I recently listened my Quilters Save Our Stories (QSOS) interview from 2010, where I heard my own voice, an echo of my past, discussing quilt making and hard times. I did this in preparation for a new podcast interview called Running Stitch, also a Quilt Alliance offering, that seeks to highlight and expand upon their rich backlog of quilt history interviews, mine among them. Unrelated to this, I posed for my second Grace portrait by Charise Isis, recently. This convergence of happenings allowed me time to ponder time spent between that November day in 2010 and this August 2020, ten years apart.
In November, ten years ago, I was establishing myself, heck, -I was- established, as an artist, a quilt maker, a surface design artist. I was attending Quilt Market in support of my first book, Inspired to Quilt by Interweave. I was doing well, my artwork was being seen, I was published. I had aspirations of creating a textile line, I felt driven.
I was also, unknowingly, two months away from a Stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis.
No breast cancer story is complete without a discussion of reconstruction. Long story short, I chose breastlessness. My chest is a perfect expanse of scarred, but well healed, ‘aesthetic flat closure’, as it is becoming known.
The growth and the gathering of knowledge, acquired over this decade, has sculpted a more rich, vivid and authentic version, of the Melanie or Melly, I once knew. This new version of Melly has stood naked in front of world class fashion photographers, portrait artists, syndicated news programs and in print magazine articles too. I have used my voice and my flat, breastless, body to make change within the breast cancer community and beyond.
Supported by my queer, artist identity, I asked myself, ‘what would an artist do, when faced with a dearth of visual representation for their bodily choice’? My response, an artist would harness their power and say ‘the thing’. So, I stepped into that uncharted space and said the thing.
I have made explicit, by way of participating in photographic projects, that not all people have breasts. I have made explicit that beauty, or ‘female beauty’, is not dependent on breasts, or even the known hourglass shape that is reflected back at us in media depictions. I have also continued to make artwork that includes female bodies with less than two breasts.
In 2011, my reconstructive choice did not have a name. Researching imagery related to choosing ‘no reconstruction’ or ‘mastectomy without reconstruction’ yielded vapid, headless images, which offered lackluster entry into what it might mean to be breastless. I sought to populate this space with with images that convey laughter, love, determination, grit and out loud proud sex appeal.
I challenged myself by saying, ‘Yes’, to walking Rainbow Fashion Week in NYC, I participated in a movie called the Avant Gardener by Lindsay Katt and I traveled to Berlin, Germany to be photographed for PerfecktUNPerfeckt by Uta Melle and Esther Haase. I have reached into my personal depths to reveal my changed body, while saying the words, ‘my body is good enough’, -to millions- of CBS Sunday Morning television viewers.
All, in order to create a cultural context for people who choose to forego breast mound surgery.
In all of this, I have sometimes felt vulnerable beyond my ability to cope. Sometimes too, I was just as happy to thumb my nose at the assumption that breast mound surgeries were inevitable, for people in my situation.
What I really learned during this time is, my actions, my art and my voice, -my words- are important!
My passionately held ideals are now, thankfully, a shared and community endeavor. I have joined forces to create Flat Closure NOW, where we maintain a gallery of images of breast cancer patients around the world, with printables to bring to your doctor. I also join my voice to a cacophony of fellow advocates, who seek to change the narrative of what it can mean to have breast cancer and choose… aesthetic flat closure.
Just this month, the National Cancer Institute adopted into its dictionary of cancer terminology, the words, ‘aesthetic flat closure’ and given it a clear definition. My choice, now has a name and a specific description of outcome, so that no person need face what I did ten years ago.
Prior to this experience, I did not fully comprehend that one person can, indeed, change the world. I did not understand fully, that using my voice and speaking my mind, could have profound impact beyond the scope of my own personal, earthly bubble. Neither did I understand the importance of visibility within breast cancer community and beyond.
And, along the way, I continued to make artworks that speak to my experience.
I encourage you to check out the Running Stitch podcast interview of me and my mask making endeavors. And then, check out my Etsy, where you will find snazzy masks, hand printed nudes, my latest book and more.