by Kierra Aiello. Featured in WRIT Large Vol. 4, a journal of undergraduate writing published by the University of Denver's Writing Program.
NOTES ON CUPCAKES
WRIT 1733: The Ties That Bind
Professor LP Picard
During my freshman year at the University of Denver, my mother was diagnosed with breast
cancer. Everyone has different ways of coping; this paper was one of my coping strategies
after the drama had subsided. Research and personal stories all come together to form a
collection of diverse viewpoints complicating the issue of not only breast cancer in today’s
society but also body image more generally. This paper is organized as a series of notes,
which help to organize the many lenses through which I look at the topic. Because I had nev-
er written in this style before, I found it somewhat difficult to organize all of my ideas. At the
same time, since I was using this paper to address my contrasting feelings, I do not believe I
would have been able to adequately express these feelings with a different structure.
The class prompt for the paper dealt with the idea of loss. It may be odd to some that I even-
tually decided to discuss the loss of breasts and what that means to women like myself. I
am equally as attached to my pinkie fingers as to my breasts—I am a musician after all—but
I believe that society needs to become more comfortable with the discussion of the loss of a
body part that is both sexual and biologically nurturing.
“Hey, Boobs!” came from a convertible car
where two men were obviously leering at me as I
walked to class. The last time I checked, “Boobs”
wasn’t my name. They must have felt that would
be an effective “hook up” word, a good rhetorical strategy. Let me consider.
smaller lobules, all of which are responsible for
creating and transporting milk. In addition, the
breast contains nerves, ligaments, blood vessels,
and connective tissues. Lymph nodes throughout the body are in place to filter abnormal cells
away from healthy tissue.1
118 words for breasts: Tits, titties, tig ol’ bitties, boobs,
jugs, melons, cans, hooters, dirty pillows, gazongas, yabbos, tig bitties, knockers, mammaries, fun bags…
honkers, headlights, baps, meat puppets, ta-tas, naturals,
boobies, guns, bahama mammas, balloons, bawagos, big
brown eyes, blinkers, bobambas, bodacious tatas, bombs,
bosom, bosooms, boulders, Bristols, brown suckies…
Breasts are made up primarily of adipose tissue,
which is simply made of fat cells. Milk ducts
connect around twelve lobes in each breast with
WRIT LARGE: 2015
The media plays a huge role in how people view
breasts. Yet this view, the media-enlarged ver-
sion, should not be considered the average size
for women. The “media” proportions are not
natural in most women without surgery or without the use of extreme push-up bras. Women
like Pamela Anderson come to mind. Those few
who do have ideal breasts will only have them for
a short period of their lives before gravity and
childbirth take effect.2 American standards in
the media do not portray this reality.
Breastfeeding is natural and helps to provide life
and nutrition to the next generation; however,
many women are subjected to interference with
the act and are asked to cover themselves. Come
Mardi Gras every year, women are rewarded
with beads for flashing their breasts, but when
a woman must do it in order to feed her child,
she is seen as a public disgrace. Currently, all
states have laws that establish a woman’s right to
breastfeed in public, but only a few of them give
the woman the right to legally fight, in court,
against anyone who might challenge them.3 The
Office on Women’s Health provides a list of ways
to respond to someone criticizing public breastfeeding, so that women can feel confident in
their decision to breastfeed.
bubatoes, bups, bust, busts, cadillac bumper bullets, casabas, chest, chuberteens, cones, gedoinkers, doorknobs,
floppers, fried eggs, fugis, gams, gazangas, golden bazoos,
I suspect that every high school girl at some
point wants the attention of an upperclassman,
and I am no exception. Sophomore year in high
school, I was chatting online with a boy from
school that I hardly knew. I thought he was cute,
and I knew that he was one of the smartest kids
in my high school. What more could I have asked
for? At the end of the school year, we had been
chatting for a bit, and I told him that I had almost asked him to prom. He replied that it was a
good thing that I didn’t because he would have
said, “No.” To this I said, “Which is why I didn’t
ask.” And, then, he responded with something I
have never forgotten. He said, “However, you do
have amazing breasts.”
cushions, dairy section, highbeams, hinyackas, knobs, love
apples, love monkeys, luscious scoops of flesh…
When girls go up to other girls at parties and
compliment their breasts, some women read this
as one of the highest forms of compliment. Other girls understand what it is like to look in the
mirror every day trying to make their boobs look
“good” in their tops.
