‘Under The Red Dress Project’ Uncovers The Cancer Scars We Hide Under Our Clothes

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In early 2014, Beth Whaanga gained notoriety among her Facebook friends after she posted a series of images of herself on her page. Whaanga is a breast cancer survivor, and her images revealed the scars from her multiple surgeries — but they weren’t completely well-received. Yes, she was wearing only underwear; but it wasn’t a lewd call for attention, but rather a bold call for awareness.

Whaanga was diagnosed with breast cancer on her 32nd birthday, and a short time later found out that she had the BRCA2 gene mutation, which significantly upped her chance of ovarian cancer as well. So Whaanga underwent a double mastectomy, a hysterectomy, lymphadenectomy, and melanoma lumpectomies, as well as a tram flap procedure (which takes tissue from your stomach to reconstruct the breast). Her body was ravaged by disease and surgeries, and she wasn’t about to keep that under wraps. She wanted to raise awareness, especially since cancer had attacked her body at a young age. So she started the Under The Red Dress Project.

A year ago today this iconic image taken by NADIA MASOT (Commercial Photographer) went viral. It helped changed the way…

Posted by Under the Red Dress Project on Sunday, February 8, 2015

Her scars tell a story — a very intense one. However, over 100 of her Facebook friends didn’t want to see that story, and so they de-friended her. Multiple flags were sent to Facebook that Whaanga was violating their terms.

But what did Facebook have to say about the images?

They told her they would not be removed. While nudity is, of course, banned from the social media site, mastectomy scars are allowed.

“We agree that undergoing a mastectomy is a life-changing experience and that sharing photos can help raise awareness about breast cancer and support the men and women facing a diagnosis, undergoing treatment or living with the scars of cancer. The vast majority of these kinds of photos are compliant with our policies.” – Facebook’s Help Center

Similar issues have happened before for other groups’ mastectomy photos, like the well-known Scar Project — in fact, that project sparked the petition that led to Facebook establishing more concrete guidelines in 2013.

If a mastectomy photo is removed it is either a mistake (since Facebook’s teams have a crazy amount of images to go through on a daily basis) or it’s because the photo has violated their policies for other reasons. Still, mastectomy photos keep getting flagged.

We love what the Under The Red Dress project proposes: Awareness. Support. Acceptance.

Beating breast cancer is a huge milestone, and many survivors like to share their mastectomy scars on social media, a choice that Facebook’s terms of service allows. In practice, however, many breast cancer survivors have experienced the shame and outrage of having posted a post-mastectomy photo only to have it flagged as inappropriate content and removed.

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C. Dixon likes to read, sing, eat, drink, write, and other verbs. She enjoys cavorting around the country to visit loved ones and experience new places, but especially likes to be at home with her husband and dog.