When I was younger, I used to love ripping off my shirt for a new lover. My torso has always been my best feature, and my breasts were near-perfect. Insecure about who I was, and sure I wasn’t good enough, I put far too high a premium on the response my body, and especially my breasts, elicited.
Beginning in my 30s, I began to develop two darkened skin patches in almost the exact same place on each ribcage. A slew of dermatologists assured me the condition was completely benign, caused by a thickening of the skin.
However, there was no way to get rid of the spots, other than bleaching. I tried this remedy for awhile, but I didn’t see a difference, and I got tired of reapplying ointment that had no effect. Also, I was married, and my then-husband was perfectly happy with my body the way it was.
After I had my second child, the patches got darker. So dark, in fact, that disrobing for a breast exam caused my gynecologist to ask if my husband had hit me. (He had not).
Then, four years ago, a routine mammogram revealed what appeared to be a fibroadenoma in my right breast. The radiologist and breast surgeon advised me to have a core needle biopsy to rule out cancer, but I elected to wait and have a follow-up mammogram in six months. I was wary of unnecessary invasive procedures, and given the information I’d received from medical personnel and my own research, I felt that the lump was probably benign.
Six months later, there was a second lump, and my radiologist and surgeon were emphatic that I get a biopsy. I was given a choice: get a core needle biopsy, which would remove a small tissue sample, and would not leave a detectable scar, OR, get an excisional biopsy, which would remove both tumors, and would definitely leave a scar, as well as an indentation in the breast. I was also advised, however, that if the core needle biopsy was inconclusive, I would have to have the excisional biopsy as well. By that point, I was so nervous that the thought of undergoing a second invasive procedure was more than I could handle. I wanted to know right away if the lumps were cancerous.
The good news was that the first lump was indeed a fibroadenoma, and the second was a papilloma, both completely benign. The bad news was, due to the size and location of the tumors, removing them left a noticeable pocket. I felt sad to see my formerly flawless right breast rendered decidedly flawed, but I wasn’t terribly bent out of shape about it. I didn’t need to impress my husband, especially since we had all but stopped having sex.
And then I found myself single after twenty years of mechanical sex, the last five of which deteriorated into repulsion on my part, and finally, non-existence. As soon as I separated from my husband, I was gripped by a searing libido, which I set about indulging post-haste. My initial worry that my age might keep me from ever having sex again was quickly dispelled thanks to OKCupid. Not only was I desirable to men my age, but I also turned out to be a magnet for younger men with MILF fantasies.
Now that I had a robust selection of sex partners, I was faced with a dilemma: do I tell them I have two leopard spots on my ribs and a chunk missing from my breast before my shirt comes off, a hesitation which might kill the moment? Or do I wait until after my torso is stripped bare, and my self-consciousness has also killed the moment?
Either way, I was going to feel awkward. I would still be anticipating my partner’s reaction: would he grimace at the dark patches? Avoid my right breast altogether? Since I had no interest in being a nun, I was going to have to face my qualms, and risk rejection, or at the very least, less than the enthusiastic response that I had elicited when I had the body of a pin-up girl.
Over the past year-and-a-half of dating, and trying both approaches, I still wince when it comes time for the grand unveiling. The good news is that I haven’t had a partner who seems anything less than enchanted by the sight that greets his eyes.
Dealing with the bodily changes that come with age, and how they impact our sense of ourselves, is a challenge boomer women face. But what I’ve learned is that sexual appeal comes from confidence, not physical perfection.
After a recent request by a lover to see my boudoir photos, I anticipated a comment about my breasts or my ass. Instead, he told me how much he loved the very pronounced veins on my arms and hands, the same veins that my kids tell me creeps them out.
“Really?” I asked, taken pleasantly aback. “You don’t think they make me look old?”
He shook his head as he gazed at the photos.
“I think they make you look beautiful.”
More from Erica Jagger: