Meeting Charise and The Grace Project


A woman who underwent surgery for breast cancer shares a transformative experience in which she posed for a photographer who documented her mastectomy scars.

Last year, right around the time COVID-19 hit, I attended the “Flattie Ball,” an event by and for women who have undergone a mastectomy without reconstruction. It was a beautiful evening filled with mouthwatering food, a playlist made for dancing and an inspiring presentation highlighting various women of the flat community. My boyfriend Josh came with me. We had to rush to get there as we both had to work that day. We arrived only a little late, partly due to rush hour Los Angeles traffic.

As we entered the ballroom that night, we took the nearest available seats, which happened to be a table away from where Charise Isis was seated. I knew of Charise and The Grace Project before the ball and always thought I would love to become a Grace Goddess for the project. Through her project, Charise photographs women who have had mastectomies in a tasteful way that makes them appear to be goddesses, artfully draped in flowy fabric inspired by Hellenistic sculptures and Greek statues. Her goal is to photograph 800 goddess portraits to represent the number of people being diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States each day. This in itself is such a powerful message, presented in such an empowering way.

After hearing Charise speak that night about her inspiration for The Grace Project and her story of the first woman she photographed in a boudoir setting after mastectomy, I wanted even more to become a Grace Goddess. The only thing holding me back was time. The plan was to meet up the next day on a beach in Malibu with any “flattie” who wanted to participate and be photographed. My work schedule at the time just wouldn’t allow me to fit it in. I had missed my opportunity.

We spoke that night at the Ball. Charise and her date thought my boyfriend looked like Sean Lennon. We joked about it and even took some selfies with “Sean Lennon.” Charise was so gracious after learning I wouldn’t be able to make it to the beach for the photo shoot. She tried to help make it happen, even offering to meet me at a different time. It just wasn’t in the cards for me last year.

Now, a little over a year later, Charise traveled to California from New York for another “flattie” event called “Flatties in the Wild,” and I was bound and determined to finally become a Grace Goddess. On a foggy and overcast Saturday morning in June at a beach near Malibu, a group of over 40 women from all walks of life and all stages of breast cancer joined together to meet, support and empower each other while becoming Charise’s Grace Goddesses and a part of The Grace Project. While awaiting my turn I was able to observe the transformation taking place from behind the lens of her camera and make new friends with a multitude of amazing women.

On the sand was a pile of billowy fabrics in different colors to choose from that we would each be draped in for our portrait. I chose a piece of tulle in turquoise. The color reminded me of the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean and ethereal mermaids near the water. Under Charise’s artistic eye, I was swathed in the turquoise fabric and led topless to the shoreline when it was my turn. She spoke to me in a calm, soothing voice suggesting I listen to the waves and become part of the sand beneath my feet. Being in that moment was unlike anything I have ever experienced. “Give your scars some love,” she would encourage as she recorded each pose with her camera. The noticeable chill in the air on my bare skin when my session began gave in to a warmth from within after I was photographed.

Marissa hugs Charise after her photo is taken

Photo courtesy of Marissa Holzer.

She imparted beauty and grace to each one of us, truly taking her time to capture and document our scars and our bodies as the goddesses we are. All of us at the beach that day were similar yet so unique. We were and are women empowering women and reaffirming we can still be feminine and beautiful despite our mastectomy scars. The support and love shared by this community of survivors is overwhelming. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of something as breathtaking as The Grace Project. Thank you, Charise.

Marissa's official photo for The Grace Project

Marissa's official photo for The Grace Project, courtesy of Marissa Holzer.

To learn more about The Grace Project you can find Charise via social media.

On Facebook

On Instagram @800goddesses

Or through her website

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

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