Instead, her cancer diagnosis provided a catalyst for her to investigate the relationship between beauty, sexuality, and feminine power in America. The resulting discussion, and Lucas' affirmation that all women should be able to wear red lipstick, is extremely uplifting.
One of the most interesting aspects of the book is that Lucas uses Marilyn Monroe, probably the preeminent example of American female sexuality, as an example throughout the book. Monroe is one of those rare sex symbols who is not frequently broken down into parts, but is taken as the whole as an eminently sexual creature. Furthermore, years after her death, most people are aware that the sex-pot side of Marilyn Monroe was an affectation that a young girl used to achieve commercial and financial success in Hollywood. Lucas breaks Monroe down into two aspects; the breasts and the lipstick. Looking at a pre-surgical society, she shows how women could have been born with or without breasts like Monroe's, but they could always choose to wear her lipstick. Monroe's own choice was to wear the lipstick. The use of Monroe as an example strikes a chord with the reader, because her sexuality and power were so completely intertwined, in that public persona. It is interesting to see how Lucas claims her power through a sexual means, even though her tremendous educational, professional, and personal successes would argue against her use of sexuality as a means of achieving power, if one were to view Lucas' life from the viewpoint of traditional feminist gender equity theories. Though she does not spend a significant amount of time discussing feminist theories, Lucas makes it clear in her book that she thinks that sexuality, especially a woman's image of her own sexuality, plays an important role in feminine power.
As a result, the reader is left with the impression...
Though most modern women have undoubtedly benefitted from the feminist movement, many of them are reluctant to self-identify as feminists, because there seems to be a misconception that feminists cannot use their sexuality as a source of power. Lucas turns this theory on its head, by showing that a woman can use her sexuality as a source of her own power. She puts on red lipstick, not to impress her surgeon or the scrub nurses, but because it gave her a feeling of power, which she needed to face a scary surgery. For female readers, that idea is very compelling, because most modern women want to feel feminine, sexy, and powerful, without feeling as if they are somehow betraying themselves or betraying other women, by harnessing their sexuality as a source of power.
The book also teaches the reader a very important lesson about why cancer can be such a devastating diagnosis for the patient. Most people probably assume that the fact that cancer is a potentially fatal disease is why the diagnosis can be so traumatic for people. Even though many cancers are now treated successfully, it is true that many people still equate a cancer diagnosis with a death sentence. However, Lucas makes it clear that the possible consequences of the sentence are only part of the emotional turmoil of a diagnosis. Instead, she explains how the feeling of helplessness was the worst part of her breast cancer diagnosis. After all, Lucas was a typical over-achiever; she had an amazing educational background and was well-started on her way to becoming a television executive. She had previously managed to control and direct every challenge that she had in life. However, she had no control over the cancer diagnosis. Yes, she could choose a course of treatment, but she could not know whether a treatment would leave her cancer-free, or whether the cancer would metastasize, leaving her vulnerable to future treatments. Moreover, she was married to a doctor who was doing a breast rotation when they first began dating; how could a woman choose a better partner to ensure breast health? However, she was still vulnerable to diagnosis. Her story really helps the reader understand how the lack of control is a major part of any cancer diagnosis.
Lucas, Geralyn. Why I Wore Lipstick to my Mastectomy. New York: St.…
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