Blagetty Blogetty Bragitee!

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Location: United Kingdom

Some people know me as OrangeBlossomer because that's me on Twitter. This blog is a random collection of daily musings about life and stuff I love, such as journalism, dog (sadly my dog died in 2010 so probably no more), women, love and lack of love, boobs (only seldom but it does get me extra online traffic), taichi (I practise) and spirituality (should practise more). I have a day job as a jetsetting publishing foreign rights manager but I am also an NCTJ-qualified journalist and a writer/columnist at heart. Writing is my opium.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Musing on mortality (with a waggy tail)

Since the beginning of June I have been acutely aware it has been a year since my dog had the first of many strokes that robbed him of his sight.

We never thought he would survive to live another year and yet here he is today, jumping on me with excitement when he's told we're going for a walk, running around parks without a lead and, sometimes, even daring to chase crows and butterflies.

This blog is in celebration of his life.

Being still unemployed means that, unless I am on an internship, I spend entire days at home with only Binks for company, sat in front of the computer for entertainment or for job-hunting. Binks likes to lie at the entrance of my office where he can "keep an eye" on me. Whenever boredom hits me, I get up to give him a cuddle. If you are a dog owner, you know they make excellent stress busters.

While I wrap myself around him and stroke his fur, sometimes I catch myself having odd toughts about mortality. When a friend of my husband's lost her dog to cancer, she said, 'I miss touching his soft fur.' What would I miss the most about Binks if he were to die tomorrow?

It is a terrifying thought but we know for a fact he is not going to outlive us. His health is now stable again, but he is still an ageing dog and not getting any younger. I hold him more tightly then, trying to imagine the vaccum inside my chest the day he is no longer with us. I feel his mortality pulsating under his skin. I know it is as transient as mine is, but his seem so much more palpable and real.

As I kiss his head, I feel his doggy smell and the warmth of his outbreath on my cheeks. This is life: the smell of life, the breath of life.

I have read somewhere that when a person you love dies, their image becomes diluted with time, even if you loved them dearly in life. Perhaps it is our mind's own way of coping with grief and loss, an intrinsic part of the healing process. Oblivion can sometimes be a blessing.

But as I hold Binks against my body, I suddenly panic at the idea of losing him. I think I never want to forget his body temperature, his smell, the feel of his fur, his snoring noises. I try to desperately cling on to a memory that I know will one day become cloudy and fade away.

Then I snap back into reality and laugh. I laugh at the absurdity of it all because my parents, my brother, my husband, my friends are all mortals as well and will one day pass on. And yet, when I see them, I am not tempted to squeeze them in my arms and say, 'I want to remember how you feel and smell for when you die.'

We tend to think we are a bit less mortal than our pets because their lifespan is much shorter than ours. Perhaps because of that we often forget to appreciate the people in our lives who love and care about us. We think there is always tomorrow for those things. Tomorrow we will say thank you, or I forgive you, or I love you. But what if tomorrow never comes?

So I have started a game in my own head of "how I want to remember you". Whenever I am talking to a friend or a beloved one, I bookmark in my head the moments I would like to remember for posterity. Just as you would "add to favourites" on your Internet browser. A friend who extended a helping hand at a time of need, a loving smile from my husband, a gift in the post from my mother. Each moment that represents an expression of love and connection I add to my list of things I want to remember.

We often feel grateful for things that were done or given to us, but we are not always mindfully grateful. Even Christians who pray before their meals and thank God for the food on the table may be doing so mechanically, out of habit. How many actually feel thankful that their dinner is laid in front of them when they have never faced starvation?

The last time my mother sent me a small parcel from Brazil with some of my favourite foods, I made a point of thinking, "Thank you, mum, and I will remember this when you are no longer alive." When a friend did or said things that felt hurtful at the time, I made a point of thinking, "I forgive you, and I will not remember this when you are no longer alive." Whether I will die before or after them is besides the point. Death is not important; it is life that should not be wasted or lived with our conscience submerged in and numbed by ego-centric thoughts.

Binks' life feels fragile to me because we nearly lost him a year ago. We value things more when we become conscious of their impermanence even though we are persishable creatures ourselves.

I should know – I had a brush with cancer myself four years ago, and survived. I felt my mortality acutely then, but now I hardly ever think about the what ifs. It would drive me insane, if I had to remind myself daily of the finiteness of my life. I would spend the entire time drawing up my will and writing farewell letters instead of fillling in job application forms.

It occurred to me that perhaps people, and pets, die around us during our lifetime as part of our soul's education. With each loss, we become more aware of the limitations of our physical bodies and somehow more accepting of death and dying. Some with resignation, others with anger. Still others with a deeper understanding that death is only life's way of teaching us not to hold off living till tomorrow.

Try telling Binks he can't have his pig's ear till the next day when he knows it is lying on the kitchen counter right now.

I guess it is time we started wagging our tails and celebrating, not only our anniversaries, but also and especially the small daily treats that ultimately make life worth living.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Why Facebook's boob is larger than Sharon's

The news about Facebook removing the post-mastectomy photos of 45-year old breast cancer patient Sharon Adams allegedly due to its "sexual content" and "nudity", brings me to my favourite topic: boobs and why the world is so obsessed by them.

This is not the first time, and it won't be the last, the sight of a woman's bare breasts causes public outcry when the last thing she had in mind was to use them as a sexual weapon, to provoke or to shock.

No breastfeeding please, we are British
Women being cautioned or expelled for whipping their boobs out in public places for no other reason than to feed their babies, seems to be a common occurrence in this country. Below are some clippings from the British press:

Woman asked to stop breastfeeding her baby at Job Centre

Woman thrown out of Job Centre for feeding baby

Woman told to stop breastfeeding in a leisure centre because "there are children present"...

One Birmingham mother found the constant disapproving stares so disturbing that she went on to invent a product called Mamascarf, which can be tied around the feeding mother's neck thus shielding both baby and boobs from intrusive eyes.

For a nation of men and women who are obsessed with breasts, it is ironic that their sight in the context of baby feeding can cause such controversy.

Breast images seem to bombard our daily lives whether we want it or not. All one has to do is to step out into the street, especially now that the weather is getting warmer, to see ladies of all ages sashaying in tops and dresses that hardly cover their modesty. Women wear them with pride, knowing men are going to stare. For those ladies craving attention, it is a tried-and-tested attention-grabber – if you don't mind men having conversations with your breasts, that is.

Women say high heels give them confidence; it makes them "stand tall" both literally and figuratively. But breast exposure can be used even more effectively as a confidence booster. Often women addicted to breast augmentation surgery turn out to suffer from very poor self-esteem. They confuse their need for love, self-love, with a need for larger breasts.

An example that comes to mind is that of
Sheyla Hershey, a Brazilian woman who has the record of the largest breasts in the world at a 38KKK bust. She has had a total of 18 plastic surgeries done, mostly to her breasts. She wants to be even larger, and her surgeon will not refuse her further augmentations, even though, with one gallon of silicon implanted, her life is already at risk. "I just want to be happy," she pleaded, as she wept to the reporter interviewing her. "No one will stop me from being happy."

Extreme cases aside, sights and photos of breasts abound in real life as well as in page 3s and glossy magazines. In Britain, as in many other Western countries, flaunting one's "assets" is generally accepted and seen as positive. The celebrity culture only seems to underline this perception. No reader seems to consider offensive a photo of singer Jordan (Katie Price) with her "silicon valley" spilling out of her dress splashed across the front page of a tabloid. In fact, papparazzi are paid handsomely to take photos of glamorous topless celebs on the beach or private yachts, or wearing bikinis of the type Brazilians appropriately call "fio dental" – or dental floss.

It takes one quick browse of a social networking site such as Facebook or MySpace for one to find that a large number of ladies post profile photos of themselves taken from such an angle that it gives ample view of their breasts. I have been on any Internet dating site before and was amused to discover that the de rigueur ID photo for women is one that makes your potential suitor feel like they are naughtily looking down your bosom. It makes you wonder if men are even interested at all in anything above the bra line.

And yet, these are considered, normal, natural, completely healthy behaviours by both sexes...

Double Standards
Facebook has now allegedly apologised to Sharon Adams for having censored her mastectomy pictures. A group called
GET SHARON ADAMS PICTURE BACK ON FACEBOOK FOR BREAST CANCER has now been formed to protest against the removal of the "offensive" photos. The fact that the reason for their removal was the partial nudity and their "sexual content" just shows how warped our attitude towards human bodies are.

