Breast cancer: Mastectomy photo project aims to empower women

A photographer and a make-up artist have launched a project to help women recovering from breast cancer “feel beautiful”.

Alison McMath and Anya Pogodzinska have offered free makeover and photography sessions to 40 women who have undergone a single or double mastectomies.

The pair said they wanted to help the women “feel empowered”.

“What was important to a lot of them was to show that cancer doesn’t define them,” Ms Pogodzinska said.

She said it was “beautiful to see these women, who’ve been through so much… open up to us” and tell their stories and “how they are triumphant”.

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Ms Pogodzinska said it was an advert for a cancer charity that inspired the project

Ms Pogodzinska, whose grandmother died from cancer and whose mother was recently diagnosed with the disease, said she wanted use all her skills as a professional make-up artist, body painter and stylist to capture each women’s story.

She said the “subject of cancer has been close to my heart and quite prominent in my family”, but it was after seeing an advert for the Macmillan Cancer Support charity, in which a woman shows a tattoo where she had a mastectomy, that “the lightbulb switched on”.

The Manchester-based artist teamed up with Chorley photographer Alison McMath in February 2022 to start the MastectoME Beauty Project.

Ms McMath said they did struggle to get the first woman to model for them, but once they shared that photo, they were “inundated” with women wanting to take part.

Each woman who takes part has been given a bespoke makeover and a photography session, with some of those involved travelling from all over the UK to take part.

Both Ms Pogodzinska and Ms McMath donate their time and skills for free but have been fundraising to help to cover the cost of props, paints and studio time.

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Ms Sharp said the photoshoot felt like “a massive celebration”

Bev Sharp, from Wirral, who is recovering from breast and lymph cancer, said taking part in a photoshoot was a “celebration” she had “got through this”.

She was diagnosed in October 2021 and had a mastectomy and reconstruction.

“It’s such a big life-changing thing for a women, especially [because] you lose part of you, and it’s great to put it out there that it is OK,” she said.

She said to go from a place where “everything is clinical, very clean, not much colour or anything like that” to the photoshoot felt like “a massive celebration and an expression more than anything [that] I’ve got through this”.

“The colours; for me, it’s more like fighting colours, you know,” she added.

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Ms Pogodzinska and Ms McMath intend to exhibit the photos, along with each woman’s story

Ms McMath said it was a “dream” project due to the variety of the different colour schemes and styles the women had each chosen, but more than anything, it was also a joy to see them revelling in the experience.

“We wanted these women to feel beautiful and we wanted them to feel empowered by the images,” she said.

The pair said they were now planning to exhibit the photographs, along with each woman’s story, and feature them in a charity calendar.

Ms McMath said while those plans were important, what mattered most was what the women themselves got out of the experience.

“Every time I photograph a woman, I want it to be a strong image,” she said.

“Hopefully, they will look at the image and it will give them an uplifting feeling and they will feel strong and like they can keep going.

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