We are crying out for diversity when it comes to images of the female body on mainstream platforms.
All too often we only see one kind of woman – slim, young, able-bodied, usually white – in ad campaigns, movies and magazines, and it is damaging women’s self-esteem.
A recent Sport England study found that 75% of women are put off from being active due to a fear of judgement.
Strong Women aims to normalise diversity in the world of sport and fitness and reaffirm the idea that women of any age, size, race and ability can be fit, strong and love their bodies.
Juliet Fitzpatrick’s world was turned upside down when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Deciding to have her remaining, healthy breast removed was her way of taking back control.
What happened when you were diagnosed with cancer?
I’d had a call-back after my routine mammogram to go and have more tests as there was something that didn’t look right on the results.
I was very blasé about it and went on my own to the clinic. That feeling soon changed after an ultrasound and needle biopsies when I saw the doctor’s and nurse’s faces – I felt that there was something very wrong.
I asked the doctor if she’d seen a tumour, but all she would say was that there was something suspicious in the breast – her tone of voice and facial expression gave her away though. My decision to go on my own came back to bite me then, as I had no one to drive me home and it’s very tricky driving when your eyes are full of tears.
So my diagnosis was a confirmation of what I already knew in my own mind – that I did have breast cancer.
Hearing those words though was shocking and I felt that I had been hit hard in my stomach. I felt sick and dizzy – the room really did lurch.
I heard that I would have a lumpectomy and probably radiotherapy, but I don’t remember what he said about the practicalities of what they entailed.
I do remember thinking that I was going to die and my next thought was; how do I tell my children? They were 24 and 20 at the time and both at Manchester University, but I still dreaded telling them.
Tell us about your relationship with fitness
I have always loved sport, rather than fitness. As a girl and into my twenties, I played sport for the love of the game, whether that was hockey, netball, tennis, basketball, athletics, volleyball, football or even rugby.
Coming back to London after university was when I stopped playing so much sport. Life choices and work meant that there wasn’t so much time to devote to it and I became a passionate watcher of sport instead.
I did do a bit of running and going to the gym, but I definitely spent more time in the pub or in front of the television watching my beloved Manchester United.
The next phase of my sporting/fitness life came after my youngest child had started nursery school. I was in my late 30s and decided that I wanted to start playing tennis again.
I joined a local club and found that I was still pretty good at it and that I loved playing. So much so that I played four to five times a week, both socially and competitively for the club team. I even won the women’s singles competition one year.
Then I got my breast cancer diagnosis in January 2016.
Most of 2016 was taken up with surgeries, chemotherapy and Herceptin injections and then recovery.
I know now that exercising through treatment is said to be really beneficial, but at the time I wasn’t given that information. The message was rest and don’t try to do too much.
2017 came and I decided that I wanted and needed to get fit again. I love walking and have two whippets, so I decided that Nordic walking might be the activity for me.
I found a beginners class was running five minutes from my house, so I gave it a go and loved it. The poles mean that you use your upper body as well as your legs, so the cardio workout is much more than normal walking. I was hooked!
However, sciatic pain struck with a vengeance and, long story short, I had to have a hip replacement.
It turns out that was one of the best decisions I have ever made. The operation has been an amazing success, meaning that I’m pain-free in my right leg and most amazingly, almost all of my sciatic pain has gone from my left leg.
My attitude to exercise has definitely changed. Now I want to get stronger and fitter, both physically and mentally.
I started walking my dogs again but I now walked them fast so that I could get my 30-minutes of activity in each day. Then I began Nordic walking again, and started seeing a personal trainer twice a week. She incorporates cardio, HIIT, strength and flexibility into my sessions and I even do some weights which I’ve never done before. I love those sessions. Being pushed beyond what I think I can do and then achieving it is amazing.
And I’m so much stronger and fitter than I’ve been in years. I’m going to join a tennis club this month and I’m really looking forward to getting back on the court.
How did you make the choice to have a double mastectomy?
After my lumpectomy in February 2016, I was told that I would have to have a mastectomy because the surgeons couldn’t get clear margins from the tumour. I had no choice with my first mastectomy.
