Am I Vain for Being Worried About My Appearance During Cancer Treatment?

Am I Vain for Being Worried About My Appearance During Cancer Treatment?

Created on 13/12/2023
Updated on 13/12/2023
Dear Dame is Dame's sex-positive and judgment-free advice column answered by our panel of sexperts. Submit your questions here.


Dear Dame, 

Am I vain for being worried about my appearance during cancer treatment? I had a double mastectomy and was surprised that it impacted how I felt about my body and my sexuality. I was pretty flat-chested before but it feels different now. Is it vain to get a boob job after a mastectomy?

- Anonymous

Dear Anonymous, 

First of all, you have gone through a lot, so have compassion for yourself. It is completely normal to care about your appearance, and you may be dealing with insecurity related to not only your appearance but also your identity. Breasts have many connotations in our society, so whatever their original size, the loss of them can bring up lots of feelings. Be patient with yourself as you sort these feelings out. 

There is no right or wrong answer in terms of what to do. It’s possible to get to a place of accepting your body as it is no matter what it looks like, and it’s also possible to change your body from a place of self-compassion. Physically, there are some possible risks associated with breast augmentation, including infection, leakages or ruptures, and changes in sensation. So you’ll need to weigh these risks against the benefits you may gain from getting this surgery.

“Am I vain?” is an interesting question because most of us have some level of vanity. We live in a society that values people, especially women, according to their looks, so it makes sense that many of us feel more confident when we look good according to society’s standards. On top of that, those who have gone through cancer treatment may see their post-mastectomy bodies as reminders of their illness, and surgery may help them feel like their lives have returned to some semblance of normalcy.

At the same time, when we give ourselves permission to see different forms of beauty — or to care less about beauty overall — we may surprise ourselves. We may begin to see beauty in parts of us that we previously judged. We may begin to see beauty in others that we didn’t see before. We may be able to stop caring as much about how we look and feel great about ourselves because of our inner qualities. And as we accept ourselves, we also find others who accept us as we are.

And you can do both of these things at the same time. You can work on loving your body just as it is, and you can also acknowledge that making some changes to it may help you feel better about yourself — and make those changes in a loving way, without judging yourself for it. 

While I can’t give you a “yes” or “no” to the question of whether to get a boob job, I can offer you some questions to ask yourself: 

  • “What is it about my chest, as it is, that bothers me? Is this something that can be fixed by a shift in perspective, or only by surgery?”
  • “Do I understand and accept the risks of breast augmentation?”
  • “How might I feel after I get this surgery? How might I feel if I don’t?”
  • “Is this something that I want to do for myself, or am I mainly concerned about others’ judgments?”

I encourage you to spend as long as you need considering these kinds of questions. You can decide not to get the surgery for now and then change your mind, but it’s harder to change your mind after you’ve gotten it. I also encourage you to talk through these tough questions and the emotions that are coming up with a therapist or with loved ones.

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