Introducing Tracy; Chief Flattie and Boobless Thrifter

The beautiful Tracy aka @goingflat

Can you believe it’s Friday already? It’s very nearly the weekend and we have another fabulous guest blog for you today.

We’re so excited to introduce Tracy who describes herself as Chief Flattie and Boobless Thrifter. Tracy was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2007 when she was 37. Her mission now is to support women on their post-mastectomy journey to find their fashion voice and feel great about themselves again. As you can imagine, this mission appeals to us here at Valiant!

You can find Tracy on Instagram @goingflat, on her website here or by e-mail at goingflatfashions@gmail.com.

Without further ado, here is Tracy in her own words:

“What is beauty?

In so many ways, our perceptions of beauty are defined by the external. Media, culture, people we know, and people we don’t know tell us what is beautiful. And tell us what we should find beautiful in our own selves and in others.

When things related to our external selves start to change – we get a few new wrinkles, we gain some extra pounds, we get a bad haircut, or we undergo a surgery or trauma that changes our appearance – we look in the mirror and this detail sometimes leads us to think we are less beautiful.

When I had my explant surgery, after 5 years of living with implants after breast cancer treatment, I had the opposite experience. I looked at myself in the mirror and thought I looked BETTER. Not only was this unexpected, it was life changing. And it ultimately led me to start my current post-mastectomy beauty and fashion project, Going Flat Fashions.

To understand where I’m coming from: I was an awkward child, an “artsy & weird” teenager, which evolved into a “quirky & cool” adult. I always thought I was “fat”, I always thought my body looked wrong in everything I ever put on, and I always, always, always wished I looked like someone else. I wanted to look like Debbie Harry, or Patti Smith, or Uma Thurman. My hatred of my body from the outside led to a pretty serious hatred of myself on the inside. Full disclosure.

When I “went flat”, it was a surprising liberation from the baggage of my body, and all those years of body issues. Being rid of half a decade of pain from having the implants probably didn’t hurt, either. To celebrate my new shape, I went shopping…a lot. I’ve always been an avid thrifter, and with this new body joy, I hit the thrift stores with a mission!! I started to love wearing clothes and experimenting with fashion. And most importantly, I started to really love myself. I still have my down days, but my general overall feeling about myself is that I really am beautiful.

As I discovered my own beauty, I encountered so many women online and in person who had gone through mastectomy surgery who were bogged down by the beauty myth. Years of trying to accept their bodies before mastectomy, compounded with the new reality of coming to terms with the surgery, was taking a huge toll on their self-esteem.

I felt like I could do something to help. I wanted to give back to the community, and to use my experience to send a message that the definition of beauty is wide and inclusive. In response to what I saw as a big need in the community, I started Going Flat Fashions in October of 2019.

Going Flat offers virtual personal wardrobe styling services and a thrifted clothing experience catered to women who opt-out of reconstruction. My mission is to help guide women on their post-mastectomy journey to finding their new fashion voice, and I’ve created a safe space for them to reimagine their new post-op life. I provide wardrobe styling services on a virtual platform with curated, vintage, consignment, and thrifted clothing selected specifically for women who have chosen to “go flat” after mastectomy. The site and the services are open to flatties and non-flatties alike.

I feel like I’m empowering women and helping them love their bodies no matter what the shape. After mastectomy, women are told that ‘clothes won’t fit them properly’, that they won’t be ‘sexy or desirable’, and I want to help them understand that this is truly not the case.

Through my work with Going Flat Fashions, I have unwittingly become an advocate, and a source of support for the women who benefit immensely from the experience, gaining confidence and taking steps toward reclaiming their bodies after surgery. It is an amazing feeling to help others in this way, and I look forward to working with more women in the future to help them feel and look beautiful.”

Thank you so much, Tracy, both for your wonderful blog but also for everything you do to support other women in feeling good about themselves post cancer and post surgery.

