One can never be prepared to hear the words, ‘You have cancer’, nor understand its impact.
With breast cancer, a body altering disease, it is necessary to make decisions about how you want to present your body by way of breast mound reconstruction, flat closure, external prosthesis tucked into a bra, or not. I chose flat and I do not replace my loss by wearing prosthesis.
Until my own diagnosis, I had not specifically met a single breasted or bilaterally flat woman. While I understand that one in eight women will get breast cancer in her lifetime, by appearances, it seemed all of them either reconstructed their bodies or wore prosthesis. It astounded me to see that the images on informational sites about breast cancer contained no visual reference to single breasted or bilaterally flat women. They allowed no indication of changes to the shape of the woman’s body.
This erasure made me feel as if my choice was rare, odd and abnormal.
I began to question what women might need in order to embrace flat as a beautiful, viable option, after breast cancer diagnosis.
My conclusions were and are, we need to be visible to one another, we need role models and we need clothing options that accommodate either the unilateral or bilateral loss of breasts. Fashion is a form of personal expression and contributes to our well being, a lack of clothing options forces us to present as if breasted, substantiating our invisibility.
Once my treatments were complete, I began seeking community in order to resume my life. This is when I learned that some women who chose flat suffer flat denial, either by way of paternalism in the medical community or a lack of surgical skill (Check out Not Putting on a Shirt) . I came to understand that my flat outcome was an ideal that not all women had the comfort of experiencing, when looking in the mirror.
This lit a white, hot, burning fire within me. Women were being denied their choice and autonomy, while fighting for their very lives. I didn’t know the depth of strength or determination that would manifest itself within my being. I would never call it courage, it wasn’t that, it was a spark that could be quenched, in no other way, than to find expression. I -needed- to make the change I wanted to see in the world.
At first, I sought out public figures like Kathy Bates and Tig Notaro, both of whom had been diagnosed and chosen flat closure, by contacting their agents with pleas for help. Unable to make those connections, I stepped in front of the camera, nude from head to toe and used those pictures to make my statement. I became the role model I needed to see.
Since this time, I have come to think of myself as a ‘flat advocate’. I have stepped in front the lens of Charise Isis