'7 Pounds' Oil on linen. 50" x 27" 2016.
Breasts as a Commodity
Interview with Martine Vallieres:
King: Before we get into the nitty gritty, can you please explain to the viewers/readers what they are looking at with my painting of you? What was the process you underwent?
Martine: What is pictured is 5 days after breast reduction surgery. Incisions were done horizontally, vertically and around each nipple. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that there was about 30 inches of incisions to remove the extra 7 pounds of flesh and skin from my chest. Extensive bruising occurred from the surgery resulting in a lot of swelling around my whole chest area. The surgical tape was helping support the many internal stitches that cannot be seen, but that had created ripples and bumps all along the incisions. All in all, a 2 hour surgery that has changed my life drastically.
I was a 38L bra size, and I'm now a 38C or 38D depending on the brand.
K: How long were you thinking about having breast reduction surgery before going ahead with it?
M: It was something I had been considering for about 7 or 8 years. When I was a teenager I related my breasts to something purely for appearance and my health took a back seat.
K: How much weight did people's opinions have on your decision to have the surgery? Was the weight of other people's opinions predominantly male? Female? Or was there no discernible divide? Were others opinions inherently sexual|superficial? (Ex: Guys saying "it's a shame to make them smaller", or "you should do it, they'd look better perkier?"... Essentially for or against it only for what best suits their ideals and not factoring in your health.)
M: People's opinions made a huge difference at the beginning. This is mostly when I was 17-21 years old.
Many men at that age seem to not grasp the concept that breasts are not purely for the male gaze and are anything more than a woman's sexual image. I was always known as the girl with huge breasts, it defined me. As soon as the mention of a breast reduction would ever come up, it was always along the lines of "But women spend 10 grand to look like you, and you'd waste that?!" or "but they're so hot". The mention of pain along my spine and permanent shoulder indentations were countered with "but it's all worth it, your chest is perfect".
Many comments were from other women. These comments were aimed at my general appearance, not how it would make me feel afterwards, but how the world would perceive me. "You'll have full of ugly scars" and "it'll make your stomach look so much bigger" to name a few. They made me feel like it would just make me even more uncomfortable with my perception of my own body, almost as if I didn't own that. At the time, all that mattered was how people (and mostly men) would see me. There was never any mention of my health, it was always rebutted with a "I get that, but...".
Everyone seemed oblivious to the fact that none of this mattered at the end of the day. But as a young adult, my reasoning was distorted and not being able to shake off the doubt of ever feeling attractive enough took the majority of my logic. What I felt didn't matter as much as what I saw looking back at myself in the mirror. That followed me for a long time.
K: Did you undergo the reduction surgery strictly for physical|health reasons? Or was there an aspect of having the surgery that would enable you to better appreciate your body?/boost confidence?
M: It was mostly for physical reasons, but the emotional changes were incredibly significant afterwards, something that I couldn't have quite predicted.
I used to get rashes that rubbed the skin raw and purple under my chest. Sharp neck pains and aches in my spine were a daily affair. Although that's really only what was visible from the outside.
My chest was just as heavy physically as it was emotionally. I would make a point of not being topless in front of a mirror. I used to mash my chest in trying to make it seem smaller, and just for that moment I'd feel so much joy. I felt so detached from my breasts. It was really a matter of feeling smothered in my own body.
K: Do you feel having this surgery has effected how you now view yourself from a sexual standpoint?
From an empowered standpoint?
Is there a change in your confidence level? If it is affected is it confidence surrounding you're physical look, or a coming from a mental place in how you view yourself?
M: In the short period of time since my reduction, I'm learning to regain my sexuality in a whole new light. I'm slowly discovering a sense of pride and of joy in my own sexuality that had always been depicted in a physical sense. This has since shifted to a much more internal and raw image of myself. My sexuality seems to resonate from much deeper inside of me, rather than feeling defined by how other people will see me. I feel so incredibly empowered, in all aspects.
K: Do you feel you are now more or less likely to be sexualized by men?
M: I think probably less likely. My chest is no longer a topic for unwanted late night messages. My cup size had been seen as a badge to brag and boast. The amount of skin and flesh on my chest had been seen as an acceptable conversation starter in many awkward situations. My ownership to my own body seemed to not matter to a lot of men and my breasts were perceived as a commodity that was up for public discussion because the larger amount of weight on my chest.
