Friday, 8 February 2013

Amazonian Project: Breast cancer and body image

On Sunday, a fellow Mermaid and I are going to meet an artist called Hannah Whale and take part in the Amazonian Project, a campaign devised by Hannah with photographer Eileen Long. They are bringing together women to raise awareness of breast cancer and explore issues around body image, inner strength and notions of beauty. There are thirty or so of us taking part in the photo shoot. All of us have had breast cancer surgery of various kinds.

Hannah had her right breast removed in August 2010 after finding three lumps. After having a mastectomy, she found it hard to cope with her asymmetrical body image. Rather than go down the path of reconstruction, she decided to have the other breast removed and, like the poet Clare Best who I met recently, accept and celebrate herself as breastless. Hannah began working with Eileen Long to chronicle her cancer journey, and it has grown into the Amazonian project. Hannah says "mythical Amazonian women have become synonymous with courage, honour, bravery and in general a term for women warriors." It's a fitting metaphor for breast cancer patients.

Urged to reflect on what beauty actually means, I got out my dictionary.  One of the meanings is "the combination of all the qualities of a person or thing that delight the senses and mind". It is also "an advantageous feature". The Amazonian women were said to have cut off their breasts to give them an advantage, to make them better warriors, removing all obstacles in preparation for the fight. The notion of beauty, as I see it, lay in facilitating their performance in battle, in joining together and protecting each other. While those Amazonian warriors chose to remove their breasts, and we as breast cancer patients did not, the idea of beauty as noble attitude really resonates. The Amazonians might be mythological, but the truth of it is that breasts don't have to define us as "beautiful women". Neither do we have to be warriors to cultivate a noble attitude. We all have the ability to rise above conventional notions of beauty and, ultimately, make peace with our body changes. I believe Hannah's project encourages that. I'll report back...
Source: Eileen Long

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