Beth Whaanga has two scars on her right shoulder, left from her melanoma lumpectomy. She’s missing the lymph node on the underside of her left arm. She’s had a total bilateral mastectomy, a full hysterectomy, navel reconstruction, and along with her rapid weight loss, her hair is falling out. But I don’t need to tell you all this, because Beth has already told everyone herself.
The project is called Under the Red Dress. Together with photographer Nadia Mascot, Whaanga posed for a series of nude pictures in which her gallery of breast cancer scars and stretch marks is put proudly on display — as she wrote in the post, in order “to find others who are willing to participate in our project so that we might show others that cancer affects everyone.”
Whaanga, an Australian nurse, posted the photos on Feb. 11, and despite losing 103 friends with the photos’ initial upload, in the week that followed, thousands of positive, uplifting voices managed to drown out the terse clicks of disapproval. The photos aren’t meant to be sexual, explains Whaanga, who carries the BRCA1 gene. “Each day we walk past people. These individuals appear normal but under their clothing sometimes their bodies tell a different story.”
At base, the two women hope the project can serve as a reminder to people. To remember that not everyone is as strong and confident as they seem, that a cleverly concealing wardrobe is all that’s keeping someone from falling apart.
“Under the Red Dress is a project which attempts to tell those silent stories that people are not only wanting to tell,” Mascot wrote, “but that people want to hear. Everybody likes to be reminded that the person next door is only human as they are."