Why the Hype Over Mastectomy Swimwear?

You may have spotted a certain buzz online and in newspapers in recent days around the issue of post-surgery swimwear for women. The subject became big news and the focus of much debate after the launch of an art project called Monokini: 2.0. Needlessly to say, as someone launching a line of post-surgery swimwear designs, the fallout soon saw my inbox filling up with messages from friends within the breast cancer community and beyond. Beautifully styled and professionally shot, the Finnish Monokini project features striking and provocative images of post-mastectomy women in swimwear. Whilst holding dignified self-assured expressions, each woman wore a bikini or one piece specifically cut to conceal her remaining breast - and reveal her mastectomy scar. The global response was astonishing and very, very polarising and I really felt I ought to respond. So, here are what I see as the key questions raised by Monokini: 2.0:

  • Should a woman have to cover up after mastectomy?

  • Was the project a bold artistic statement that helps normalise the way society sees breast cancer and the people it has affected. Or is it just ‘freak show’ exploitation of breast cancer survivors?

  • Can a man design swimwear for women who have experienced such an intimate experience that attacks her very notion of femininity?

I believe clothing as a statement can be a tool for women after breast cancer. Fashion became my ‘body armour’, a distraction for friends and colleagues encountering me for the first time after finding out I had the ‘C’ word. Stylish dress became my method of positive distraction, attracting the compliment ‘you look great!’ as the opener to a more upbeat conversation, instead of having to cope with receiving the quick glance at my chest, followed by the words that still make me cringe: ‘You look so well!’ Words I often heard from friends and colleagues who genuinely meant well but appeared to be quaking over what to say to me…. However, as much as I could use fashion to conceal and look great, my biggest body image challenge was when desperately seeking to continue using ‘armour’ in the form of swimwear, which, let’s face it, is scary to be seen in for most of us at the best of times. I became like many women, drawing the short straw in the swimwear department as part of our cancer journey. It was clear to me that there was and still are issues to be addressed around post-surgery swimwear for women. Many opinions voiced online against the Monokini 2.0 expressed a strong dislike of the swimwear, including countless female survivors saying that they would not choose to wear the project’s designs, even though they know there is a lack of choice when it comes to good post-surgery swimwear. Other breast cancer survivors said that, though they were far from ashamed of their post-surgery bodies, they would rather cover up and be quietly confident, knowing that their scars are private and emotional reminders of their cancer journey. My feelings, on reflection, are that each woman who agreed to be photographed must already be very confident and comfortable with themselves in order to wear the swimwear designs created by the project. This was evident as they were photographed with visible pride, reminiscent of the mythical Amazonians- the most powerful women ever.  Not all women are so confident in their bodies after the devastation of a breast cancer diagnosis, or choose to express body confidence this way. Monokini 2.0 is an artistic project, with ‘mythical’ swimwear that may or may not work in the real world as the comments online have suggested. The project was the brainchild of a woman who chose not to have breast reconstruction after breast cancer, yet expressed the often raised challenge of finding mastectomy bikinis that would “not make her feel like she was missing a breast”. However, my biggest ‘take away’ from encountering this project was the message that resonates all too clearly with many women after breast cancer surgery: It’s a real struggle to find attractive well-fitting swimwear after breast cancer surgery. The community of women with breast cancer is growing but they remain woefully underserved as far as swimwear is concerned. It’s this idea that underlies my own work and is the reason I aim to make a difference.   

Clover Lewis, Founder of Clover Lewis Swimwear  - confidence-boosting Swimwear for women following breast cancer.

Dedicated to women who’ve had breast cancer surgery, Clover Lewis Swimwear uses on-trend colour, stylish design and great fit to create attractive swimwear to be worn following mastectomy, through breast reconstruction, and beyond… Clover Lewis Swimwear’s prototype collection was showcased May 29 - June 1 2014 at School for Creative Startups & Selfridges Makegood Festival. The feedback was astonishing with designs being well received by the public and a leading UK department store chain.

What is your opinion about this topic - or the questions raised by the debate? Share your opinion in the comments box please!

Also, Clover is currently welcoming applications from women facing breast cancer to assist with perfecting the fit of her swimwear. If this sounds appealing, please contact her by email or share this post with someone you know.  Thank you.