When you think of breasts, what is the first word that comes to your mind?
When you search for 'breast' on Google, the first suggested result to come up is 'breast cancer'. Not 'breastfeeding', not 'sexy', but 'cancer'. That only confirms how aware we are now of breast cancer. Today, as many as one in eight women in the UK will be diagnosed with breast cancer, which means many of us have a mother, daughter, sister or friend with the disease.
I always knew that one aspect of creating Bare Reality: 100 women, their breasts, their stories would be doing my part to provoke more awareness of breast cancer. But I couldn't have anticipated just how profoundly important it would be to me after meeting and interviewing the women who took part. Their stories were especially moving. Nothing puts your own problems, big or small, into perspective like someone else's life or death story.
It was important to me to include women from all walks of life and, for women who have had breast cancer, that meant a range of experiences, mastectomy, lumpectomy, reconstruction, no reconstruction. I was captivated by this woman's beautiful mastectomy tattoo. It hid her scar, a painful reminder of loss, at the same time owning it in the strongest way. She was part of the inspiration for my first tattoo! I felt compelled to do something to mark my body, mark it as mine, decorate my skin with a beautiful statement.
"I don't think I could have come to terms with my 'battle scar' as easily without the tattoo. It would have taken a lot longer to look in the mirror and feel okay about the scar where the boob was. It makes a statement and it's pretty to look at. I'm proud of it. I want people to realise you don't have to hide away just because you've had breast cancer."
From Bare Reality: 100 women, their breasts, their stories
I was intrigued to be invited by Stella McCartney to collaborate on a new project, No Less a Woman, to raise awareness of breast cancer. I wanted to jump at the chance to extend the Bare Reality project and do more for breast cancer awareness, but I had stipulations. Would Stella be happy with un-airbrushed photographs of breast cancer scars on her website? Yes. Would she publish the women's words, no matter what they said? Yes. Brave decisions.
I photographed and interviewed 12 anonymous women who have survived breast cancer, in exactly the same style as the Bare Reality book. That meant no airbrushing, no pink-washed sugar coating. The images are gentle but entirely honest. Just seeing a normal pair of boobs is shocking for some people (as I found out after Bare Reality was published) let alone the raw, un-airbrushed truth of breast cancer scars. How often do we see photographs which, while gentle and sympathetic, also present the un-airbrushed reality of breast cancer? And on the website of one of the world's leading fashion brands?
"I want women to know if you lose a breast, you are still a woman, beautiful inside and out."
The loss of a breast, or a scar, the diagnosis, treatment and recovery will mean different things to different women - we are individual, complex, nuanced. I wanted to tell these women's stories and share the brave, sad, painful, moving and sometimes even funny truth. This is how they look. This is how they feel.
"Cancer was like an unwanted house guest, it made a mess, had parties, then went."
I am proud of this collaboration which takes a tender, truthful and inspiring look at the lives and bodies of women with breast cancer. It's a bold and beautiful direction for a fashion house to take, I think it will probably surprise people. Lots of love to Stella for having the heart to do this with me, and to the 12 wonderful women who took part.
About 'No Less a Woman'
Laura's un-airbrushed photographs of their breasts and intimate interviews with the women have been produced exclusively for Stella McCartney. The project will run alongside the launch of The Louise Listening post double mastectomy compression bra to benefit charity Hello Beautiful and the #nolessawoman campaign.
Read the stories and see the photographs on the Stella McCartney website
About Bare Reality
Bare Reality: 100 women, their breasts, their stories is published by Pinter & Martin. £1 is donated from each copy sold to Breast Cancer UK