According to a study recently completed in England, men generally do not prefer large breasts.
When asked to rate images of women, most men
preferred medium breasts. The men were also
asked to complete a questionnaire to determine
their levels of “hostility toward women, more
sexist attitudes toward women, benevolent sexism
[belief in conventional gendered stereotypes that
are harmful], and objectification of women.” 4 The
study found that men who chose large breasts
consistently had higher scores in hostility and
sexist attitudes. Take from this what you will.
Those few who do have ideal breasts
will only have them for a short period of
their lives before gravity and childbirth
take effect. American standards in the
media do not portray this reality.
ver and is pursuing a double major in
cello performance and art history. She
hopes to earn her Master’s degree in the
4 + 1 program. Her favorite DU memory
is being invited to participate in a masterclass in which she performed for one of
her favorite cellists, Joshua Roman. His
ability to apply what he knows to other
fields inspires her. A Colorado native, Kierra enjoys biking on the empty roads of
the western slope of Colorado and hiking
around the lakes of the Great Mesa.
mounds, mountains, marshmallows, maguffies, grenadoes,
hogans, honkers, itty-bitty-titties, jalobes…
My art history professor said that Michelangelo
has never been known for depicting “beautiful”
women. His men are muscular heroes whose
masculinity is impressive, and his women are often the same. Michelangelo did not do this out
of malice for females or because he had never
seen a nude woman. To him, perfection was realized in the male body, and so in order to flatter
women, he made them appear manlier. Eve and
Mary are heroicized in their own right through
extreme musculature and a bit of masculinity.
bazongoes, bazookas, bazooms, bazoos, ninnies, nips,
nupies, pair, nice pair, penis squeezers, beamers, starter
buttons, tads, handles, tatas, tittyboppers, bee stings, jiggers, jobes, rolling hills, cupcakes…
WRIT LARGE: 2015
Plastic Surgeon Dr. Randolph H. Guthrie,
The Truth about Breast Implants, writes: “On the
whole, small-breasted women don’t want to be
large-breasted sex bombs, they just want to look
Breast implants in the United States have increased 257 percent since the late 1990s.6 This
increase includes both those women who have
the procedure for aesthetic reasons and also
those who undergo reconstructive surgery. Generally, the appearance of breast reconstruction
will be slightly better if it directly follows the
mastectomy; but if further treatment must be
administered, the patient will be advised to wait.
Saline and silicone implants are popular. One
must understand that in saline implants, there
is a chance of leakage or rupture in the body;
and in silicone implants, contracture (when the
body surrounds the foreign mass with scar tissue
and then contracts) is not uncommon and is very
painful.7 Another method, autologous reconstruction, involves taking tissue from other parts
of the woman’s body, such as the abdomen, and
using it to form more natural, softer breasts. This
method, however, takes more extensive surgery
and recovery time. In addition to any of these
surgeries, nipples can be reconstructed. Tattooing can recreate the appearance of the areola or
adhesive prosthetic nipples can be used.8
twins, love warts, watermellons, wazoos, whoppers, winnebagos, yabos, mambas, mammas, mamms, massive
mammaries, mazabas, mellons, milk factories, mcguffies,
mosquito bites, perkies, pillows, pimples, pink chewies,
rack, set, smosabs, stacked, torpedoes, towel racks.9
Then I hear my mother’s words on the phone.
She is saying, “They are taking a biopsy. I might
have breast cancer.”
Genes such as BRCA1, BRCA2, and P53 are
thought to be some of the genes that cause breast
cancer, and these can be traced through family
history of the disease. It is estimated that these
hereditary genes are responsible for 5 to 10
percent of the cases of breast cancer.10 Angelina Jolie, for example, carried a mutation of the
BRCA1 gene; and according to her doctor, this
meant that she had an 87 percent chance of eventually being diagnosed with breast cancer. Since
Jolie’s mother died of ovarian cancer, she decided to take preventative measures and had a double mastectomy in order to bring her chances of
contracting breast cancer down to five percent.11
Considering that breast cancer has been diagnosed on both sides of my family tree, this statistic, Jolie’s 87 percent chance of contracting
cancer, is not encouraging.
