Rebecca Hamilton is a former pro-abortion activist and leader. As the Oklahoma Director of NARAL, she helped establish the first abortion clinic in Oklahoma, and she continued her activism after being elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives. After experiencing a profound conversion to Christ, voters returned her to office as a pro-life Democrat and she spent twelve years defending life and families in the Oklahoma Legislature. Rebecca left her political career in 2014, and along with the National Catholic Register, she writes at Patheos on her blog Public Catholic.
I well remember the confusion I felt as teen when the hormones flooded in and my trusty little-girl body began changing. The first time I wore a bra, I hated it. As soon as I got home from school, I took it off and tossed it away. My mama laughed at me and then gave me the bad news: the day was coming when I would be forced to wear one of those contraptions from dawn’s early to bed.
Well, no more. I am shorn of what the teen-aged hormones wrought. Or, at least the part of it that resided on my upper chest. Cancer has done its work.
The first time I got the mouth-open gawk after my mastectomy, it sent me into a tailspin of tears. I mean, it demoralized me. Then, for a while, it made me combative. But, over time, I’ve become adjusted to it. I have no problem telling people, “I have breast cancer. That’s why it’s flat.”
What I haven’t adjusted to is how yucky my clothes look on me. I’m still trying to figure out how to dress me in my new body.
It would be relatively easy if I was built like a high fashion model. Those models are young girls who look like walking x-rays. What little bit of womanly curves they’ve developed at their young age has been starved away. They’re almost as flat as I am.
It would follow that my double mastectomy should have made me a natural for high fashion, and that would solve my problem. Or, it would follow if I only considered that flat chest thing.
The problem is, I’m not a starved six-foot-tall teen. I’m a five-foot-six womanly woman with the natural curves of a womanly woman who has had a double mastectomy.
I’m too short for fashion. And I’m too fluffy for fashion. I have too many curves, even after the surgeon whittled me down, for “fashion.” Even if I gave up food and lost weight until my bones bled through my skin, those bones would still have a woman’s curves, and the top curve would still be missing.
Truth told, I wouldn’t change a thing about that. I have a woman’s body, and I like it. I am a full-on woman with a full-on woman’s body, and I wouldn’t be anything else.
I wouldn’t even change the double mastectomy. I’m glad the cancer is gone. I look at myself in the mirror and I see battle scars. I see my best chance to take my precious baby granddaughter to the zoo and the Omniplex when she’s old enough.
I just can’t figure how to dress the new me.
In the past, I dressed for what I was: A real woman. I opted for things like waistlines and darts and other accoutrements that flatter the body of a woman. Since I was a professional woman, I stayed within the structured lines of “business” and “professional” attire. When I was home, I mostly wore t-shirts, shirts, jeans and sweats. All of it draped over my curves.
But now, clothes fall flat — cave in — from shoulder to waist, where the bulges begin. I say bulges because they no longer look like curves without the proportional balance of the bust line above. Empty darts make this worse. They create unattractive ripples of fabric over the empty spaces of what once was. I’m not shaped like the generous hourglass I was for so long. I’m shaped more like a sweet potato.
I’ve spent months trying to dress this new me, and I can’t figure it out. One thing I realized early on is that I am not now and never will be again an off-the-rack girl. Nothing out there in the stores is going to flatter, or even fit, me.
So, I decided it was time for me to go back to sewing. Back in the day, when I was in high school and college, I made all my own clothes. Had to. I didn’t have the money to buy nice clothes, and I wanted to look good. So, I learned to make my own.
I knew exactly what features flattered and what alterations to make. I had a sewing buddy girlfriend who helped me pin things and it was both fun and quick to get it right.
Things are different now. My sewing buddy girlfriend moved 1800 miles away and all my other girlfriends are ready-to-wear types. But the real problem is that my body today requires more than picking a pattern with the right lines (whatever that might be) and making a few alterations. It requires design elements that no one even thinks about, much less creates, and a major overhaul of the whole line of a garment.
The way I deal with this so far is to make everything first in uber-cheap bleached muslin. Then, because it never looks right, I alter the lines, re-cut it and make it again. It spends weeks draped over a chair between cuttings while I try to figure out how to fix it, dither and sulk.
All this is interspersed with grouching at my husband who persists in watching football as I grapple with this, and going out for random late-night drives in my car because the whole process upsets me so much.
The fit is not just a matter of measurements and moving darts around. It’s a matter of eliminating darts, and raising necklines and avoiding certain armhole types because of scars and indentions and such. It’s also a matter of creating the illusion that there is a flowing line of some sort from shoulder to hip.
For fitting purposes, it’s as if I have three bodies. There’s the slender shoulders, the mastectomy chest, and the all-woman waist and hips.
This problem of dressing after a mastectomy is becoming increasingly common as more and more women opt out of the additional surgeries and pain of reconstruction, or learn that they aren’t good candidates for it. There are a lot of women like me out there, trying to figure this out.
My only wish is that the world would catch up with us. I could use some help, thinking this through. I’ve taken online courses on fitting and asked questions, but often as not, the instructor tells me that they don’t know, either. I even asked one company that does a lot of online courses to create a course for fitting and styling (styling is at least as important as fitting) after a double mastectomy. The answer was friendly, but they ain’t gonna.
So, I’m tossing it out to you. If you have any ideas, please share. This may seem small compared to other world problems, but it matters to women who’ve had what we like to call a BMX. Looking good after cancer is surprisingly important to recovery.