A year ago this month, I nervously posted my topless mastectomy photo series on the internet. Not knowing what the reaction would be, I prepared for the WORST (an avalanche of slut shaming internet trolls, hate mail from Breast Cancer Patients saying "I am insensitive", and my father being mortified) and hoped for the BEST (internet trolls showing compassion, breast cancer patients finding comfort and joy, and The Ellen Show begging to have me on).
Thankfully, the reaction was the Best Case (minus getting on The Ellen Show) and the internet proved to be incredibly kind to a WOMAN SHOWING HER BREASTS ON THE INTERNET.
In 2014, a year after my mother passed away from ovarian cancer, I was planning a preventative bilateral mastectomy to lower my risk of cancer--thanks BRCA1 genetic mutation. Three days before my appointment to schedule that surgery, I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer.
Behind the scenes video of the series and my vulnerable explanation of the process.
Before removing my breasts, I wanted photographic evidence of their original splendor but I didn't want it to look like mug shots of attempted murders taken from my cell phone. Instead, I imagined images that captured the changing emotions of each stage in the mastectomy/reconstruction process.
I told everyone that my goal was to change the images women saw of mastectomies. Rather than simple Before and After photos, these would share the Evolution, the Life, and the HUMOR in this dark situation. But the truth is, I was making the photos I wanted to see when I started this process. This series gave me a way to reframe my experience and accept my new body in the process.
The incredible women, Alexa and Ellie, of Blast 'Em Photography lovingly came on board, along with Brynn Burg (Bride of Frankenstein MUA/HAIR) and Tiffany Alfonso (Mannequin MUA).
I dubbed the series MY BREAST CHOICE.
Gasp... REAL Nipples. When the photo series got picked up by the news, this was the only image they censored. The feminist in me finds that funny/heartbreaking.
"Topless Rosie" is an ode to the WWII propaganda image. Taken a week before my double mastectomy and the first time I EVER bared my BARE breasts for a camera, I wanted to capture the "We Can Do It" spirit of determination that was missing in all of the medical mastectomy "before" photos that filled the internet.
Two weeks post mastectomy, with the expanders slightly filled and no nipples, I felt like the Bride of Frankenstein. I was broken and cut to pieces--physically and emotionally. (The stitches around my shoulders and collar bone were movie make-up created by the talented Brynn Berg).
There are so many layers of emotion in this photo. It was taken at the end of 4 months of intense chemo, my expanders were fully inflated, and I looked like a mannequin. It felt like I had become a base model human without the external trappings that define us; hair, clothes, breasts.
During this crappy time, as the treatments were starting to take their toll on me, there was this pressure to continuously be HAPPY. The moment I showed any fear, anxiety, sadness, or depression, people would spew out cliques, "Stay Positive", "Be Strong", "You are going to be FINE". Much of the time was spent managing other's emotions and FAKING my own. I learned that in those moments that all I wanted someone to say was "This sucks" and just be with me as I cried.
Cancer ignited a rebellion within me. Never before had I posed topless because I was a "Good Girl." I followed societies unspoken rules.
Cancer helped burn that away. The human body is beautiful, we are allowed to love ourselves, and there is no reason we should have to hide our bodies. Cancer made me a Feminist and that is why I created this last photo.
I must admit that I still feel shame for the first image. I am embarrassed to show my nipples, even though those nipples are buried in a hazardous waste pile. The censorship of my real nipples goes all the way to my core. YET, this final image, with prosthetic nipples, I feel free of shame or guilt about my body.
Did you take before photos of your breasts? Do you wish you did? Comment Below
Special Thank you to those who made this HAPPEN:
Reconstructive Surgeon- Dr. Christopher Low and Breast Cancer Surgeon Dr. Avisar
Photography Team- Blast 'Em Photography (Alexa and Ellie)
MUA/Hair for Bride of Frankenstein- Brynn Berg
MUA for Mannequin- Tiffany Alfonso
Wig for Bride of Frankenstein- On loan from Chris and Michelle Diamantides
Prosthetic Nipples- Pink Perfect
Buzzfeed Contact- Jenny Lorenzo helped make this whole thing go viral.