It Figures is Yahoo Life's body image series, delving into the journeys of influential and inspiring figures as they explore what body confidence, body neutrality and self-love mean to them.
Stephanie Germino's TikTok account keeps getting taken down. It's happened a half dozen times, in fact, because of her many topless videos — which is curious, she tells Yahoo Life, since, "I have neither nipples nor breasts."
Following a double mastectomy in 2021, the influencer has two horizontal scars where her breasts used to be. That should not count as a violation, according to the platform's community guidelines, which state, "We do not allow nudity, including uncovered genitals and buttocks, as well as nipples and areolas of women and girls." (TikTok did not respond to Yahoo Life's request for comment.)
Germino, 29, who posts as the Boobless Babe to her 1.5 million followers, understands that TikTok has a duty to follow up on the "conservative and misogynistic" users flagging her account. But she is dogged about always getting it reinstated, because it's a vital part of what she sees as her mission: to spread the message that "being flat is valid," she says. "And it is a choice."
The Florida mom of one declined breast reconstruction after her mastectomy — something a growing number of women have been doing in a fledgling, passionate movement that's pushing back against beauty norms and even pressure from surgeons to reconstruct. Germino has made herself a visible, inspiring example through her fierce, joyful social posts, also using them to raise awareness of BRCA gene mutations (as Angelina Jolie famously did a decade ago) that significantly raise one's risk of breast and ovarian cancers, and the surgeries that can be life-saving in that situation.
Germino knew she was a likely BRCA1 carrier when she was in her late teens. That's when her maternal grandmother found out she was a carrier — as she was being treated for breast cancer.
It prompted Germino's mother to get tested, along with two of her mom's siblings; all three were positive, and two, including Germino's mom, had prophylactic double mastectomies (and hysterectomies) plus breast reconstruction. But the reality for Germino, who was just 18 at the time of her mom's surgery, did not sink in.
"It wasn't an in-depth conversation that we had," she recalls. "It was more, 'OK, so this is what I’m doing. This is why, later, you'll have to test for it. Nothing you should worry about right now.'"
Germino wouldn't get her own test for another 10 years, when a benign cyst the size of a marble, found in her armpit, scared her into it. She was indeed a carrier, and began to set the wheels in motion for her own double mastectomy plus reconstruction. It was fueled by having always been insecure about the size and shape of her breasts.
"It was a very self-conscious part of me," Germino says, adding that because she felt they weren't "perky enough," she'd struggle over outfits and never go anywhere without a bra. So at first, the prospect of reconstruction made her think, "Oh, you know, free boobs, yay!" But the more she learned, the more she hesitated.
First, she researched the details of reconstruction options — most commonly involving a two-stage process that starts with the placement of temporary tissue expanders between the skin and chest muscle and ending with the swapping in of permanent silicone or saline implants, while a less-common choice is the DIEP flap technique, using fat from one's thigh to rebuild the breasts.
It's not always a perfect process, as one in three women who choose reconstruction face complications, according to recent findings; another study found that women who chose immediate post-mastectomy reconstruction had overestimated how satisfied they'd be with the results. "No shade on anybody, ever, having reconstruction or implants," says Germino. But there were more concerning issues, too.
"I started having conversations with my clients, my friends … and breast implant illness was starting to come to the forefront," she explains, referring to the collection of physical and mental ailments that can occur following the insertion of implants. Upon doing more research, she says, she "started seeing more women talking about all of these issues that they were having that were so unexplained, and then when they took their implants out, all of them went away."
Meanwhile, her doctor told her that she'd need to be on "rejection meds" when she got her implants, "because my body might reject them. I'm like, ‘Huh. I don't know if that is something I should be doing,'" Germino recalls. That's when her fiancée, Diana, sat her down for a heart-to-heart.
"She was like, 'Listen, I'm a full supporter of whatever you want to do,'" Germino says. "She's like, 'but you are doing this potentially life-saving surgery. Are you sure you want to get implants, that could potentially pose a higher risk of having issues, and multiple surgeries?'"
The clincher was when Germino found Statistical Oddity on TikTok, a breast cancer survivor who had gone flat post-mastectomy.
"That was literally the first time I ever saw a flat woman," says Germino. "I was like, 'Wait. Hold on. Let me process what I'm seeing. She's a badass. Oh my God, I love it!'" And then: "I want to do that."
Instead of reconstruction, she asked for what's only been recently, officially termed aesthetic flat closure. Since then, Germino has never looked back — and her body confidence has never been stronger.
"When I had boobs, it really did deter me … because of how far my boobs hung," she says. That felt especially true after breastfeeding her son Josiah, now 5, she explains, who she had through a previous marriage to a man.
Adding to Germino's physical insecurities was that she gained 60 pounds with her pregnancy and wound up with "a lot stretch marks."
But since going flat, she says, laughing, "You can't tell me anything. Like, I am literally the hottest s*** ever! In my mind." People have asked her if losing her breasts has given rise to body dysmorphia. "I'm like, 'No — I have body euphoria. Like, I want to showcase my body 24/7. Like, I should be in museums. Hello!'" She credits much of that to no longer worrying about "what I can wear with my boobs. I can literally wear anything. I am unstoppable."
Part of what's made her feel so confident in her flatness, believes Germino, who owns a beauty studio offering services from lash extensions to tattoos, is having such a supportive partner — as well as being a part of the queer community.
"I think that queer women, and the LGBTQIA family in general, is just so much more open-minded and so much more accepting," she says, quick to embrace anything having to do with "bodily autonomy."
"Every time I go out [in queer spaces] I'll wear, like, see-through tops, and everybody is so loving and accepting … They're just like, 'Yes, queen!' and 'You're such a badass,' and I love it," she says. In the general public, she's not always as revered.
"I get the stares. I get the, 'Oh, she ain't got no titties,' and I'm like, 'I don't, yeah I know.' It doesn't bother me at all, but I will say I feel more comfortable if I'm with my fiancée or with my people, because this world is scary."
That can be especially true on Germino's social accounts, where comments can be hostile — not only about her body, but her parenting skills, such as when she posted a poignant video of her son seeing her mastectomy scars for the first time as she explains to him, "Remember, mommy told you that she was getting her boobies taken off?" Some viewers did not approve.
"People lose their mind when they see me in front of my son without my shirt," she says. "They're like, 'You're traumatizing him. You're indoctrinating him.' I'm like, 'I'm literally living my life.'"
"I think that, just in general, human beings react negatively when they don't understand," says Germino.
"One, you see a woman who's confident in their body: 'Shame on that woman! No, you need to tear your body down,'" she explains. "Two, you see a beautiful woman who doesn't look like society's standard of beauty, and it's like, 'Oh no, absolutely not. Let's pick her apart.'" Further adding to the negativity, she adds, is that people automatically assume she is going through a gender transition.
She tries to give such commenters "grace," she says, as "aesthetic flat closures aren't widely known enough … So I understand your first instinct is to think, 'transitional top surgery.' I don't get offended by that, by any means. If people think that I'm trans, OK. I love my trans brothers and sisters. But I am going to educate you, and I do get a little frustrated when it is presented out of hate."
It's hard, she admits. "But it's not gonna stop me from showcasing myself and raising awareness," she adds, "because this necessary."
Wellness, parenting, body image and more: Get to know the who behind the hoo with Yahoo Life's newsletter. Sign up here.