Birthday Suit

Posted on: August 17th, 2017 by

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Some time ago, my daughter asked me what it meant “to be in one’s birthday suit.” I explained that this term essentially meant being naked, wearing what one is born with — nothing. Since then, we’ve occasionally joked and laughed that it would be silly to have a cute dress as a birthday suit because everyone is born completely naked.


I grew up in a family that wrapped nakedness with shame. My parents were secretive about nudity, and to this day, I’ve never seen my mom without clothes. Perhaps because of this upbringing, or maybe due to other reasons, I’ve always been modest about my body.

But…I’ve also been so proud of my body, particularly my breasts and — I know this sounds silly — but my belly button. I believed my pre-cancer body was beautiful. I wasn’t vain about it or flaunted it, yet I knew my breasts and belly button were just perfect. I loved my birthday suit.

But….then came the shitfest known as cancer.

I had three lumpectomies on my right breast: the initial lumpectomy, a second one to excise the dirty margins — not to mention damage caused by radiation — and a final lumpectomy five years later when I had a medical scare of possible recurrence in that same breast. (Luckily it turned out to be scar tissue.) My breast was horribly deformed, and my body image went down the toilet.

The prophylactic bilateral mastectomy came next, and I had to adjust to breasts, each with a different cup size, and that looked nothing like the breasts I was born to have. The tattooed nipples were irksome to me, as they weren’t the lovely nipples I once had. Body image issues ran amuck. You can read more about them here and here.

But….just as important, my belly button was recreated as a distorted hole. I know it sounds silly to fuss over this part of the human anatomy, as a belly button is seemingly unimportant, but I am sometimes grief-stricken about it and wince each time I see the fake, plastic-surgeon-created belly button. Now, don’t get me wrong; I don’t give it much thought most days. But the belly button and huge hip-to-hip scar underneath it are daily reminders of cancer.

My lack of belly button self-esteem was revisited two weeks ago, when I signed my daughter up for ballet. And, just as luck would have it, the director of the dance studio told us that we were in for a surprise because we were just in time to watch a rehearsal performance in an adjacent dance studio. So thinking it would be great fun, we agreed to watch these dancers rehearse their number.

But….did I tell you that the dance performance we watched was belly dancing? No shit.

My daughter and I loved it and got caught up in the rhythm of the music and the sounds of the ornate bells and jingles on the hips of all the dancers, who varied in age and body types. All these women swaying to and fro seemed to be confident in their bodies. And in case you’re wondering, I did indeed assess their belly buttons. The verdict: I had belly envy.

I don’t mean to belly ache about this, but the emotional pain is real. Over 10 years ago, my body had been altered to the point where I had no longer recognized myself.

Unlike my parents, I teach Ari that our bodies are nothing to be ashamed of. And, over the years, I’ve grown to be mostly at peace with my re-created torso.

But ….just this week, Ari saw me step out of the shower and dry myself.

“Mom, you are not in your birthday suit.”
“Of course I am!” I said.
“No, you’re not,” she said matter of factly. “Your body isn’t the one you were born with.”
“You’re right,” I said, trying to hide my agony. “I’m not exactly in my birthday suit.”

Believe it or not, I’m thinking of taking belly dancing. It really looked like fun and not too tough. I like the sound of the music, as well as the jingles on everyone’s hips. I think it might be therapeutic because through belly dancing, I could gain confidence in my body.

And maybe it won’t matter that underneath the jingles and scarfs that I’m not in my birthday suit.


Do you have body-image issues since surgery? How has your experience been?

Do you think I should take belly dancing? Have you belly danced?

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16 Responses to Birthday Suit

  1. Alli had this to say about that:

    Years ago I had spinal surgery for Scoliosis. I have a scar that runs the full length of my spine as well a curved scar on my right hip for a bone graft. I was 13 years old how could I possibly wear a bathing suit or anything that showed my back that would expose my scar. I was very self loathing I thought I was ugly, no one would want to be around a freak like me. Because of the surgery I lost the feeling in my upper arm It was so upsetting I took a razor blade hacked my arm I bled like crazy I was taken to hospital to be stitched up. My Dr was one of the most caring men I have ever met, He put me in touch with a teen girl who was badly burned with severe scars on her face. I never forgot what she said. She told me my scar tells a story of me part of my her-story If people laugh, let them if people ask – tell them tell them how this procedure saved my life you never know one piece of information could help someone else

    Belly Dance? Oh yes by all means. I have a friend in New York who is a well known Belly Dancer by the name of NEON.. After my Breast Cancer surgery she sent me a bunch of belly dance videos, great exercise you don’t have to have a perfect belly great self esteem builder as well as confidence…. Just do it… and enjoy!

    (Beth I have a new blog hope you will check it out and comment….Thanks )

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Alli,

      I had no idea you had such medical issues at such a tender age. You’ve been through so much. The teen girl who gave you advice was wise beyond her years; for some it takes a lifetime to learn the value of scars.

      In terms of belly dancing, I’m a bit timid and shy, but I will take your advice and inquire about the class. I really feel so nervous about it, but if it will help give me enjoyment and confidence in my body, I should go for it.

      I am hopeful I will feel comfortable belly dancing some day, but one thing I know: I will never be a well-known belly dancer. I’m a bit of a clutz. I think it’s beyond cool that your belly dancer friend NEON sent you all those videos. She sounds great.

      I will visit your blog and comment!