Breast cancer is usually diagnosed with the same
three steps. First, a woman will go in for a routine mammogram. After, if cancer is a likelihood, there will be a clinical breast examination.
If this too shows the possibility of cancer, then
a needle biopsy will take place. If the test comes
back positive for cancer, it will most likely be one
of three different types of breast cancer.
Pre-invasive breast cancer involves cancer cells
that have not yet penetrated the basement membrane. Invasive lobular cancer first affects the
breast lobules and then spreads to the surrounding tissue. The most common form is invasive
ductal cancer; and in that case, the cancer cells
originate in the ductal epithelium and then break
out into the surrounding breast tissue.12 All of
these can be graded to determine the aggressiveness of the cancer cells, but the staging of the
cancer will take place after treatment.
David Jay’s photographs of young women who
have undergone mastectomies show the real-
ity and the pain of women with breast cancer.
The black and white images are startling in their
raw truth-telling ability; the tears coming down
faces, the missing pieces, the twisting scars, all
scream out to the viewer. By participating in Jay’s
SCAR-project, many women feel a small sense of
victory over the disease.13 One woman is shown
with her lover, another still wears the compression sock required after surgery, and yet another is pregnant without breasts. They are giving
everyone, including other young women who
may have recently been diagnosed, a fresh lens
through which to regard the experience.
Women with breast cancer may lose their breasts
and no longer be able to breastfeed their children. Many of these women will also lose their
fertility.14 Chemotherapy and early menopause
can both cause a loss of fertility in women who
have been treated for breast cancer.15
In some other cultures, it is the women with
wrinkled, sagging breasts who are thought
of most highly. These women were mothers
and have stood the test of time. They possibly
possess more wisdom than any girls with firm
breasts can imagine.16
In 1521, Michelangelo designed tombs for two
Medici men. On their combined tombs is the cycle of the day personified. The tomb of Giuliano de Medici has the figures of night, a woman,
and day, a man. Night appears to have two large
lumps that slightly resemble breasts pasted onto
her otherwise masculine chest. Again, it was
not that Michelangelo had never seen breasts in
person; the reason is much more complex. Medical men of the time may not have known what
breast cancer was or how to treat it, but they did
recognize that once a woman’s breasts started to
appear extremely abnormal and lumpy, she was
going to die. Night represents the death of the
day, and, just so, her unnatural breasts represent,
perhaps, her disease, and the end of the cycle.
Once one has been diagnosed with breast cancer, there are a few treatment options depending
on the stage of the cancer and the potential for
recurrence. Chemotherapy is an option. It is
usually undergone in conjunction with surgery
for moderate to severe cases because the combination is most effective in ridding the body of
cancer and ensuring that it does not come back.
Since chemotherapy affects the healthy cells as
well as the cancer cells, however, the quality of
life for the patient may be greatly reduced for a
significant portion of time. Radiation is another
possibility. This treatment is given to most patients because it is a point specific method and
usually only causes redness to the area and fatigue. Hormone therapy is meant for women
whose hormones, such as estrogen, caused the
tumor to grow. Various drugs are taken for a
period of five or more years and are dependent
on whether or not the woman has gone through
menopause.17 An additional treatment that many
women receive to some degree is surgery.
All breast cancer surgeries involve taking out the
tumor as well as a fair amount of tissue that sur58
WRIT LARGE: 2015
rounds the cancer. Around one-third of patients
will be advised to receive a mastectomy because
conserving the breast would be dangerous to
their health.18 In a mastectomy, all of the breast
tissue is removed and, rarely, part of the pectoral
Mastectomies cause the most psychological
damage to their patients compared to all other treatments. To many women, breasts are the
most feminine part about them. The cutting
away of breasts means that a woman will have
to deal with her body image and overall sexuality in entirely new ways. One woman from
a study on the effects of breast cancer on young
women (under 50) said that “in one fell swoop I
was told that everything that was feminine to
me was gone.” 19
While the pain is physical and psychological, I
know that a woman who has breast cancer does
not merely become the disease.
When my mother first was diagnosed, she felt
as though the world that she knew was ending.
