under the red dress

A breast cancer survivor in Australia posted powerful, naked photos on Facebook to show the hidden effects of breast cancer on a woman’s body, which is something that goes largely unmentioned when we think about breast cancer. Her goal is to raise awareness about cancer prevention, and expose the reality of the disease, as opposed to the pink ribbons we normally associate with breast cancer.

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Beth Whaanga was diagnosed with breast cancer and found out she has the BRCA2 gene (which predisposes a person to breast cancer), and underwent a double mastectomy, breast reconstruction, and a hysterectomy, leaving her body dramatically changed. Whaanga worked with photographer Nadia Mascot to develop “Under The Red Dress,” which focuses on the realities of cancer instead of the rhetoric we normally hear.

The aim of this project is to raise awareness for breast cancer. If you find these images offensive please hide them from your feed. Each day we walk past people. These individuals appear normal but under their clothing sometimes their bodies tell a different story. Nadia Masot and I aim to find others who are willing to participate in our project so that we might show others that cancer effects everyone. The old and the young, age does not matter, self examination is vital. It can happen to you.

I’ve yet to see a more striking take on this, and it flies in the face of how we normally view breast cancer. Breast cancer tends to be thought of very locally–that is to say we think of it as a boob disease. It’s the reason we end up with sexualized campaigns like “Save The Boobies” or dude bros with philanthropic desires as big as their boners grope women’s breasts in exchange for money to be donated to breast cancer charities. But breast cancer is hardly just about breasts–breasts don’t get cancer. People get breast cancer.

breast cancer survivor naked photo

“Under The Red Dress” touches on an important but often ignored facet of treatment–the “what’s next?” element. Like these stunning photos that focus on body image after breast cancer, they show the harsh reality of multiple surgeries and treatment have on bodies. I also love the name “Under the Red Dress,” which beautifully suggests the futility of wear red! Pink ribbon! Sisterhood!

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Whaanga posted an update this morning following the publicity for the project (overwhelmingly positive, although Whaanga did lose about 100 Facebook friends after posting). After clarifying that she was exceptionally lucky to have caught the cancer early, she reiterated the major goal of the project:

The aim of the photo shoot was to make women and men aware. Aware of any changes to their body, to show that cancer does not discriminate between gender, race, or age. It effects all of us. For those of us who have been lucky enough to prevent their condition from continuing or occurring we have a responsibility to make others aware.

Aware doesn’t mean wearing a pink bra or posting a Facebook status. Aware means seeing your doctor regularly and performing self checks. If you don’t know how to check yourself for breast cancer, here’s a handy resource.

Photos: Facebook