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Meet Casey who is on a mission to normalise flat closure

The lovely Casey (@theflattiecloset)

Hello everyone and welcome to our next wonderful guest blog!

Today’s blog is written by the lovely Casey.

Casey is 33 years old and BRCA1+. She had a prophylactic total hysterectomy on 26th May 2020 and a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction on 30th June 2020.

Casey’s mission is to help normalise flat closure among previvors and young women, as well as to inspire the flat-chested among us with outfit ideas as she “shops her closet” post-op.

Casey has always loved fashion and clothes and having no boobs has presented a fun new challenge for her as she gets dressed each day. 

Casey says that she is a beach girl through and through. She lives with her husband and three kids in St. Petersburg, FL, right near the Gulf of Mexico.She loves paddleboarding, reading NYT bestsellers, making art (collage mostly), and drinking iced coffee on road trips with her family.

Casey would love to connect with you all on Instagram @theflattiecloset!

Here’s Casey’s story in her own words:

“I have a hard time wearing high heels because I feel like I’m lying about my height. I’ve only ever dyed my hair with semi-permanent dye because I’m happy living with my natural hair color. I never liked the idea of push-up bras because they felt a little dishonest. Heck, I didn’t even get french tips for my wedding (all the rage when I got married) because I rarely painted my nails and I wanted to present myself accurately.

Now that I write that all out, I’m realizing how completely neurotic I sound. But stick with me! The point of these bizarre confessions is this: I like feeling like the person that I was made to be. Celebrating my unique genetic makeup. Being the one and only Casey. Being my true self (cue the Disney ballad). 

So: when a BRCA1 gene mutation reared its ugly head and I needed to do something about it, I wanted to simply morph into a new, natural version of me: a girl who was losing her boobs in an effort to prevent cancer, and gaining some pretty badass scars in the process. In fact, I barely even gave implants the time of day. I knew in my heart of hearts that I wanted to go flat and stay flat. That might sound pretty crazy to most women my age, and I get it. I basically turned down a boob job. And believe me, after breastfeeding three babies, my chest could have used the revitalization. But in the end, I had to be true to who I am, and that meant opting out of further reconstructive surgery. Just scars, just flat, just my skin on my ribs. 

I knew that women went flat – I’d seen information online that indicated it was an option post-mastectomy. But when I went to search the all-knowing Google, all I found was very limited information, some clinical photos of scars, and a few forum accounts of breast cancer survivors who had gone flat. To be honest, I didn’t feel like I fit in. I wasn’t a breast cancer survivor, I wasn’t middle-aged; I was “just” a previvor in her 30s. 

I started to wonder if there really was anyone else out there like me. Did women actually just walk around and go to the grocery store flat? Were they self-conscious at all? Would I regret my decision? Would it be good to get a prosthesis? How would clothes fit? Could I still wear what was in my closet? What did not having breasts feel like? How would my brain process not having boobs anymore? 

The questions kept coming. But my biggest question was: where were the flatties? Specifically, where were the previvor flatties? 

I turned to Instagram, and began searching all kinds of flat hashtags. Once I’d waded through the photos posted by owners of Flat-Coated Retrievers (yeah, the main “flattie” hashtag is co-opted by dogs – face palm), I started to get somewhere. I found a small army of amazing women to follow, but I also began to learn that flat closure after a mastectomy was an option that had been fought for for years by a crusade of brave individuals. This group of women had been campaigning, dealing with botched surgeries, picketing for their rights, and advocating for all women to get the surgery results they desired. Going flat was a bigger deal than I initially realized – it didn’t used to be such a simple, easy decision to make.

It’s because of these women that my breast surgeon didn’t flinch when I asked her for a flat closure. She was aware because this group of women had fought to make doctors like her aware, and for that I am so very grateful. Not only did I find the flatties, but I found that those flatties were beautiful and badass. 

