‘Flat’ Women are Reshaping the Fashion World

Body image and body positivity are very important, especially after a life-changing surgery such as a mastectomy, writes a breast cancer survivor. Here, she offers fashion suggestions for “flatties” to feel their best.

I have always loved fashion. Even as a little girl I had the best dressed dolls in the neighborhood, at least in my opinion. When I was 15, I was hired for an after-school job at a local consignment store. I went on to do other things after graduating high school, such as becoming a freelance court reporter, but I continued working at the consignment store for the love of fashion.

I worked there for 29 years. In that time, I saw and helped to style many different body types. I will never forget what one of my customers told me about her modeling days. Her advice was it takes three pieces to make an outfit. This could be a scarf, a piece of jewelry, a cardigan or jacket. The possibilities are endless.

Mixing and matching, adding details to draw one’s eye to someplace other than what’s missing are pivotal to becoming a “flat” fashionista. It’s all about camouflaging the parts you aren't fond of and accentuating the parts you are fond of. When it comes to dressing a “uni” or a “flattie,” it can become a bit more challenging. For unis, or women who have had a unilateral mastectomy, there’s a great blog written by Melissa Jansen called “I Don’t Need Two.” In her blog, she shows how to combine pieces to make outfits in a flattering way for a single-breasted woman. I am fortunate enough to know her and I was able to chat with her about her blog. “Firstly, I love that in our first interactions we actually bonded over fashion rather than our experiences with breast cancer,” she exclaimed.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my first thought from a body perspective was, “What will my body look like with one breast?” I simply saw my diagnosis as an opportunity to see how I would be adapting my wardrobe. When I searched the internet for imagery, my confusion began. There was nothing but bra advertisements. I couldn't understand why, especially since the most common procedure of mastectomy for breast cancer is a unilateral flat closure; there was such a mystery behind how my body would look.

After my mastectomy, I began posting positive images online to help women like me who wanted more information and transparency. I found it interesting that with so much being done to promote body positivity that living with one breast still seemed to be so taboo.

That’s when I started to put together a website where I wanted people to feel comfortable and educated on what they could wear if a prosthetic was not an option, or if they wanted to learn how to forgo the “norms of society” and present themselves as a proud one-breasted woman. I'm proud of my body – I feel confident being one breasted and I find others that follow me begin to feel the same. No one should feel shame for having cancer, so I have chosen not to hide my cancer journey. Using fashion to break down the shame that some women feel is a powerful tool.

There is a Facebook group called “Flatties Who Thrift.” In this group, women share their thrifted finds that fit the flattie body. It is also a safe space to share tips on what does and doesn’t work. The administrator of this group, Tracy Stewart, also has an online shop where she sells and helps with the styling of flat-flattering clothing.

Another good Facebook group to check out is “Fantastic Flat Fashions.” I just joined this one, but I can already see there’s plenty of inspiration out there. And there’s always Nordstrom if budget isn’t an issue. Nordstrom will alter full-price clothing purchased in their store for free. I had them alter a swimsuit for me so it could hold my prosthetics and cover my scars. It is probably the best fitting swimsuit I have ever owned. It was a splurge, but well worth it. I don’t always go flat, but when I do these sources that I’ve listed are most helpful for making a girl look and feel her best.

Body image and body positivity are very important, especially after a life-changing surgery such as a mastectomy. Dressing well and feeling put together does a lot for your self-esteem. Your outfit sets the tone for the day. A bad outfit generally equals a bad day. With all these resources, there’s no excuse for a bad outfit or a bad day.

For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.