External Breast Prostheses: Misinformation and False Beliefs

Irene R. Healey, B Sc

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In This Article

Is It Just About Attractiveness and Beauty?

Similar to the practice of medicine, the practice of creating body prostheses is grounded in the prevailing culture and evolves along with it. The field of prosthetics displays the material culture of the time period, and body prostheses have become an area of interest to historians and scholars in cultural studies. Some texts have commented on the manner in which breast prostheses are marketed to women. It has been noted that advertisements for external breast prostheses tend to emphasize attractiveness and the physical beauty of women in their publicity along with the use of pastel colors and similar "feminine" attributes, to reinforce cultural stereotypes of women.[48]

The stereotypes of "femininity" that have been commented upon as being characteristic of the manner in which breast prostheses are advertised may inadvertently trivialize the authenticity of a woman's need for restoration by casting it as gender specific; ie, a female (and therefore possibly a vain or neurotic) response. In the case of breast cancer, the breast is often linked to issues of sexuality. However, both genders confront issues with body image, self-esteem, and sexual dysfunction when presented with a diagnosis of cancer and or disfigurement.[52,53]

It is important not to minimize the significance of the loss of a body part nor minimize the efforts one makes to overcome the loss. Disfigurement goes beyond the superficial concern of attractiveness and touches much more profound issues regarding the presentation of self in society, illustrated eloquently in research on stigmatization conducted by the sociologist, Erving Goffman. He distinguished between the "discredited" -- those with visible disfigurement -- and the "discreditable," whose concealed disfigurement leaves them vulnerable to stigmatization.[54]

Many patients do not wear their prosthesis at home and are comfortable with family and friends knowing of their disfigurement. However, the prosthesis becomes an important tool in mitigating discreditability when interacting with the outside world. The breast cancer survivor does not want to lose control of social interactions and have people's attention diverted to their physical disfigurement as they strive for mastery over their illness. The wearing of a prosthesis becomes a vital means of restoring a woman's social credibility and the sense of personal well being that she enjoyed before her disfigurement.[55]

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