I’m now proud to join the crew as a newbie, adding my voice to the mix, sharing my love of fashion, and writing honestly about life as a flat previvor. I am still slowly trying to find more women who are previvors like me who have chosen to go flat – if you are one, give me a shout! We seem to be few and far between, and that’s one of the main reasons I started my Instagram account – I want to connect with you!

I want to be able to talk about what life looks like for those of us who haven’t fought cancer, but still need to fight genetic mutations. I want to showcase what clothes look like on a flat chest, and encourage women considering a flat closure that being fashionable is still an option. I want flatties and potential flatties to know that life can be good even without lady parts; that we are free to be ourselves, no matter what form that takes. 

And I especially want previvor flatties to know that their stories are valid and important, and they are not alone.”

Thank you so much, Casey. We love Casey’s mission to connect with and support other previvor flatties.

Like Casey, we are so passionate about doing what we can to ensure that you feel empowered and confident and that no woman in this community feels isolated and alone.

Meet Sarah; a wonderful flat fashion blogger and Trustee of Flat Friends UK

The amazing Sarah (@flatterfashion)

It’s Friday, it’s almost the weekend, it’s a beautiful day AND we have another amazing blog for you!

We’re thrilled to introduce today’s blog which is written by the wonderful Sarah. Sarah was one of the first people our founder, Eleanor, connected with on Instagram but it took Eleanor quite a while to realise that Sarah only lives a few miles away!

Sarah works full-time as a social worker having retrained after being diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 35. In her spare time she is a trustee of registered charity Flat Friends UK, and she is the founder of flatterfashion.co.uk.

Since she had a mastectomy without reconstruction, Sarah has been developing a fabulous resource of tips for dressing flat after single or double mastectomy – which can be found on her website or in Flat Friends’ patient booklet “Living without reconstruction”.

Sarah is also currently completing a year long “Outflat” fundraising campaign in aid of Flat Friends.

You can find Sarah at flatterfashion.co.uk and on Instagram at @flatterfashion.

Without further ado, here’s Sarah!

“It’s been said that being diagnosed with cancer is like sitting an exam in a foreign language you haven’t had time to learn. We have to rely on our healthcare team to translate for us and we go online in search of exam tips.

On 18th December 2014 I was diagnosed with a fast growing invasive breast cancer in my right breast after finding a small lump behind my nipple two months earlier. On instantly declining the idea of reconstruction my breast care team warned me I would be “very flat” and wouldn’t be able to find nice clothes. The Breast Cancer Care patient booklet on clothes told me that women living without reconstruction who don’t wear prostheses could “disguise” their chest by wearing scarves and loose fitting tops. I searched online: “Which clothes suit a flat chest?”, “Post-mastectomy fashion”, “Clothes without reconstruction”, “living and dressing flat” (and every configuration of those words you can imagine). A website about living flat had one page about clothing but frustratingly gave the same advice of baggy tops and scarves.

I was 35 and being told that if I didn’t reconstruct then I would need to spend the rest of my life concealing my body; as if the public shouldn’t be confronted by a woman without two breasts. Another thing which struck me was that there were only two varieties of living flat portrayed online: either needing to cover up, or wanting to appear androgynous. On finding Flat Friends a few months later I realised that’s far from the truth. “Flat” is the space where a breast once was, it’s not the whole of your chest nor how you choose to present your chest to the world. All women living without reconstruction after a single or double mastectomy – whether they choose to wear prostheses always, sometimes or never – are “Living Flat”.

After many days and weeks scouring social media I found two women in the UK and one in the US who were open about living flat and sharing photos of their daily lives without a strategically placed scarf in sight. I genuinely thought we must be the only ones; that everyone else was hiding in plain sight, or having recon. I imagined I wasn’t the first woman to be in this position; doubting a gut instinct because of how we’re expected to look. I quickly became concerned that some may agree to have reconstruction based on their team, cancer charities, or the internet telling them that the alternative will be unrecognisable and uninhabitable.

