Under the Red Dress Project

“Your scars aren’t ugly. They mean you’re alive.”

Beth Whaanga, 32, cancer fighter, Under the Red Dress Project


This campaign went viral last month, but in case you missed it:


The health promotion photographic campaign has been conceived by Beth Whaanga, a Brisbane based Registered Nurse and Criminologist, and her friend, Commercial Photographer Nadia Mascot. Beth is a mother of four, married for ten years to Maui Whaanga. After being diagnosed with early stages breast cancer and the BCRA2 gene mutation, she decided with her friend Nadia to collaborate on this piece of health promotion.

The pair staged a photo shoot that resulted in six, beautiful and striking photographs: in the first, Beth is wearing one of her favourite red dresses, a picture of glamour and youth. In the photographs that follow, Beth’s mostly naked body is revealed – bearing the very real and permanant marks of the fight for survival. Tram flap breast reconstruction scars. Total bilateral mastectomy scars. Bellorac drain scar. Total hysterectomy scar. Melanoma lumpectomy scar. Navel reconstruction. Ongoing hair loss.

Many have found the images to be too confronting – 103 “friends” unfriended Beth on Facebook when she published them. Some even said that the images were pornographic. I cannot fathom this kind of “thinking”.

Perhaps the images are confronting. And perhaps this is because we do not see real, scarred bodies on a regular basis. Obviously, in our daily interactions, we do not see the full extent of each others bodies. And in our media, we see 2-hr-daily-workout-session bodies, seemingly untouched by sickness, accident, abuse, birth defects. Even in the most prominent cancer campaigns, it is unusual to see the real scars of cancer surgery depicted.

In fearlessly revealing these scars, Beth and the Under the Red Dress Project are seeking to make a statement – read some wonderful words explaining the vision of the campaign HERE. You can also find them on Facebook HERE.


I do think the images are powerful, and empowering. On a personal note, I would love to have the cahones to just be able to publicly bare my scars as Beth has. It is a great campaign, and like thousands of others I look forward to seeing it grow. Below is an interview Beth and her husband Maui did with TVNZ. She explains why it was important to show the scars of her battle against cancer, without shame or fear, amongst an ocean of awareness ribbon campaigns:


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