Friday, 20 January 2012

The Last Fashion Victims: The Story

Over the past few months I have been working on a project that I would now like to share with you.

As a woman, breast cancer is something I cannot help but think about. (My book, 'Love Pink' raises money for Breast Cancer Care.) Something I had never thought about, however, was how breast cancer affects a woman's wardrobe.

Last year a family friend underwent a bilateral mastectomy. She got in touch and said that she was really struggling to find clothes to wear following her operation. She felt frustrated by what was on offer, and let down by the high street. As an aspiring fashion journalist, was it something that I would be interested in investigating?

After our conversation, I started my own research. I searched the web and trawled through specialist sites. I was shocked - the majority of what was on offer looked stuck in a different era. There was certainly not much I could imagine my friend wearing.

Together Lynne and I took to the Breast Cancer Care forum and asked whether this was a problem other women had come across. The response was overwhelming.

I then got talking in detail to several women who told me the problems they faced and what changes they would like to see. Of these women, I found three in particular (including my friend Lynne) who were happy to appear on camera.

Tripod and camera in hand, I headed down to Devon and up to Glasgow (in one rather hectic weekend!) and then across to Leeds. The women I met were interesting, inspiring and I felt privileged to hear their stories and capture them on film.

Next I got in touch with the photographer David Jay, whose wonderful photographic project, The Scar Project, had been shown to me by Lynne. I had found the images incredibly moving and wanted to hear more about the project.

I emailed David on a Wednesday. That day I received an email from him, thanking him for my interest but saying that to fully appreciate the images I needed to see them in their original 6ft state, rather than just on my laptop. Would I be able to 'pop over' to New York to see the exhibition before it closed that weekend?

At first I laughed. And then I thought, why not? This was a project I felt passionately about and an opportunity that seemed just too good to miss. I knew that David's images would add another dimension to my film and I was fascinated to meet the man behind the images. And, of course, it meant a weekend in New York. By that afternoon I had spoken to David, withdrawn from my savings, booked a last minute flight and found a friend of a friend's whose floor I would be able to sleep on for two nights.

I was not prepared for the weekend that awaited me. I landed in New York on Friday evening and although I was exhausted, I decided to make the most of my visit and spent the evening wide-eyed on the top of the Empire State Building.

The next day I headed to The Scar Project exhibition. As soon as I walked in I knew that travelling 4000 miles (plus a stop over in Charlotte) had been worth it. David was right; seeing the images online is one thing, but being surrounded by them in a stark white gallery blew me away.

I spent the whole day talking to David, filming in the gallery and meeting the many people who had made their pilgrimage to the gallery or been drawn in from outside by the arresting images. I was lucky enough to speak to Melissa, one of the women involved in the Scar Project, whose photograph hung on the wall. I also spoke to Doris, another wonderful lady who I sadly wasn't able to fit into the documentary. Throughout the day a whole range of people came through the doors. Some came alone, some were couples, or sisters, or friends. There were tears, but I also found it heart warming to see the smiles as well.

David Jay himself turned out to be one of life's wonderful people - as the project itself would suggest. I was lucky enough to join on a tour he gave of the gallery, in which he shared the incredibly moving stories of the women he had photographed. I found myself learning not just about the project, but about life, death and all that goes between. Being in the gallery made me feel at once alone but also part of something much bigger than myself. It was one of the most moving and powerful experiences of my life.

When I arrived back in the UK, (despite being exhausted and jetlagged!) I felt all the more determined to give a voice to the women I had met and that David had photographed so beautifully.

Fashion may be a small part of a woman's life in the grand scheme of things, but the women I have met have shown me that it can also be an incredibly important part. I also realise that as much as I would like to, I am never going to discover a cure for cancer. What I can do instead is try my best to make a small difference in the area in which I am trying to start a career, and to use what I am studying at university (broadcast journalism) to give a voice to those who are otherwise being overlooked.

That is my aim anyway. The video above is a short trailer for the longer documentary that I will post later. This site seems to have cut part of the shot of the video so CLICK HERE to see the full version on youtube.

Find out more about David Jay's 'The Scar Project' at


1 comment:

  1. Thank you Libby, a wonderful film and well-worth the dreadful trip to New York! Much love, Lynne xx