The thought that there may be women getting dressed each day in a cloak of secrecy, fearing if they do not obscure their chest then they risk offending society, inflamed an idea to create the resource I had been looking for. Within a couple of weeks of having my mastectomy I had worked out how to build a website and uploaded my first post: “The One Where I Tried On Everything In My 34DD Wardrobe”. I was having to start from scratch working out which fabrics, styles, shapes, designs, seams, and darts would flatter my new body shape.

The day before each chemo I would use my short-lived energy to go to a high street store and try on clothes. I photographed and documented each discovery for my website and social media, whilst picking out themes and criteria which eventually became my list of fashion tips for dressing single or double flat chests. Just as “Living Flat” is an inclusive term so is “Dressing Flat”. Dressing Flat is not the preserve of those who have no breasts, and is not describing an attempt to appear flat. It’s what each of us does every day when we pick out which top or bra to wear.

After five years of mastectomy fashion blogging I have compiled a wardrobe of clothes I feel comfortable and confident in. A huge variety of colours and prints, frills and ruffles, floaty and fitted. Everything from workwear, sportswear, and evening gowns to swimming costumes and bikinis. Plus a padded crop top and a pair of Knitted Knockers. That doesn’t mean I don’t have days when I think nothing looks right and I declare ‘I have nothing to wear!’ – that’s something that happens whether you have two breasts, one, or none. Most days I’m oblivious to my chest’s appearance – it’s my normal and I’m comfortable in my body. Some days I’m acutely aware I don’t have two breasts and I’m sure everyone is looking at me trying to work out what’s missing. But I don’t think you can tell that from my posts because online we are encouraged to share only our best moments – the enviable events; the picturesque location; an emotive attention-grabbing post, or the perfect outfit because they’re what get the most likes and comments.

I’ve never been your typical fashion blogger or instagrammer; rather than wanting to be an influencer I just want to create practical content for women to use when they’re wondering if they’ll be able to wear a bikini, a smart work outfit, or an evening dress if they don’t have reconstruction. The aim is to spare the next woman the initial ground work and trepidation when navigating clothes shopping without two breasts by sharing the basic principles. The rest – finding our own style and experimenting through trial and error – is something we each have to do as individuals, just as we did the first time round as teenagers and young women working out what suited us and reflected our personalities. Over the past couple of years it’s been exciting to see more women sharing their own flat style, either in the Flat Friends seasonal fashion blogs on my website or by starting their own personal Instagram accounts.

For five years I have just shared my latest shopping trips; focused posts about swimwear or evening wear, or the occasional noteworthy outing or outfit. I don’t usually post on a daily basis; so, I decided that in 2020 I would set myself the challenge of sharing an unfiltered selfie everyday in my outfit of the day –  my “outflat” outfits! I hope that by sharing 366 days of dressing without two breasts others who are feeling self conscious will see that Dressing Flat isn’t about perfectly staged photos or needing to validate yourself to others; it’s the reality of picking out something to wear day in day out. Finding clothes that you feel comfortable in, and of looking at your reflection as you go about your day and recognising yourself looking back is the only thing that matters. Don’t let your team, the internet or social media trick you into believing you need to completely re-imagine who you are or be taught how to dress yourself. Find inspiration from others; feel empowered to try different styles, and why not share what you discover to hearten the next woman searching for ideas!

As well as creating useful content I hope my #Outflat campaign will also raise money to support the work of Flat Friends UK, a charity which is dedicated to supporting women who have had single or double mastectomy surgery without breast reconstruction, including those who may face such decisions now or in the future. I am very proud to be a trustee of Flat Friends UK: we believe living without reconstruction is a positive outcome and work to normalise living without two breasts and providing support to women living flat, including those waiting for delayed reconstruction. You can find out more at www.flatfriends.org.uk and you can sponsor me at uk.virginmoneygiving.com/SarahCoombes3

Thank you so much, Sarah, for sharing your story with us today. If you haven’t checked out Sarah’s #Outflat campaign, we strongly advise you to do so – we love seeing the wonderful outfits Sarah pulls together everyday!