Comedian Nikki Black was diagnosed with breast cancer at 23, and then went through the difficult and very invasive process of fighting her disease. She had a full mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy. When the chemo made her hair fall out, she decided to process some of her feelings and feel more in control of how she looked with a series of photographs and head/face paintings:
In an essay for xoJane, Nikki talks about how breast cancer is a hyper-sexualized disease, and she found many people talked to her about her body in a way that felt pretty dehumanizing and disconnected from what she was actually experiencing:
Unfortunately, I began experiencing an open sexualization of my disease I had not anticipated. Immediately after going public with my diagnosis and posting a video of a cancer set on my Facebook wall, I received messages saying things like, “Those were my second-favorite pair of boobs in Philly.”
People openly asked me how I was going to handle reconstruction before I had even made that decision myself. One guy asked me what size I was going to get, and I attempted to answer frankly by saying probably the same size.
“Good choice,” he said, then he pointed at my soon-to-be removed, cancer-filled breasts and added, “And I mean, good choice.”
I felt like my body was on the chopping block long before I was even in surgery. I was told I could, at the very least, do some kind of fetish porn, which suggested that my post-mastectomy body would be niche, would be other, would be up for consumption.
It took awhile for Nikki to get back to a place where she felt like she could start making her body feel like hers again, and the earlier photo series reminded her how art can be a powerful tool. Through an organization called P.ink that helps breast cancer survivors get in touch with tattoo artists who specialize in covering scars, she found Holly Feneht, owner of The Gilded Lily. They communicated back and forth about what Nikki would like, and eventually settled on something floral with a fish, because Nikki is a Pisces.
Nikki writes that the tattoos are just one step in a process of getting back to herself:
It’s not that I wanted my pre-mastectomy body back -- now that I am beginning to see the light I am grateful for the good things even terrible experiences give you --I just want the body I have to feel like it is mine.
What's there to add besides wild applause?