K: Throughout my life I've been made fun of for being "flat chested". Even as an adult I still can't manage to escape scrutiny with comments of "You should have spent money on fake tits instead of those tattoos", "you look like a twelve year old boy", and what with the President elect-Donald Trump openly stating that "a flat chested woman will never be a 10". I constantly struggled (and still do from time to time) with feeling less womanly-less "feminine", and less desirable, as though the size of my chest is some sort of determining factor for these things. My younger (and misguided self) felt pressure to make up for what I seemed to be lacking. I felt I had to prove I could still be feminine, prove I could still be sexually desirable... which took me down some interesting paths. But ultimately, these ideas (however misguided they were) are just one of the many factors that helped shape the woman I am today.
Now you are on the opposite end of the spectrum- You have always been a large breasted woman, how has this shaped your character and identity?
M: I had a D cup when I was 12, and had ramped up to an H cup by the time I was 15. I think no matter what body shape or proportion any woman has, there was always something we wished was different. I had let my chest define my sexual identity because it made me feel wanted and that I had an edge on other girls, which I would eventually realize that I was cheating myself out of so much self confidence. I assumed why anyone was sexually attracted to me was because of my chest. I always envied girls who weren't as sexualized and objectified by men. What I eventually realized is that I was somewhat objectifying myself due to my extreme low body confidence. I had always struggled with my weight, and I was seen as the girl with the huge breasts, instead of being the fat girl. I think that's why it took so long for me to get the reduction, I was afraid of not being seen in a sexual manner for something other than my chest, because I wasn't at peace with the rest of myself. My reduction has solidified all of the positive emotions and thoughts I've felt over the last few years.
K: When discussing having the surgery just prior, and post surgery, how had the discussions changed since when you first thought about having it done all those years ago?
M: Most of the men I interact with on a personal level are gay or friends of my partner. The interesting part is that because of these factors, they were unbiased on the sexual aspect of my breast reduction and were able to consider the emotional and health benefits to this surgery more easily and have been incredibly supportive.
As for women, I've had a few mentions about scars but nothing even comparable to the responses I was getting years ago. I've mostly encountered curiosity (which I think is absolutely fantastic) and tremendous support.
I can't think of anyone in my life right now that expressed to me that they thought it was a bad idea or that were showing illegitimate concerns.
The thing that caught me the most off guard, was how many people were finally asking me how I felt instead of asking physical questions. I think I've just been surrounding myself with better people in the last few years.
K: Were you afraid of what your current beau would think, or was this strictly your decision, was his opinion weigh on your decision at all?
M: Being with my partner for 3 years, I knew that the size of my chest was probably something that he was attracted to, but something most certainly he could live without. He knew the pain I was going through, and was able to see it also. He's been incredibly supportive and I couldn't thank him enough for that. His only concerns were about the risks of surgery and complications, not of the actual aftermath and what my body would look like after.
As of what I thought, I wasn't afraid of what he would think at all. I had been wanting this reduction for so long that even if he was against it I would have done it anyway. I wouldn't prioritize someone's sexual view of my body over my own mental and physical health.
I don't doubt that he finds me beautiful, and I never have. I also always knew that opinion wouldn't sway once there were 7 pounds removed from my chest.
K: Many women opt not to have breast reductions, despite the physical benefits, b/c of their male counterparts opinion, do you have anything to say to these women?
M: You have the final say. I don't think a man in a healthy relationship would ever value the size of a woman's breasts over her health. Do it for yourself, and don't worry about anyone else. They're not carrying the weight, you are.
K: Over all, did you gain what you had hoped to gain from this experience? Was there any unforeseeable consequences or bonus' as a result of the surgery?
M: I gained everything I had hoped for and more, I don't have a single negative emotion about my surgery other than having waited so long. I've seen a huge impact on my depression and my anxiety. I wouldn't have attributed a breast reduction to making a difference with mental illness, but it's had a really positive effect my all around mental health that I couldn't have predicted.
K: Thank you so much for being a part of this and opening up about your surgery, Marty. You truly are a strong, beautiful and inspiring woman. Before we wrap up, is there anything else you'd like to include?
M:I've always found you so incredibly beautiful inside and out and I can't express how glad I am to be a part of this project. Thank you for empowering women, starting the conversation and making an impact on the world.