At a time when diversity and acceptance is a central part of our news topics – magnificently so – I found myself wondering why an emphasis is so heavily placed on reconstructive ads after women have had breast cancer along with the usual suspects of fixing ourselves in appearances. The abundance of articles telling us how we need to teach our children to be more conscious and embrace images of people who are different yet the cosmetic ads are still perpetuating the need to be “perfect” or “normal” without defining what normal or perfect is. If you look behind the curtain - it's usually a company that is selling or marketing a product for profit.
When my friend – Wendie Jo Sperber founder of weSPARK.org – was told by the doctors (the very ones who said she would remain cancer free) – that her cancer returned to her central nodes and had spread throughout her body – she was devastated. She had reconstruction of her one breast and had built her foundation hoping to help others as a woman who had beat cancer yet became the icon of the “cancer warrior” instead. She didn’t hide her bald head at events while preparing to go on or her bloated feet from standing yet didn’t complain. Amazing woman, mother, advocate she was and remains. Wendie Jo is one of many women I admire/d.
When my son - Dylan Bocanegra - did his first art show the images that stopped people in confused awe were three stencils he did from photographs I took of a girlfriend who chose not to have reconstructive surgery. Carolyn along with the blessing of her long -time boyfriend who has stayed by her side throughout pre and post cancer loved the photo session and the exhibited stencils. These pieces show the daring vulnerability of a woman who went through hell and back but lets her body relay her story. Will they be shown as they are or edited out - this does enter my mind as I type these words? My film was kept from a diversity film forum because I didn't have enough "known" actors in it but it defined the festival itself. Australia thinks differently and I hope my European roots have grown richer in their views here in America.
When I posted these images on my Facebook - several women wrote to me saying that they loved the artwork but were afraid to give visible support of them for fear they would judged for having had cancer. Cancer is still a "bad" word. I’ve been in clinics where posters hang advertising breast implants in the same room where a girl/woman gets her pap. If you talk to the doctor doing the mammograms they will tell you - hands down - do not go for implants because it raises the risk of missing cancer dramatically. Do as you choose but please talk to both sides of the fence. I had a woman tell me once that I would have better self-esteem if I had breast implants! My mother had large breasts - not in my genes. I could breast feed a village and her milk couldn't feed the four kids she had. Go figure. I've personally always liked being able to be physically active -sans the back strains - and wouldn't expand my chest for any man any more than I would ask him to enlarge his :X. We have bras for that - far cheaper than implants and intrinsically healthier.
It is in the spirit that being different is normal or that one’s outward appeal doesn’t lose its value to another and might just lend some visual credence to that old saying -“inner beauty lies within” – that I decided to put up Carolyn’s photo session. The artwork it is today honors those who choose to not reconstruct and those who have the courage to be who they really are - without explanation.
I’m all for choices and in knowing more we are then able to make more intelligent decisions or right ones for ourselves. The beauty of Carolyn’s story is that her guy has been by her side before, during and after cancer while fully supporting her decision not to reconstruct. What an incredible couple in a town that replaces significant others so easily - married or not - an interracial couple at that: another visual to "define" by – or hopefully not.
Thank you Carolyn - for having such a profound effect on my life and for being an enlightening muse. It is our hope that these images will hang in a museum one day - I believe they will. In honor of this woman and man who remind me again - truly having another's back is the ultimate love. Seems many share more love with their dog or cat than humans - who needs the complications, right?