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The Art of Camouflage After Breast Cancer Surgery

Breastless women face clothing challenges on a daily basis, but there is hope.
PUBLISHED December 19, 2016
Bonnie Annis is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2014 with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes. She is an avid photographer, freelance writer/blogger, wife, mother and grandmother.
Recently, while walking through a sporting goods store, I was intrigued by all of the camouflaged garments. I listened as my daughter’s boyfriend explained about the importance of hiding from the deer.

“In order to be in position for a kill,” he said, “you have to hide in plain sight.” He told us about how hunters used camouflaged clothing and blinds to be near the deer without exposing themselves. There was an art to hunting and it took great skill to get close to a wild animal, especially one with a keen sense of smell. I continued listening as he talked, and that’s what got me to thinking about the art of camouflage.  

Since having both breasts removed, I was in the minority of the post-breast cancer world. Most of the women I talked to had chosen to go the route of reconstruction. They were young and wanted to keep their breasts. Instead of just having their breasts lopped off and being forever flat, they went through the complicated process of reconstruction. After having breasts removed, tissue expanders were inserted for those choosing to have silicone or saline implants. For those choosing to use their own body fat to make new breasts, the choice between DIEP flap or TRAM flap had to be made. Surgeries were complicated and painful, but each woman chose what worked best for her. My choice was pretty cut and dry. I wanted them taken off and wanted to be done with cancer forever. I wanted a once-and-done kind of surgery.  

After I healed, I was presented with many clothing challenges. Without reconstruction, my chest was as flat as a pancake unless I wore prostheses. Nothing fit well. Women’s clothing was made for women with breasts, and since I didn’t have any, it was hard to find anything that fit properly. Prostheses were heavy and uncomfortable. I didn’t like them, so I didn’t wear them often. Since I was wearing prostheses less and less, it was important for me to find ways of dressing without drawing attention to myself. I didn’t want to stand out like a freak while in public, but I wanted to be comfortable. I needed to learn the art of camouflage.  

Camouflaging a breastless chest isn’t easy in the summer. Clothing and styles are more revealing and don’t lend themselves to chests without breasts. Winter is another story, and I’ve found that it’s the perfect season for being bold and breastless. Clothing challenges are much easier to combat when the weather is chilly. For the breastless woman, the art of camouflage is easier than one might think. I’d like to offer a few tricks I’ve learned to help with dressing challenges.  

1.Keep them guessing! Being able to hide in plain sight just requires a little thought. By choosing busy fabrics or prints, you’ll be able to keep the viewer’s eyes moving. It’s more difficult to tell if a woman is flat-chested when she’s wearing a complicated pattern. Missing boobs will be hidden well and the people around you will be none the wiser.  

2. Layers are your friend! Winter provides the perfect opportunity to add layer upon layer for warmth. With several layers of clothing, the lack of breasts isn’t noticeable. Use an open shirt or jacket over a more form-fitting shirt and you’ll be hiding in plain sight. Shirts and jackets with breast pockets help cover up even more.  

3. Loosen up!  By choosing silky, flowing fabric for tops or dresses, you’ll provide an illusion of fullness. Once again, they’ll never know what’s missing.  

4. Drape it! Scarves are still in fashion and are the perfect camouflage accessory. They come in a variety of colors, materials, shapes and sizes. Get creative and keep those prying eyes from seeing your booblessness.  

5. Vests are not only cute, but they’re great for hiding your chest. Many different types are available and some even come with zippers, buttons or closures that you can fasten on.  

6. Shawls aren’t just for grannies! Shawls are still in style and provide a perfect way to disguise your missing parts. Play with them until you find one you like. Accessorize with attractive pins or broaches.  

7. Trick the eye. If you don’t want to necessarily camouflage your chest area, draw the eye to another part of your body. If you’ve got great legs, make them your focal point by wearing a shorter skirt. Do you have killer eyes? Use the art of makeup to give beautiful detail and attention here.  

  Whatever you do, remember to keep your personal style. Don’t be afraid to express yourself. Breastless or not, you’re still you! You’re alive and that’s what matters most. Have fun experimenting. The art of camouflage isn’t just for deer hunters wanting to remain unseen in the woods; it’s also a great way of continuing to fight for what’s rightfully ours…our self esteem. Cancer can’t take that unless we let it. The world already has an army of breastless women hiding in plain sight—are you one of them? 
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