Growing up, I struggled with body image issues, my mind constantly distorting the way I looked at myself and feeling the need to live up to an expectation that didn’t exist. When I was told I had breast cancer though and had to undergo a lumpectomy followed a year later by a bilateral mastectomy, I began mourning the loss of the skin I was once uncomfortable in. I didn’t want to lose my body, my breasts and something that had always been a part of me. But now I was faced with this new reality. The constant reminder of the pain and trauma my body had endured as I faced the scars looking back at me each day. I began to fixate on the flaws and imperfections and felt an overwhelming sense of disconnect to my body. I didn’t want to touch or be touched, I didn’t feel sexy, and I struggled with my sense of self as my confidence waned.
But then something happened. I was referred to the ladies from the Feel Good Campaign by a fellow breast cancer survivor who had been recently involved with them. Melanie Baird, a professional makeup artist for 20+ years , and Danielle Bennett, a hair stylist for 15+ years had come together to create an amazing campaign to help women who had been through treatment (or currently in treatment) feel confident and beautiful again and embrace their inner warriors. I jumped at the opportunity and found myself heading down to Victoria a couple months later to meet these inspiring women.
My first stop was at Bliss Spa where I was treated to a manicure and then was on my way to get my hair and makeup done. From the moment I walked in, I felt so welcomed and cared for by these women. I began sharing my story with them and felt the emotions bubbling up to the surface as I was retelling it. To be honest, sometimes I feel like I’ve put up such a big shield to protect myself and my family and friends that I don’t realize how much this has all truly impacted me.
During my glam session, the ladies walked me through each of the safe beauty products they were using and taught me everything from what brushes to use to tips and tricks on how to still pull off a dramatic eye effect even as my lashes continued to fall out (thanks menopause) and how to style my new pixie cut. To top it off, I went for a little added pop of colour on my lips and shown how to apply false lashes for an extra bit of glam as I was heading in for a photo shoot with one of the photographers they collaborated with for this campaign.
Although I had the option to do a portrait, family or boudoir session, I chose to step completely out of my comfort zone and do a white sheet / boudoir session. I wanted to get to know my body more intimately and be able to feel sexy and confident again not only for myself but to feel that openness with my husband again too. If you had asked me if I would’ve ever done this type of photo shoot prior to my diagnosis, I probably would’ve said no. I barely got changed in front of others let alone take my top off for all to see but after exposing my breasts to dozens of medical staff during treatment, the whole modesty thing gets thrown out the window a bit.
The photographer, Chelsea from Vintage Chic Photography, made me feel comfortable as soon as I walked in and directed me through each shot making me feel more relaxed as she asked me about my story. I was sharing an intimate side of myself that many had never seen before and was nervous at first to expose my scars but this was more than just a photoshoot. It felt like a celebration of my body and everything it had been through and I left feeling a new found confidence in myself that I had never felt before.
I felt beautiful and sexy again for the first time in a long time and began embracing this new body of mine that found the strength to make me the woman I am today. I was so excited to see the pictures and was blown away when I received an email the next month with a video from the shoot. It was absolutely unexpected and brought tears to my eyes watching her tell my story from start to finish through this beautiful slideshow. I still get goosebumps every time I watch it and am so grateful for this memory and for everything these women did for me.
This day was much more than just about being pampered though. It was about finding love and acceptance in this new body of mine that I had struggled with for so long. I felt like I was finally beginning to truly embrace who I was and see my body and my scars as a sign of power and strength and not for its flaws or weaknesses. There are still moments where I falter and it’s a process that takes time but there is nothing more powerful than a woman determined to rise and who can look back in the mirror and say I am a badass warrior.