I Don't Care If My Topless Photos Shock You

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Rachel Garlinghouse/Instagram

I’ve been posting topless photos and videos of myself on social media for a few months now. Ever since I decided to explant (that’s have my breast implants removed and go flat), I’ve felt compelled to share my journey with others. I was only thirty-five when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and it’s important to me to remind others to do their monthly self breast exams and get their mammograms as well as navigate breast implant illness.

As well-intentioned as I am, there will always be pearl-clutchers who feel the need to tell me to “cover up” and stop being “inappropriate.” They don’t want to see my nudity in their social media feeds. I’m here to tell them, my scars aren’t sexual or lewd. In fact, by showing off my scars, I’m generating breast cancer awareness and breast implant danger advocacy.

I remember the first time I posted, bracing myself for the potential backlash. Of course, it would have been easier just not to post, right? I mean, no one was forcing me to forgo my shirt, snap pictures, and post them for thousands of people to view and judge. However, the responses I received were overwhelmingly positive.

I’ve received hundreds of private messages, people sharing stories of their own or loved one’s diagnosis. One woman emailed me to thank me. After reading my story about experiencing twenty-nine symptoms of breast implant illness, she decided to cancel her implant surgery. I am thankful for the courage it takes for each person to send me, a stranger, a message sharing their story.

After all, breasts are a big freaking deal in our culture. I remember when I was in middle school how I couldn’t wait to actually need a bra instead of just wearing one as some sort of womanly imposter. I would examine my barely budding breasts every day, imploring them to grow, baby, grow. I hardly had anything until high school, and even then, they were a B-cup at best.

My breasts betrayed me. At thirty-five years old, I found my third breast lump via a self-breast exam. I promptly reported it to my doctor, who ordered an ultrasound and my first mammogram. Both showed the mass, but it didn’t appear suspicious. I was to return in six months for a follow up ultrasound. I breathed a sigh of relief—for a minute—thankful that this third lump appeared to be benign, just like the other two. However, I felt a growing sense of restlessness with each passing day and decided to seek a second opinion from a breast surgeon.

She agreed that the lump needed further investigation and performed a biopsy. I went on vacation and returned to my appointment with her, strolling into the office with an iced coffee in my hand. That day changed everything. I remember the doctor saying, “I never like to tell women this, but you have breast cancer.” She went on to talk about surgery, an MRI, chemotherapy, radiation, genetic testing, and more, but I only heard her words, like a vocabulary list for cancer patients, and not the meaning. I was immediately thrust into the first stage of grief: shock.

The coming months were nothing but agony. I had appointments, lab draws, more scans, genetic testing. I ultimately decided that even though a lumpectomy and radiation was an option, I wanted to have a mastectomy. I then made the choice, based on qualifying, to have my own breast tissue removed and implants placed in the same surgery. After my surgery, I had a two month recovery, followed by more appointments.

After years of therapy to help me deal with my medical trauma, I finally was coming out of my fog when I made a rash decision: I wanted my breast implants out. I’d been in constant shoulder and rib pain from my right implant, and I’d begin to get sick and sicker with seemingly random and concerning symptoms like brain fog, joint swelling, sudden food intolerances, weight gain, and increasing anxiety (to name a few). I truly believed this would be my final step into my new and improved self, putting everything cancer related behind me.

As I awaited my explant surgery, something rather shocking happened. One night, as I was adjusting my v-neck shirt, I felt a mass in my chest wall and felt panic wash over me. After three ultrasounds and a biopsy, I got the results. My breast cancer was back.

I went under the knife again, having my breast implants and my chest wall mass removed in the same surgery. Then there was the wait-and-see. When I got the pathology results, which told me that unfortunately, all the cancer wasn’t removed, I went back into surgery again. This time, I was declared cancer free.

I’m currently in chemotherapy, a choice I made to hopefully eradicate and undetected, rogue cancer cells that may be trying to have a party in my body. Next up is thirty-three rounds of radiation and a continued year of immunotherapy. I’m exhausted, I’m hopeful, I’m thankful, and most of all, I’m filled with an urgency and purpose to remind others to check their boobs and be aware that getting breast implants is a risky decision, one that should not be taken lightly.

I’ve been a writer for a long time, and I’m used to trolls spewing their nastiness. I’m no stranger to those who clutch their pearls, who think modesty is the way to heaven, or who deem themselves the jury of all-things-appropriate. They let me have it, often, and I don’t relent. In fact, this article is the greatest pause I’ve ever given them.

I understand—I really do—that seeing a topless, boobless woman appear in your social media feed is jarring. Can I tell you something? That is the point. I want you to know the hell I have endured, and I care enough about you that I don’t want you to suffer the same fate. I could post statistics and pink ribbons, but these won’t get your attention the way my bare-chested, Frankenstein scars will.

I’m not going to stop posting. When one of my topless videos was reported on TikTok, I appealed the decision and re-posted the video. I don’t care how many times someone flags my posts. I’m just going to post another. The lives of others matter too much to me to get freaked out by someone who is uncomfortable. Frankly, you know what’s more uncomfortable than my topless images? Breast cancer.