Archive for the ‘Fashion’ Category

Miss Pink Elegance


Recently, a story about an upcoming fundraiser appeared in a Pennsylvania newspaper.

A local Susan G Komen for the Cure Foundation® affiliate is hosting a fashion show, luncheon, and auction fundraiser later this month.  In addition, they are crowning the first “Miss Pink Elegance.”  Event co-chair Joanne Arduino explains:

This year marks the first crowning of “Miss Pink Elegance,” an honor that will be awarded to the guest wearing the best pink outfit…Guests can come in elegantly or outrageously in pink,” she said. “The winner will be crowned Miss Pink Elegance the First. They’ll get a sash, a crown and a dozen pink roses. We’ll have someone who sings ‘Miss Pink Elegance.’ And she’ll strut down the runway.”‘

On first glance, the triteness of a fashion show and subsequent crowning seems an affront to the seriousness of breast cancer.  If that’s all there was to it, this would be a simple matter of taste.  Unfortunately, there’s more to it.

Sarah Horton, author of Being Sarah had some insightful thoughts about fashion shows in her book.  She references a blogger, JaneRA, who wrote about the issue of restoring femininity post-breast cancer and about Audre Lorde’s insight into the concerted effort to hide the physical impact of the disease.

“… [I]t’s the message behind this that upsets some of us. Jane refers to the central London offices of a national breast cancer charity, and the photos on the walls of the previous models, all smiling…you can’t miss the point that ‘ultra feminine, attractive, youthful and happy’ is how you’re supposed to look after breast cancer…  Audre Lorde calls this a ‘conspiracy on the part of Cancer Inc’ for women to appear ‘no different from before’ and show the world that ‘nothing has happened to challenge her’.” (pg 239)

A lack of gravitas shown by this and many other pink ribbon fundraisers is only the tip of the pink iceberg.  Fashion shows, parades and other celebrations are popular because people want to feel good, to believe that they can both have fun and make a difference.  Kitschy fundraisers become popular and propagate.  Eventually the dominant message becomes that breast cancer is a playful celebration; that women can not only be restored to a societal image of beauty, but that they can be better than before.  In this instance, the best assimilated, most fully restored person who receives the most votes will receive a sapphire crown, a pink sash and a happy serenade.

Harm is done to people who don’t fit this mold, who on top of having cancer receive blame for not surviving correctly.  For many, the truth of breast cancer is not pretty.  There are women who can’t or don’t have their bodies restored to their former glory.  There are women who suffer greatly from side effects of the treatment, physically and psychologically.  There are women, many women, who do not survive this disease at all.  In fact, anyone who has received a breast cancer diagnosis is at risk for recurrence, for a metastatic cancer that won’t be cured.  And there are women who are uncomfortable, for a myriad of reasons, with the mantle of triumphant survivorship.  For many women the words “guilt, frustration and anger” represent breast cancer; not “pink, fun and elegance.”

Where do these women go for support?  Who listens to them? Consider the words of Kathi from The Accidental Amazon.

“Fashion statements aside, once I became a person with breast cancer, it didn’t take long at all for me to develop a very low tolerance for all things pink. The sheer ubiquity of pink as the symbol of the fight against breast cancer is overwhelming. And one of the things that you discover… is that everyone … seems to assume that you are now the local poster chick…everyone assumes that you have the interest, time, energy, inclination and funds to contribute to or participate in every bleeping event, cause, or group that is even remotely associated with helping everyone else not end up like you.”

Kathi’s realities of living with breast cancer do not fit in a festive environment.  This “Poster Chick” is supposed to fight cheerfully for herself and for everyone else.  Gayle Sulik explains in Pink Ribbon Blues.