Even though her cancer was diagnosed early and
the treatment options were statistically high for
recovery, the small chance that something could
go wrong and that her life could have ended was
still present. When she first received radiation,
my mother felt incredibly vulnerable and insignificant. She went into the pre-operation room
and undressed. When she came into the radiation room, medical students, both male and female, were simply observing her. To them, she
I have come to read breasts as texts, as signs and symbols.
was part of a textbook, a study. After the surgery, when asked to write a review of the experience, she wrote: “I did find it difficult for me
to have student [physicians] observe my breast
radiation session as it made me uncomfortable
with individuals casually walking around and
watching.” None of the students even asked if it
was acceptable for the group to watch her procedure. After the operation, my mother, a person
in the medical field, turned to research to find
both information and solace. She changed her
diet, completely eliminating animal protein, and
I changed my diet to be mostly vegetarian. Her
findings changed our paths.
The 17th century painter, Rembrandt, a widower,
fell deeply in love with a woman he could not
marry. Since their love was looked down upon
by the church, he chose to recreate the story of
Bathsheba, a Biblical woman who loses her child
because of her adulterous affair, and to use his
mistress as a model. She is fleshy and nude; her
breasts exposed. The left breast is asymmetrical
and shows discoloration, which can be one of
the signs of breast cancer if the tumor is close to
the skin.20 Some think Rembrandt was painting
the cancer. In Rembrandt’s later depictions of his
mistress, we can see that her health deteriorates.
She died within nine years. Rembrandt avoided
idealizing his lover’s body and her breasts; and,
knowingly or not, the artist depicted the cause of
her eventual death.
I have come to read breasts as texts, as signs and
symbols. At one level, they are physical assets.
They suckle babies. They catch the popcorn that
drops from our mouths in movie theatres. They
make seatbelts a daily challenge. They display
name tags. They change the way we wear clothes,
the way we notice ourselves in the restroom
mirror, the way we turn and gaze at ourselves,
sometimes in dismay, sometimes proudly, as we
struggle to lower the neckline of our clothes to
show our breasts off. They can be inflated. They
are Pamela Anderson’s brand. They cause men to
call out to us on the street. Breasts are also texts
of a woman’s inner being, her spiritual health.
They force us to assess our identity as women.
They are a part of our body that is milk-transporter, life-giver, mother. They are fat cells, adipose tissue, mounds, vessels, soul-flesh, arousal
mechanisms, and, always, prompts to self-knowledge. They are mortal parts.
Sometimes I consider how, like Rembrandt’s
mistress, my mother knew pain and diminishment and how, like Angelina Jolie, she had to
find measures (in my mother’s case a biopsy and
radiation) to save her life. When this happens,
I think of the early-nineteenth-century artist
William Etty, who was known for his ability to
study a woman’s physicality for hours. He would
translate the curve of her body and softness of
her flesh onto canvas, making his teacher comment that if he were to prick the study with a pin,
it would bleed.21 For Etty, God’s most glorious
work was woman, and all of the capabilities of
human beauty were in her.
I am standing in the women’s restroom at a local
restaurant. A young woman is studying herself
in the full-length mirror. She is looking at her
fun bags, readjusting her low-cut dress so that her
tittyboopers are even more evident. She is enjoying the moment, gazing at her body and possibly
thinking of the attention it might bring to her.
I smile at her as she passes by and exits. I understand her pride, her desire. She is a beautiful
woman with a fine, healthy body. We all want to
be that. I step up to the sink. I look in the mirror.
I look down at my own breasts for a moment, my
cupcakes, my own tig ol’ bitties. Then I look up at
my face. I see I have my mother’s eyes.
16. Weitz and Kwan, The Politics of Women’s Bodies.
17. Dean, “Primary Breast Cancer,” 49.
7. Chambers, Sex, Culture, and Justice, 190.
18. Dean, “Primary Breast Cancer,” 49.
8. Antonia Dean. “Primary Breast Cancer: Risk Factors,
19. Coyne and Borbasi, “Holding It All Together,” 161.
Diagnosis, and Management,” Nursing Standard
20. Peter Allen Braithwaite and Dace Shugg, “Rem-
22.40 (11 June 2008): 47–55.
9. “Breasts.” Urban Dictionary, Feb. 16, 2004, accessed
April 1, 2014, http://www.urbandictionary.com/
10. Dean, “Primary Breast Cancer,” 47.
brandt’s Bathsheba: The Dark Shadow of the Left
Breast,” Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England 65.5 (1983): 337–38.
21. Corinne Saunders, Ulrika Maude, and Jane Macnaughton, The Body and the Arts (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).