former Chief of Breast Surgery at NYU Langone LI/Director of Breast Health Program, women’s health advocate and researcher, Bali & NYC.
My breasts are definitely a part of my story because they are large. You can't even ignore 'em.
My mom always said to me, “your body is a temple”. She never shamed me and my breasts; it was more like: “You have to respect this body. Your body is sacred. Demand that others respect it.” In some weird way being feminine was not necessarily defined by my body (a paradox I know). I think this made me feel I should be valued for my brain and ability to have a positive impact on the world.
I was such a cerebral person that I never really thought about my body, because I was just so focused on the things that I wanted to do: I wanted to be a doctor and a scientist. I always had this innate feeling that women are getting the short end of the stick and I did not understand why since I had been raised to believe that I was equally capable to any man. That’s why I gravitated towards women's health - as a way to integrate my interest while empowering women.
It is my career as a breast surgical oncologist and becoming a mother that forced me to think about my breasts!
I've been a surgeon for 15 years and I’ve treated thousands of women. Collaborators who are not doctors and my patients taught me so much - they influenced me the most. In my first year as an attending surgeon, I worked with a medical anthropologist who revolutionized my entire practice. She helped elucidate how a patient’s treatment decisions are informed by a patient’s values, background, culture, relationship with her body, and the entire context of her life; the anthropology of it all is really important in treating women as a doctor. She helped me better understand how my relationship with the patient is a partnership and that I am not a dictator that can tell someone what they have to do to their body (even if it means saving their life) informed by this context. It helped me navigate - that while my priority was to cure a patient through the medical treatment I learned, my patient may not share the same value system. This was really important since in NYC there is great socio-economic and cultural diversity. I loved the diversity and learning from these women. I was in awe of many of them, whose struggles and stories revealed the true resilience, grit, and power women have - especially when overcoming adversity.
One such patient, was a woman who had 99 scars, she was a refugee, someone who had experienced torture. I now had to treat her for breast cancer (which seemed pale in comparison) and place the 100th scar on her body. But, the scar I would create was about saving her life so that she could live her true potential, not about destroying her life. It really made me think about what a visible scar can mean and represent - so that the meaning actually matters - it's not just a byproduct of surgery.
While I was in an exchange that was about the physical, my focus was not just on the practice of removing pain but the practice of elevating personal power. It is not about taking away the disease, but transforming a woman’s ability to connect more deeply with her inner purpose, elevate from the experience, and turn it into a moment of transformation. We are more than our breasts. This really made me think about body image, our relationships with our bodies, and most importantly MY-OUR- feminine identity. Who gets to define our feminine identity?
The other thing that impacted my feelings about my breasts was having a child, because for the first time I was like, “Oh yeah, they’re here for something, there’s a function to these things.”
Then I had a lot of guilt. Can I breastfeed? Can I not breastfeed? Is it bad to breastfeed? Is it not bad to breastfeed? Am I going to harm my child? I felt like I was almost angry with my breasts and the fact that something that was part of my body would have so much importance because I hadn't given my body much importance at all.
When I first saw the Elppin I was offended by it. Like “Oh my God, I don't want my nipples out there.” I think the way society has made me think about my breasts and nipples shaded my view. Then the more I thought about it, it just resonated with me and I thought, this is everything - this is awesome! I had to process the shame and overcome the layers of conditioning. It’s my body, why don’t I get to choose?
Elppin is revolutionary to me because it is something that allows conversations and increases awareness. It makes me ask; “Why am I ashamed of this? Why do I feel like I can't wear the nipple pin on the nipple?” This piece of jewelry is activism, it's powerful and feminine - it probes us to define what is beautiful and embrace the magnificent powerful women that we are - this inquiry unites us.
Wearing a nipple on your nipple is a threat - a declaration - a reclamation! And that rocks my world. Why can't we all feel like we need to rock the world?
Since we travel lots I keep my Elppin on my nightstand and take it with me everywhere - to share with other people I meet.