To say, as a fashion designer, that having my own collection walk the runway at New York Fashion Week has not been a dream of mine, would be a lie. And because I am not in the habit of wanting to lie to all of you, and don’t want to start now, I won’t.
Yes. I am beyond pumped, thrilled, giddy, frazzled, overwhelmed, over the moon, excited to see the AnaOno logo projected above the catwalk this Sun., Feb. 12, as part of THE New York Fashion Week with #Cancerland and Art Hearts Fashion.
But that isn’t the full truth either.
You see, when 16 beautiful individuals take 15 minutes out of their lives to put on an AnaOno design and walk in front of global media and, yes, even some celebrities, with flashes firing around them and film crews following their every move, that moment is so much bigger than me. And so much bigger than lingerie and loungewear.
And, THAT is what I am most proud of and honored to take part in. Sunday will not be just about AnaOno and #Cancerland at New York Fashion Week. Sunday will be about raising a megaphone and shining a spotlight on breast cancer, breast surgery and stage IV disease.
THAT is what EXPOSED is all about. And that is why we’re walking.
A beautiful friend of mine, the woman who has made it possible for AnaOno to walk on the world’s stage, was talking recently about warrior women. Not cancer warriors per se, but the warriors who protect and lead their tribe, those who grow and nurture communities, who fight for what they believe in, and who rise up for all other warriors like themselves. She was passionately speaking about what it is like to lead and live your life in the greatest way one can: by using our abilities to express ourselves and harbor a climate for change. Loudly. Her exact words when talking about this warrior legacy, her warrior legacy, the warrior legacy of so many us who may have decades or days ahead of them, were:
WE LIVED TO HAVE OUR VOICES HEARD.
That friend, that erudite, fierce, incredible woman is Champagne Joy. And her words, which have echoed within me every single day as I curate this collection and organize this event, are the proof why our joint show with her pioneer foundation #Cancerland is so much greater than myself and my company.
This armor of sorts that I had put on every day of my young adult life precancer - the slick of mascara and lipstick, my provocative yet androgynous clothing style with my almost dangerous plunging necklines and killer jewelry all of which made me feel so fierce - meant nothing when I caught a glimpse of myself getting into the shower after my cancer treatment. If I wasn’t knocked down in that moment, the tearing through my closet to find a t-shirt from college to cover my sports bra before heading to a senior staff board meeting left me in a heap of tears on the floor every morning.
As I slowly rebuilt my own self-esteem and confidence, first by getting a mastectomy tattoo, then by talking to other women about life after acute treatment, and finally trying on my first bra prototype, I wondered why none of this was part of some greater “What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Mastectomy” pamphlet they handed out at your surgeon’s office. WHY was this piece missing? Why did nobody warn me? Why were we talking about these problems shrouded in secrecy - and not just our physical and emotional turmoil, but our sexual difficulties as well?
There is something strange that happens between being wheeled into surgery with one body and being wheeled out with another. But that oddity doesn’t seem to make itself known for a long, long time. I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand it for many months, years, in fact.
But, Champagne gets it.
She reminds us: Self and beauty and identity and fashion and makeup; these are important to a person’s identity and how a person is seen. Now that may be no makeup and no hair and no color, and ‘I take a shower and I keep going and that’s my beauty.’ But, it’s ‘my sense of self’ that lies within that. What happens in this disease is you are often unable to retain your sense of self, and if you do, it’s because you master that. It doesn’t just happen. You have to work it.
Yes, the conversation is shifting slowly, beginning with our community, bloggers, women taking to Instagram to share every aspect of their story and their treatment, including hopes, fears, tears and really honest photographs. These are lightning rod changes that didn’t exist even just a couple of years ago. Or even a year ago!
But the message isn’t changing in the media. Or come October. And so many people still don’t understand there is no cure for breast cancer. And that no one dies from cancer in the breast. And that we are not “Saving Second Base,” we are saving people; human beings.
