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Guest Post: Butterfly - Breast Cancer Metamorphosis

Today we have Annie, the inspiring lady behind the The Barbies Losing It photography project, explaining what those dolls are all about on the blog. Go give her some love on Instagram!



Ms Still Beautiful


The Barbies Losing It photography project began in 2016 as a private, expressive outlet for my feelings and thoughts about going through primary breast cancer treatment.

But now, “The Barbs” (as I like to call them!) have gone public on Instagram (@barbieslosingit). They not only tell my personal stories of facing down this disease; they tell our shared stories about primary and secondary breast cancer.


Of course our cancer stories can be dark. I try to “sneak” some humor, sweetness or defiance into the images, because our experience of life after being diagnosed is dark and light, and many shades in-between.


And because I want the storytelling to honor the diverse experiences in our community, I take requests for topics, some of which are not in my personal experience of breast cancer—being flat after mastectomy, for instance.


In fact, one of the most common requests I receive is for The Barbs to have mastectomies, preferably flat. My husband, who’s a scientist, helped me figure out how to use a melting process to create mastectomy-like effects (with or without “reconstruction”) on the dolls. I also use Photoshop to enhance those effects.


I was starting to work on that request when April Stearns, editor of WILDFIRE Young Breast Cancer Magazine, asked if The Barbs could do a before-and-after spread for the publication’s June/July 2018 BODY issue.


That inspired me to start the “Butterfly” series, showing physical, mental and emotional metamorphoses women go through with breast cancer surgery. Whether we are in a dark cocoon phase, or finding our wings again post-diagnosis, we need to remember that we are still beautiful, inside and out!


Indeed, “Ms. Still Beautiful” is the name I chose for the doll in these before-and-after images. She represents the experiences of so many women going through breast cancer treatment. Double mastectomy, with reconstruction surgery and scarring. Chemotherapy baldness. Weight gain. New tattoos, signifying transformation. And those arms raised high? Dignity, triumph, gorgeousness, all in the middle of walking through hell.


And yes, I can see how unexpected and absurd it seems to use plastic fashion dolls to capture our very serious, life-changing metamorphoses.

But The Barbs, like us, are forever altered, and subversive in the way they challenge the viewer to redefine what makes a woman beautiful.

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