Why is it acceptable for us to ogle at breasts owned by celebrities and models but not at the butchered breast, or the absence of one, in a woman with breast cancer? Needless to say, unless you have kinky tendencies, the sight of a mastectomised breast is not exactly one to provoke sexual arousal. In fact most women I have met who have lost their breasts this way, were concerned about how this will affect their relationship with their partners, or, if they were single, whether any man would ever want to be intimate with them again. One divorced woman who had had mastectomy once said to me, "Will I ever be able to get naked in front of a man?"

What an irony it must have been for Sharon Adams to receive a message from Facebook saying, "we are removing your boob pictures because we don't allow pictures of sexual content" when the last thing she must have been feeling was sexy or sexual.

Because the disease affects a part of a woman's body that is so closely linked to her sexuality and her identity as a woman, mastectomy is an operation that can bring serious psychological consequences to the patient. Elderly ladies are often better at shrugging it off saying, "My husband knows I am feminine; I don't need my breasts to prove it to him." But younger ones understandably prefer opting for breast reconstruction post-mastectomy.

Not exactly bionic woman
Breast reconstruction is not nearly as straightforward as a "boob job" is. It requires taking skin and fat from elsewhere in the patient's body and transferring it to the breast area, and, surprise surprise: the new breasts come with no nipples.

Nipple and areola reconstruction is an optional, usually separate, operation. A reconstructed breast cannot be used for feeding babies so the addition of a nipple is an aesthetic choice, one could almost say sheer vanity. It is no laughing matter: the general shape and look of the breast can be restored through surgery, but there is little sensation on the new breast because the nerves will have been cut off. Think "cyborg" and his bionic arms and legs, i.e. it looks like the real thing but it is not.

Let's put it this way: it is not something any woman wants to go through. Whereas in cases of early detection, less radical surgery is required, it is still a traumatic experience that affects women not only physically but psychologically and sexually as well. Scars eventually subside, but a breast cancer patient's relationship with her body is forever changed by the experience.

Good boob bad boob
So what is the turning point of a good boob image into a bad boob one. What is the difference between, for instance, sex symbol Angelina Jolie stripping off her top to reveal her bosoms to the world and a mother momentarily exposing a breast to feed her baby in public. Or a breast cancer patient deciding to show her scars on Facebook to raise awareness.

Isn't it more honest to say that a breast image that does not offer a direct mental association with sex, either because it has been disfigured or it comes with a suckling child hanging at the end of it, is what people consider "offensive"? What we are really saying, when we tell breastfeeding mothers and breast cancer patients to cover up is, save us from the horror of boobs that do not make men immediately want to grope or sexually fantasise; or worse. Because somewhere in our psyches there is a deeply embedded belief that is what breasts are for: an aphrodisiac for men and a sexual hook for women who desire to ensnare men.

Nothing wrong with that, mind. Males and females of all species in the animal world are conditioned by nature to mate, reproduce and die. Humans are no different, and if shoving one's breasts in the general direction of eligible males is what it takes a woman to ensure progeny, so be it, though the moral stance on this may differ in each culture.

Reality check
Facebook's reaction to Sharon Adams' images may have been a genuine administrative mistake, and they have now rectified it by apologising and allowing her to re-upload her photos. But it is symptomatic of society's warped attitude towards breasts and human sexuality.

If Facebook is to impose codes of public decency on its site, perhaps a more wholesome, if somewhat draconian, measure would be to censor images of healthy-breasted women displaying any cleavage while freeing up someone like Sharon Adams to showcase her lack of one, post-surgery.

Maybe women have got their focus wrong by trying too hard to expose their breasts to the admiring eyes of the viewing public. Perhaps the message Sharon Adams was trying to get through was: pay attention to your boobs yourself. Before you let men touch them, touch them yourself and check for any suspicious lumps.

One in nine women in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. Even though survival rates for breast cancer after five years are high and increasing due to improved treatments and earlier diagnosis, it is still a nasty disease that can maim and kill.

For Sharon the decision to allow the entire Internet world to view her scarred chest so that fewer women have to lose their breasts to cancer was an act of immeasurable courage.

Facebook administrators fell into a big no-no of a booby-trap.

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