I don’t know about you - but “Second Base” or the lack there of, does not change the fact I am human or a woman or beautiful.
It took me awhile to get there, and I know I am not alone in that feeling or that timeline of body acceptance. But as our world gets closer, our communication faster, our videos more viral, our stories read in more languages, it is time to close that gap. Breasts do not define beauty. Breasts do not define femininity. And whether you are a woman with your natural breasts altered by a lumpectomy, or have new breasts surgically constructed, no breasts, or even some combination of all of these - you are still you and you are still beautiful.
The fact we are still brandishing a pink ribbon on everything - as Champagne says “the bag of Pink Doritos” - and banging a drum about awareness is frustrating. Early detection, early mammograms, “Feel it on the First” aside, 1 in 8 women WILL get breast cancer in their lifetime. And no matter if it is caught at stage 0 or stage IIIC, 1 in 3 of those diagnosed will eventually become metastatic. And once metastatic, once stage IV, they are staring down a death sentence. One day they sadly will be one of the 113 who lose their life - not their battle, their life - to breast cancer. Believe it or not the vast amount of dollars that are raised from your purchase adorning a pink ribbon, likely none of it, actually, is going to research for a CURE. Because the number of research dollars earmarked for metastatic disease is abysmal.
THAT must also change.
Seven of the 16 individuals walking the runway for #Cancerland and AnaOno at Art Hearts Fashion New York Fashion Week have metastatic disease. Of those seven, four were diagnosed with what is referred to as de novo metastatic disease; their initial diagnosis was stage IV. One of those women was diagnosed terminal at just 18 years old. Instead of going to prom, she had a bilateral mastectomy - the first step in prolonging her life.
And because we’re being totally honest here, I want to confess something else.
When I began this shift in trajectory that would ultimately lead to the present day, I sort of faked it until I made it. And even now, as we sit in the studio laughing or crying over customer emails and cards and letters, or as we spend more time talking to those starting treatment than responding to emails, or figuring out how to explain to people we are just three people plus a few interns (and it is mostly just me and the interns in the studio everyday, with my satellite girls checking in remotely), I still ask if I have actually made it yet.
The answer to that question often changes, depending on what we’ve been working on or handling that particular day, but I can tell you this: If Champagne Joy and I can open up the dialogue about the effects of breast cancer on people and their body image or turn it up to 11 when it comes to the need for metastatic research and legislative change over the next several days, then yes, yes, we’ve made it.
Not just me, not just AnaOno, not just #Cancerland - but all of us. All of us warriors living with our voices heard.
#mytriptoWashingtonwithChampagneJoy very surreal- we had the fun & love we always have together while we were demonstrating for her and the hundreds of other #metastaticbreastcancer #metavivors' right to better research so they don't have to die... #stageivstampede #diein #Cancerland @metuporg. @Metavivor
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There’s no denying that mastectomy tattoos can be both beautiful, inspired and badass. For many women affected by breast cancer, it’s the last step in their mastectomy and breast reconstruction journey, and a symbolic ritual that empowers them to move into the next chapter of their lives. By adorning their bodies in a personal design after their breast cancer diagnosis and surgeries, they are taking back their power and starting over. These post-mastectomy tattoos serve as a form of self-expression that helps restore confidence that may have been lost throughout their mastectomy and/or reconstructive process. What’s most important, is that you do what makes you feel most confident and comfortable in your skin, and that builds your confidence and love for your body after breast surgery and mastectomy.
The road to self-love and compassion for both your physical body and inner self after a breast cancer diagnosis or dealing with chronic pain can feel impossible to reach. We know, because we’ve been there. So have so many other countless women, breast cancer patients, survivors, thrivers and previvors in the AnaOno community. We talked to a few women who are not only on the road to self-acceptance after breast cancer, but setting their sights on the ultimate: self-celebration and true self-love after mastectomy surgery.