Written by Melissa Jansen.
Art by Marketa Daley.
My obsession with breasts began at a young age. My mother and sisters were shapely. While all the girls around me at school were talking about boobs and bras, I was silently willing something to happen in my top, but God was not listening. My insecurities about my body grew every day that my breasts didn’t.
Regardless of what my body looked like, I definitely never wanted to be seen as “average.” I had no desire to be a cheerleader or the prom queen. In fact, I did everything I could to never run with the “it” crowd. I saw mainstream as boring.
I was the girl who cut up sweaters and turned the sleeves into leg warmers. I stole my mother’s Laura Ashley sink skirt from our spare bathroom and wore it as a dress to middle school. (Please don’t tell me I’m so old you don’t know what a sink skirt is. In the 1980s everything in the house was dressed in floral.) If someone told me I couldn’t do something, move over—I was going to show you how I actually could.
As I moved into adulthood, my issues with my body remained. My first marriage kept my insecurities about my breasts at the forefront. My then-husband referred to me as the “tit-less wonder” and a whole array of jokes were told at the expense of my self-esteem. The world confirmed my non-existent cleavage made me less of a woman—television ads, music videos, and magazines confirmed it.
My insecurities about my body grew every day that my breasts didn’t.
By the time I could afford the boob job of my dreams, it was no longer a priority. I was 37 and my shape had shifted to a point where I could look in the mirror and honestly say to myself, “Damn girl, you’re smokin’ hot!”
My mind and body were finally in sync. In the time it took to accept who I really was, I had divorced my abusive husband, slayed years of single motherhood, succeeded in a legal career and actually found an amazing partner! How the hell did it happen that the gods and the planets were finally aligning? I’d gone from the ugly duckling to feeling like I had hit the lotto.
I was sitting on the couch getting my feet rubbed when I found it. A lump. It felt like a hard pistachio nut just under the surface at the top of my left breast. My fingers took a second prodding from side to side, just to make sure it wasn’t my imagination, but it wasn’t imaginary.
I abruptly sat up and exclaimed to my new husband, “I have cancer!” My first reaction wasn’t to seek out a doctor. More important were just two questions: “What will I look like with one breast?” and “How does one dress?”
It turns out that there were no definitive answers. YouTube and Google came up with mixed reviews and more unanswered questions. My searches lead to videos of women grieving over losing their breasts. Photos of breastless women alongside women sporting cleavage were plentiful. Most confusing was the bounty of bra ads showing women with full cleavage. I was confused. Wasn’t I going to be without a breast? If so, why couldn’t I find a damn image? How could it be that one in eight women suffer from breast cancer, yet I couldn’t find a picture to wrap my head around my imminent diagnosis?
While a one-breasted woman’s photograph eluded me, I found the photos of breastless women to be more breathtaking than the photos of perfectly reconstructed breasts. There was something beautiful and appealing to me in owning what cancer was taking. The flat movement was a fringe society and I wanted to be part of that “fuck the world,” “I dare you” movement. But would I fit in with the choice of only removing one breast?
Moreover, when it was confirmed I had cancer, the first thing that my doctor voiced when I told him I wanted to go flat on one side was, “It might affect your sex life with your husband.” And this is where our society needs to really change. Was I really supposed to modify my body for the benefit of my husband’s pleasure? If there was anything that fueled me to prove someone wrong, this was a pivotal moment. My worth as a sexual human being does not have to be wrapped around a mound of breast tissue with a nipple on top. My breasts are not the only sexual “sundae” that my body has to offer.
My worth as a sexual human being does not have to be wrapped around a mound of breast tissue with a nipple on top.
Post-cancer, I was given an opportunity to decide how I was going to look—for the first time in my life. There was an enormous amount of power I felt by choosing a flat closure procedure. I woke up from my surgery, looked down at my body and said to my husband, “I look great! Take a picture!”
I have since been flooding the internet with photographs of my post-cancer, one-breasted body. I feel the need to change the stigma of breast cancer and how women are falsely told it will “take away your femininity.” The truth is I feel more feminine and confident with one breast. Since starting my website and social media accounts, I have had an enormous amount of women reach out to me to say thank you for giving them inspiration.
I don’t apologize for living out loud with one breast. I don’t hide it. Society, with all its talk of body positivity, needs to let one-breasted women embrace their post-cancer bodies instead of encouraging us to wear a prosthetic to make others comfortable. I’m proud of my body. I’ve earned the right to feel good about it.
I lost my breast to cancer. It doesn’t compare to what I gained—confidence, strength, power and an overwhelming sense of gratitude. My body is beautiful. Cancer didn’t steal my sexy!
About the Author
Melissa Jansen was diagnosed with cancer in 2017 and found no positive articles or imagery of women who were half flat after unilateral mastectomies. Her motto “if you can’t find the person – you must be the person” lead her to create her blog “I Don’t Need Two” giving fashion advice to one breasted women. In 2018 Melissa began posting images of her one breasted body on social media to help destigmatize her choice to remain half flat. She also co-founded the non-profit organization Flat Closure NOW, educating patients and the medical profession to understand that “going flat” is a valid, beautiful, and healthy mastectomy choice. Melissa founded the Facebook support group One Breasted Beauties to support women in their choice to forego wearing prosthetics after unilateral mastectomy. Melissa is currently working on a new project FLAT on the MAP to bring flat visibility to normalize one breasted and breastless women in society and mainstream media.
Follow on IG: @idontneedtwo