Previously I had said, after my bi-lateral mastectomy, I felt like I looked more like a teletubby than a sexual goddess. And some of us want to feel sexy and we think we have to look sexy if we want to feel sexy but this is not true. It was not my surgeon’s fault by any account; all the professionals who saw me topless said he had done a beautiful job – but it wasn’t the original version of me. My shape had changed.
This influenced how I saw myself and how I felt about myself in the public eye. The eye of the beholder, which I thought was ‘You,’ but it was really myself thinking what ‘you’ think I look like. I needed to realize I had to stop trying to be something more or different than what I was; stop pretending. I had to admit and accept: I am who I am. We all go through change all the time. We are not stagnant; nor our bodies either. I had to embrace not having full breasts. It was an evolving journey that took place simultaneously with my sexual journey. They are two side of the same coin.
Clothes had always been an outward symbol for me, right from young. Clothes speak of your status, your career, your age, your sex, your personality, etc., etc. And this is quite normal but when it becomes an outer shell that you are trying to fit into/ step into rather than clothes being an authentic extension of who you are then there is a problem. My attitude towards clothes had its roots in our culture and started way before my cancer. Cancer was merely a magnifying glass that helped me face the layers of attitudes I had towards myself in general. I had to learn how to dress a new shape and I wanted to do it authentically.
First I simply tried to fit into tops that were too big around the bust so that my tummy and hips would fit, then I tried buying for my bust size and altered the tummy part; then I tried many different styles. I had clothes made for me. Eventually I began to search on the internet. It was a long process of grappling, bargaining, non-acceptance and acceptance. This is all part of the process of grief. There are so many breast cancer patients and mastectomies out there but it is hard to find them. Or they don’t really say too much about their struggles. Or maybe I just didn’t find it helpful because I had to go through my very own process. Not all people want to write about themselves or they haven’t found solutions yet.
I grew up in a time when we valued women’s fashion and the idolized feminine form as a sex symbol. The message was that you weren’t acceptable unless you looked a certain way but thankfully media is changing and even models are making an effort to be shown without makeup and their natural shaped bodies even with cellulite etc. In my search I finally found scantily clad pictures of different woman and their sizes and shapes, this is an example.
Not just the stereotypical shapes, like the archetypal ones: the teenager, young woman, the mother, grandmother, etc. I wanted to see real women of all shapes and sizes at all different ages. We don’t all look like the fashion models or have stereotypical shapes. Fortunately there has been a move towards embracing our unique shaped bodies, (what is normal) no one is normal. Uniquely shaped bodies are old, young, fat, thin, short, tall, curvy, straight, angular, mixed and matched etc. I began to look at these women as real people not as misfits. Slowly I could see that I was my own unique shape and that I should embrace it. I started by embracing my greying hair; somebody said I had a shock of curls, I embraced that too. The search helped me to embrace my personality as well. I began to see myself as a whole person: I am shy yet warm, reserved yet welcoming, strong yet polite, honest but circumspect, active yet contemplative. I embraced my voice too. I took singing lessons. Eventually I embraced my spoken and written voice too. I realized I was like a bud trying to open and wishing I was a bud; not understanding it is already true, I am a bud already opening, I must just trust the process. No longer did I feel out of order.
Finding new ways to use clothes
In my journal I wrote: ‘feeling in my skin – confidently myself‘
So my search was a very personal and unique path but I share it not because I think you should follow the same path but because it might inspire you to go on a search for yourself; and it might give you ideas of where or how to search. I decided that there were several areas to consider about myself: my shape, my colouring, my personality, my roles, my age and my style. I had some prerequisites: comfort, acknowledging my femininity, clothes for the appropriate role I was in at a certain time and how I ‘shine through’ or portray my qualities. My search covered all these areas. I am going to name a few of the people that helped me but it is in no way exhaustive and you might find completely different people who help you.
This was not a new area for me and I think I understood myself quite well. I had done the Myers-briggs tests, the enneagram tests and the Strengthsfinder gallup free test based on positive psychology. The problem was not: knowing who I was, but rather accepting who I was in compassion and gratefulness.
- Body colour, shape and style (style is intricately woven into one’s colour, shape and personality)
David Zyla, has a unique way of helping you understand your colouring and how to wear colour. Instead of lots of charts he helps you find your colouring from your skin, veins, lips and eyes. It is slightly different to Colour-me-beautiful and the like as they always point you to a set of determined swatches. The mindset is subtly different and for me it worked.
Justine Leconte is a young French fashion designer who works in Germany. You can find her on YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook . You will find diverse topics on body shape, fashion, hair, colouring, 10 wardrobe essentials, how to dress, finding your style and many more. I like the fact that she is unassuming and friendly. She introduced me to Aly Art, (full name Alyona Yarushina) from Russia, who amongst other topics of fashion and presentation, focuses on the 13 body shapes (feminine to masculine). You can find her on Facebook and my favorite, Youtube. I found the 13 body types very useful to study, she even gives a nice test that you can answer which helps point you in the right direction. She gets her knowledge from David Kibbe the original thinker behind the 13 body types. There are other people who might appeal to you if you are interested but if you start with these you are bound to find them.
- Roles: Analyze what I do and enhancing these qualities.
Roles are influenced by our personalities and what we choose to do in life. I came up with a list of my roles, roughly: home maker and gardener (casual); artist and writer (casual); friend (casual/semi-formal); physical activities (casual); wife (romantic/casual/formal); attend functions (semi-formal/formal). As you can see there is an overlap but it helped me define what kind of clothes I wanted to wear. You could come up with completely different roles or needs for dressing. I decided that most of my clothes needs to be comfortable and casual but that doesn’t mean that I want to look like a blob wearing unshapely clothing which is why I researched clothing my shape body. (see Justine Leconte and Aly Art).
I include age because our roles may change as our stage in life changes and our age, in some ways, guides what you want to wear too. I specifically researched older women who were successful such as Cindy Joseph (model who owned her own make-up company), Valerie Ramsey (from stay at home wife to career woman, faced terminal illness, co- author and motivational speaker), Caroline Labouchere (physical well-being, model and a great story: ‘from broke to limitless’), and Simone Jacob (sculptor and painter).
I wrote in my journal: ‘Personal preferences, own these preferences and do not be apologetic.’ It is not just about what I may like; I like so many things that don’t suit me or I don’t feel comfortable wearing. I have to feel that my colours and my style is part of me. If it doesn’t reflect me I am not interested it that fashion. It is all about owning who I am, stepping into what I enjoy and feel comfortable being in. It is all very well if I am typed as having a ‘soft – classical’ or as a ‘romantic’ shape body but if I prefer relaxed, earthy, comfortable clothing, because that is what my personality is more like, then I will listen to my personality as well.
So my search and research paid off. I feel comfortable in my skin and enjoy clothes again. I enjoy shining through my style. I certainly am a bud, but no longer do I try to bloom, I now acknowledge that I am blooming in a bed of roses (with the thorns). The belief that all will be well, that confiance innocente dans la vie, has gone but I have gained a steady balanced view of life and myself.
Take care – and remember, life is a gift, be inspired and accept it is happening!
If you want to read the sequence of events from the beginning you can find them here:
First Discovering I had cancer
second Meeting my surgeon
Forth Facing my fear of surgery
Fifth I am on fire: breast surgery recovery
Sixth Why me, Cancer, why me?
Seventh Breast reconstruction
Eighth Bilateral mastectomy’s sexual challenge
ninth My form explored through 3D art
Cancer challenges my personal style