  2. Scott Johnson had this to say about that:

    I can’t my belly button is that different after surgery. It seems too symmetrical and neither an innie or an outie and will no longer hold a large marble like it used to. There’s also a scar that loops part way around it that starts below my belt line and looks like a question mark.
    It seems my surgeon had good intentions in resetting the button. But being in a hurry, picked a rather boring model from the catalog. Plus the power went out during the operation, so I’m lucky it landed where it did.
    As for birthday suits I’m thinking spandex with glitter–especially for belly dancers but where would you store it when it wasn’t your birthday? Dry cleaners? My Grandmothers used to take their mink coats to a refrigerated storage locker place in the summer but hanging there with the stacks of frozen pizza and uncle Fred’s no longer favorite Moose head could get to be a downer.
    The attractiveness of a person is as much in the way they move as it is in their body form. Belly dancing sounds like a great activity. Our daughters still dance in their late 30’s and love it.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:


      Did your belly button really hold a large marble at one time? I’m impressed. Yep, when those surgeons start tampering, they may start a real problem for patients physically and emotionally. Of course, I do realize that many, many doctors try their best. My plastic surgeons did a great job, all things considered. But, in the end, it’s not what I was born with (sigh). By the same token, I’m thrilled to be alive, so I keep my complaining to a minimum.

      I actually was a tap dancer from age 5 until 13, but then I had balance. I’m so very nervous about starting out with belly dancing, but it looked amazing, so I think I will try it!

      • Scott Johnson had this to say about that:

        I was “chubby” as a child and my navel was very deep and strong. It also was a target for the other kids poking me so my sister suggested I try a marble to protect myself. Like the old movies with belly dancers who have jewels in their navels.
        It’s natural to be disappointed in how we look sometimes. And complaining is entirely fair. Not being perfect, we need to compensate by being nice and then people EXPECT niceness all the time. Like we were Nice’O’Matts.
        Bet you’ll do great with belly dancing. Have you tried one of those round boards that balance on top of a small half sphere? I use ours on the back porch where I can hang onto the handrail. Chemo wiped out my balance but the board strengthens the core muscles.

        • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

          Ah, I see the need for the marble. I agree that we often are disappointed in our looks. I know we all wish we had never gotten ill in the first place. As the saying goes, we learn to play the hand that we were dealt.

          I also have balance issues, thanks to cheno. I’ve never tried the round board; I’ve been afraid to.try it, as I don’t want to fall. I will consider this for improving my balance, Holding onto a handrail will be a must for me.

          Thank you for your confidence in my belly dancing. I’m going to venture out and try it!

  3. Wendy had this to say about that:

    Give belly dancing a try!
    I have a friend who loves it.
    She has severe pain from different causes, but when she belly dances she says she feels strong and alive. The friendships she has made through it will last a life time.
    Good luck!
    Have fun!
    I think you’re doing great.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:


      Thank you so much for your encouragement! I will give it a try. I just have to have courage to come out of my shell. I’m a shy person, and really shy about my body, but I think I can do this.

      Thank you for your great comment!

  4. Rebecca had this to say about that:

    Beth, this was a touching post and one I can relate to. I had a lumpectomy, and although the surgeon did a great job, it still looks very different compared to the other breast. I also had to have two surgeries. My intimacy has been affected by all of this cancer business, which is to be expected. There’s def. a period of getting used to our new bodies and sometimes it takes a while. But we move forward as best as we can.

    I love belly dancing. Although I never took lessons, I appreciate the music a lot. I want to share one particular song I love and one that inspired me to appreciate belly dancing – it’s called AMR DIAB-AZEZ ALAYA. I also love music from India.

    You should give this a try! We have to find ways to gain our confidence back and if music and dancing help you, then go for it. I hope you’ll share about it if you decide to do it. xo

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Rebeca,

      Yes, getting used to our new bodies is a difficult task, and it affects everything — body image, self-confidence, intimacy, etc.

      I love Indian music too! I’m going to look up the song you mentioned on YouTube. If I do decide to belly dance, I will definitely write a post about the experience.


  5. Nancy Stordahl had this to say about that:

    Hi Beth,
    I don’t think it’s silly at all to miss body parts we’ve had to give up or get “revised” because of cancer. Our bodies take a major hit, not to mention our psyches. And yes, I have issues! I never really thought much about my belly button until I had my bilateral salpingo oophorectomy surgery. They made incision(s) through my belly button. I like how you and Ari are so open with one another about body image stuff. That’s so important and builds up a level of confidence and trust – individually and in your relationship. I hope you do take the belly dancing class. If you do, don’t forget to blog about it! Thanks for the post.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:


      You are absolutely right about our bodies taking a major hit from cancer, such as amputations and reconstructed parts. Thank you for validating my feelings, as always. Yes, I do think openness between parent and child about nudity is a must.

      And, yes, if I do take the belly dancing class, I will definitely blog about it.

  6. Kathi had this to say about that:

    Great post! I took belly dancing years ago, and it was great! It’s also, depending on the teacher, harder than it looks, but talk about core strengthening!! Best ever and much more fun than Pilates. It makes you feel amazing. Go for it. Our bellies are so much more than merely the umbilicus. :) xoxo

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Thanks, Kathi! I really want to feel confident with my body, plus tone it a bit. Belly dancing might just fit the bill — especially after your telling me about your great experience.

  7. heidi bright had this to say about that:

    So, did you decide to belly dance? It’s fun, and you don’t have to show off your torso. I did it once or twice. I have a C-section bikini scar and a long Superwoman scar that skirts around my belly button. It anchors me, lol.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Heidi,

      I haven’t jumped into belly dancing yet. I think I have to wait until I have the courage to try it. Building up the courage….

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