“Telling an authentic story about an illness that is heavily laden with cultural expectations about femininity, normalcy, and triumphant survivorship requires a new way of thinking and speaking.  Falling on the margins of the cultural framework, these kinds of stories can be threatening and hard to hear. (p. 338)”

Many of us, the well-intentioned and generous people who have been affected directly or indirectly by breast cancer, want to think that all of the money we’ve spent, all the tears we’ve cried, all the pink we’ve worn has made the world a better place.  But few acknowledge the less-than-pink truth of breast cancer: the indignities of a disease that still kills, can happen to anyone and has no cure.  The number of people dying from this disease has barely budged in decades.

Until we change the narrative away from feather boas and pink roses, these petrifying facts won’t change.  JaneRA, the blogger quoted by Sarah above, died in 2009.  Audre Lord died in 1992.  In fact, the WHO says that 460,000 people died worldwide from breast cancer in 2008.  In Pink Ribbon Blues, Gayle Sulik states that despite more treatment given and more money spent, a woman “with invasive breast cancer has about the same chances of dying from the disease as she did 50 years ago.” (p. 159)

So where do we start?

Criticizing breast cancer fundraisers can be tricky.  After all, what works for one person may not work for another.  Empowering people’s authentic selves means making room for a diversity of opinions, but it also means speaking up fiercely against the agents of disempowerment.

Apart from the complexity of nuance, it opens you up to the risk of being labeled bitter, angry or plain ungrateful.   This recent blog post labels people who question the dominant system “anti-pink.”  Gayle Sulik, author of Pink Ribbon Blues, answers that claim.  “Anti-pink is a call to ‘think about pink’–to look at all of the out­comes of how we as a society are orga­nizing around the cause of breast cancer, the pos­i­tives and the neg­a­tives, so that we might recal­i­brate our actions to make the most of the pos­i­tives and min­imize the negatives.”

We need to make room for the darker shades of color palate.  We need to think about pink. Before being swept away by feel-good celebrations swathed in pink, consumers and philanthropists should ask themselves some basic questions.

–                Where is my money going?

–                What has the organization done to prevent or eliminate breast cancer?

–                Does this organization support people with breast cancer at all stages?

–                What is the organization’s mission and how well does it live up to it?

–                Does the organization use evidence to inform its actions?

–                Do I want to support this organization and its messages?

The answers to these questions might be uncomfortable and unpopular, but they are the only way to get to the truth and, ultimately, progress.

For more questions to ask, see Breast Cancer Action’s Think Before You Pink website.

Consider JaneRA’s final words in her posthumous post.

“[N]ot for you are the appearances in Fashion shows…airbrushing the reality of this disease into some designer must-have condition. You will decide on a harder more radical route … a movement will begin to challenge governments, and research scientists, the medics and the charities…

Winding forward to say 2050, I hear you talking to your grandchildren about the old days when breast cancer still killed, and generations of women died years too soon.”

Now we have a choice.  Will we put our heads in the pink sand and lull ourselves into believing that fashion shows are good enough, or will we stand up and demand real change?

This essay was created in collaboration with a group of writers and advocates who are deeply concerned about the lack of progress being made in the eradication of breast cancer.  We believe that it is time to look beyond the feel-good messages and demand real change.

You may reproduce this article, in its entirety.  You may not make changes to it and you must include this attribution and a link back to the blog that posted it.

We encourage you to spread the message and to take a stand.  Thank you for getting involved.

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Posted in Fashion, Survivorship | 10 Comments »

Infusion Day Fashion


This may seem like a shallow post for my last day of treatment. I should probably be blogging about the deeper meanings of this time. I think my emotions are being processed on a deep, nonverbal level right now. I will surely share the insights I glean from this experience in future posts.

In the meantime, a perhaps frivolous yet meaningful matter that’s taken me 18 infusions to figure out.

What is the ideal fashion for infusion day?

The port is awkward. It’s in my chest. I don’t want to undress to have it accessed. People in chemo are often hairless and need to keep their clothes on and the chill off.

I’ve figured it out, Chemobrothers and Chemosisters.

First, start with a shirt whose neckline can stretch downward to reveal your port.

If you look closely, you can see the plastic wrap over my numbed out port.

