Shining a light on the grey zones of gender construction: breast surgery in France and Italy

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This article analyses the areas of overlap between cosmetic surgery and reconstructive surgery, using the examples of both female and male breast surgery, and shows that these areas of overlap are sites of the construction of gendered bodies. The data are drawn from two pieces of research: the first based on 17 in-depth interviews with Italian cosmetic surgeons and the second based on 99 interviews with breast cancer patients and medical oncological professionals conducted in France and Italy. The primary data are supplemented by an analysis of the medical literature. ‘Too small’ female breasts (micromastia) and male gynecomastia (male fatty breast tissue) are pathologised by the surgeons and the medical literature, and a surgical intervention is presented as a way to heal this pathology. The pathologisation of healthy breasts goes along with the aestheticisation of oncological breast surgery. The interventions performed during a post-mastectomy breast reconstruction are guided by normative ideas of how a female body should be. The gender norms inscribed in this surgery practice can however be contested by patients: they can ask for a breast reconstruction while refusing all forms of ‘enhancement’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)303-317
JournalJournal of Gender Studies
Issue number3
Early online date13 Jan 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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