, it would be a high proberbility you would win, you would need to do some research, on/for past judgments, for defence.
    For my self, I preferd to stay as I am, a 42b, and, unlike Jane, I chose M&S, their measering and fitting service is exelent, and beside’s, they have an absolutly fab’ push-up gel bra, the largest size I have seen is 38a, however, by using a bra exstension bridge, you can make possible, upto a 44 chest. It so good, my boobs, look like a D-E cup, try.

  4. 4

    Shirley Anne said,

    Ah such words of wisdom girls and all of them true. I agree totally. I found it difficult to add anything but I will say that if one pays into a system one should automatically have a right to all the facilities available, incuding BA. Is it the fault of the patient that the NHS seems always to be under-funded? No, indeed not, it is the fault of Government for spending in other unnecessary ventures and also poor management in the NHS. I especially liked Paula’s comment suggesting a way around the problem, which I think should never be necessary to resort to but if needs must then it must be done. Boobs do not make a woman, they just help with the normally accepted view of what a woman should look like. Having said that, not all women like their boobs but that is not a criteria for decision making for those who do and want surgical help. In your post Jane I couldn’t make out if the woman in question had GRS through the NHS and if she did then why did they draw the line at BAor was this the main thrust of the argument?

    Shirley Anne xxx

    • 5

      janefae said,

      yes. it does look like an NHS-funded grs. That said, i don’t get the logic at all. For my grs, the clinic offered me a package, which would have included the grs itself, a boob job and a cricoid shave (?).

      Don’t need the latter as, luckily, i have very little adam’s apple. Didn’t want the boob job as i’m still growing and i’m not far off where i want to be anyway.

      But boob status is likely to be obvious pre-op…and the £5,000 tag is nonsense. Think i was quoted c.£3k as a standalone private procedure and a lot less if rolled into the grs.

      So i don’t get, from a practical perspective, why the pct didn’t just sanction it in advance, thereby saving a lot of argument and probably, in the long run, a net saving against litigation and probably having to do it in the end anyway.


  5. 6

    Jane Bloggs said,

    You put if perfectly Jane , (as usual) and show what utter bullshit this whole issue is.

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