Mastectomy Scar Pioneer Undergoes Pioneering Reconstructive Surgery

Source: CBS News

The August 15, 1993, the cover story of Sunday The New York Times Magazine was a shock: The glamour layout, the mastectomy scar, and the message. You couldn’t look away.

“The reason why I think it’s startling and shocking is because the juxtaposition of the beauty and the scar,” artist and former fashion model Matuschka told Martha Teichner of CBS News. “It was a taboo subject in the early ’90s. There was no press coverage, and there was no visual to go with the subject.”

The image was intended to prompt a national conversation about breast cancer, but judging from the 1,500 letters The New York Times received in just the first week after the photo appeared, it was more of a shouting match. Twenty years later, the shouting continues.

In May, actress Angelina Jolie announced — also in The New York Times — that she had undergone a preventive double mastectomy and reconstruction. While she was praised for her courage and candor, mastectomy photographs — part of what’s know as the Scar Project — were removed from Facebook.

More than 20,000 furious people signed an online petition demanding that Facebook backtrack. Within days, it did…sort of, announcing that “the vast majority” of mastectomy photos would be permitted, but not all.

More than 230,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society. More than 39,000 women are expected to die of it. However, since 1993 — the year Matuschka’s photograph was published — breast cancer death risks have actually dropped 30 percent. And since 1998, federal law has required that if a woman’s health insurance pays for a mastectomy, it must also pay for reconstruction.

For more than 20 years, Matuschka held out, her missing breast remaining a subject in her art. But as her body changed, so did her self esteem. “The world is never going to really embrace a one-breasted fashionable chick,” Matuschka said. “They’re just not. They’re not.

“People are looking at me like I’m, you know, a freak. It’s alienating me more. I can’t wear clothes…and I realized it’s making my life miserable,” she added. So Last month, at the age of 59, she prepared for the first of several surgeries to reconstruct her right breast and to reduce the size of her left.

The Scar Project Gallery

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