But when this stretches down, your neck is really exposed. You feel naked and cold.

So, I knit myself this adorable neckwarmer. It pairs perfectly with the shirt.

If you need a little punk rock vibe to help you feel like a cancer ass-kicker, I suggest pairing it with a leather biker vest.

This would have been awesome with my chemohawk.

And voilà! Easy access without the chill.

It took me 18 infusions to figure this out. Hope you can benefit from this important wisdom.

Posted in Fashion, Treatment | 10 Comments »

The Perfect Pair


It’s happening. I think I’m compensating.

As you know, I have gone through a very emotional bodily loss. The more my life returns to normal, the more I notice this mark of change. I think, between my short hair and new physique, I look a lot like a 12 year old boy.

This is what I look like when I roll out of bed these days.
No rack, but I am proud of my bedhead.

Yesterday I discovered an amazing shoe store really close to my house. A man who designs high-end shoes has a little outlet in a nondescript strip mall. He sells his samples and overstocks for between $15-$45, which is quite a deal considering they retail from between $129-200+.

I pride myself on being sensible in many ways, and, before this, my pragmatism has definitely been reflected in my choice of shoes. I like my shoes comfortable, not too fussy, and reasonably priced.

But I am changing in so many ways. I may have lost not just my sensibility but my very senses when I put on these lovelies. They are so blue. And the leather is so creamy. And they cradled my feet so lovingly... And did I mention they were only $15 instead of $129?

I get it now, ladies. I get the shoe thing. I can’t say what it’s about for the rest of you, but here is the simple pleasure that these shoes have given me:

The rest of my body is a little hard to dress. I already showed you my torso, and even when I put on my falsies, there are a lot of neckline issues to contend with, particularly with my witchy radiation marks peeking out from under my clavicle.

I don’t feel particularly feminine between the short hair and the bod. These shoes (and the other pair I bought) scream girly girl.

I wore my new shoes out yesterday when taking my daughter to an appointment. The woman in the office has only ever known my cancer-self. She saw my shoes, complimented them, and said, “You seem like you are picking yourself back up.” I guess the shoes scream to the world that I’m getting my mojo back.

They come in beautiful pairs. You don’t have to be Freud to put that one together.

Wearing them feels like a social experiment.  I wore my new lovely red shoes to my morning marathon of back-to-back cancer treatments, radiation and infusion. I got no less than three compliments on my shoes. It feels good to have the folks who poke and prod and zap me to see me as something beyond a cancer patient. And it makes the waiting room sit-ins so much more pleasant. Just look at that view:

Those are my red ones.

Then I remembered the wonderful graphic novel Cancer Vixen. The author, Marisa Acocello Marchetto, always made a note of which amazing shoes she wore to her treatments.

I get it now, Marisa!

And apparently it’s not just us Babes who use shoes as a way of declaring our humanity to the world.

As I was pondering the meaning of fabulous shoes and cancer treatment, this cowboy rolled into the waiting room of the infusion center.

My husband, who was completely unaware of the deep shoe thoughts flowing through me, said to him, “I like your boots. Are they snake skin?”

The man looked him in the eye and answered proudly. “Python.”

I know what he’s talking about.

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Posted in Fashion, Wellness | 1 Comment »

How to Apply Make-Up During Chemo


My girl April Capil breaks it down. Look how cute she looks at the end! Very impressive.

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Posted in Fashion | 3 Comments »

Scarves, hats, or wigs?


A friend of mine has alopecia and gave me her very expensive wig. I tried it on and thought two things: (1) ouch, (2) I look like the drag queen version of my former self.

I am thus going the scarf and hat route. Scarves actually regulate body heat better than hats, which can get too hot or too cold. Hats look more like part of an outfit I would actually wear. I have to do less accessorizing with them to make them part of some alternative look, since I don’t actually own any caftans or dashikis. Hoop earrings and ethnic necklaces seem to make it work, even with my usual t-shirt and jeans wardrobe.

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Posted in Fashion | 2 Comments »