I was given lots of information about having a reconstruction. This is where tissue is taken from your stomach and used to make a breast shape mind on your chest. I agreed to this initially, but over the following week I began to have doubts about the long, eight-hour operation.
I didn’t know that it was OK to stay flat because I wasn’t given that option. I only discovered that lots of women do that after finding a Facebook group called Flat Friends where all of the women are flat – some on one side and some on both sides.
This was my lightbulb moment and I told my surgeon that I didn’t want reconstruction and asked him to do a double mastectomy. He declined the double mastectomy so I was left as a GG cup ‘uniboober’ after the mastectomy.
I wasn’t happy living as a ‘uniboober’. I had to wear a bra with a large prosthetic breast on my flat side, and it was very heavy and hot.
Over time, I grew to like my flat side much more than my remaining breast and I knew that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life so lopsided.
At every check up, I asked my surgeon to remove my healthy breast so that I could be symmetrical. Eventually he agreed as long as I had a psychological assessment to make sure that I wasn’t mentally unstable.
Eighteen months after the first mastectomy, my second breast was removed in November 2017.
In the end, my decision to have the second mastectomy seemed a natural and positive one to take.
The difficulty was convincing the medical professionals that I knew my own mind and wanted to take control over my body and how I wanted to live.
Deciding not to reconstruct and choosing to have my healthy breast removed meant that I took back control of a terrible situation, and from that decision flowed strength and positivity and empowerment.
Having the second mastectomy was probably the bravest thing that I’ve ever done. I didn’t know what I’d look like completely flat, or whether I’d be able to accept my new body. I thought that it would be a good decision but until Id actually done it there was a small amount of doubt in my mind.
Looking at myself in the mirror after the operation was amazing and I really felt the strength of my mind transferring into my body. I was so happy with what I saw and drew strength from knowing that I’d made the right decision for me.
I am petrified of having operations and my anxiety levels were through the roof before my lumpectomy and first mastectomy. I had no choice about having those operations. The second mastectomy was a different situation.
This was my decision and I needed to call on huge reserves of strength that I didn’t know I had to make myself go through with an elective operation.
Knowing that I’d made the right decision has given me the strength to follow through on other aspects of my life that I wouldn’t have felt able to do before.
Why is it important to you to show off your scars?
The first topless photo shoot that I did with a very good friend who’s also a photographer. It happened when my scar was fully healed and that one was mainly for me to show myself how beautiful and courageous I was after having been through so much trauma.
As soon as I saw them I knew that I wanted to disseminate them to as big an audience as possible.
I think that I had in the back of mind the fact that I had never seen a flat woman after a double mastectomy and how helpful it would have been if I had when I was faced with making a decision about my post-mastectomy treatment.
So it was important to me that I added to the body of flat mastectomy images on the internet and if possible in the press and media.
If only one woman has been positively impacted by seeing my photos then I know that I have made a positive contribution.
I want to show that these scars are not scary or ugly, but beautiful and life affirming.
You can’t be what you can’t see and I couldn’t see that it was acceptable to stay flat because my healthcare professionals didn’t show me that.
Once I started looking myself, I could see that a flat scarred chest is more than acceptable – it’s beautiful.
How does fitness help you now?
The exercise that I do now is massively important to me.
I have thrown myself into training, especially because I want to get stronger and fitter.
I know that there has been recent research that shows that exercise is a big part of preventing the recurrence of breast cancer and that’s an extremely good reason for me to exercise as much as I can.
I was unable to do very much exercise at all for almost four years so I feel like I’m making up for lost time. Exercise time is time for me and that’s important too.
Training makes me feel great about myself. It releases all of those endorphins and gives me a massive buzz.
I never thought that I’d be doing what I do now, especially the weights, at my age and after what my body has been through. Even though I find the training really hard, I find that I can push on because I know what a brilliant feeling I’ll have at the end of the session.
It demonstrates to me that I’m resilient and can push myself further than I thought I could.
Walking is my go-to if I feel stressed and anxious. I walk my whippets every day and I love being outside in Nature.
I try to notice all of the little things – the flowers, leaves, the noise of the wind, the sound of the water on my local lakes and the birds. Because I walk every day, I notice the changes that each season brings and I love that.
Source: Read Full Article