There are more reasons than just sheer ludicrousness as to why my being photographed in a multiway sports bra comes first in the most-unlikely list. The fact that my figure is about as far removed from a model’s as Johnny Vegas is from Johnny Depp, for starters. And then, of course, there’s my less-than-ideal lady-lumps, to which Hugh Hefner has doubtless issued a restraining order prohibiting me from going within fifteen miles of the Playboy Mansion for fear of his customer-base permanently losing its hard-on. Add to that a cracking pair of bingo-wings and an arse the size of Lambeth and, I suspect, you’re not just getting the picture but actively deleting it from the hard-drive in your brain.
So why now, then? Why, at my curviest, in the midst of my least-impressive boob-groove and on the bare bones of my confidence have I just whipped off my trusty black top to flash my bra at a photographer? Well, um, I’m not sure I have a decent answer.
Before you have visions of me pouting down the lens in a lacy demi-cup, all soft focus and tousled hair, let me stop you right there (you massive perv). Because this catalogue – for post-mastectomy experts Pink Ribbon Lingerie – isn’t designed for your average thirtysomething lingerie shopper, but instead for women for whom bra shopping is more of a drag than a delight. I should add, too, that the photoshoot wasn’t populated with professional models without a necessary surgical procedure to their name, but a nervous quartet of real, breast-cancer-experienced women of various ages and mastectomy stages. Which, for anyone used to clicking on the post-surgery-bra section of most lingerie websites will know, makes a bloody nice change from seeing lithe, spritely, enviably-busted, professional models showing us how we ought to look in our undercrackers once the contents of our chests have gone for a Burton. And so I suppose that’s one of the main reasons why I said yes: because it’s about time we wonky-titted lasses were represented.
‘The old Paula would never have done this,’ said the most recently-reconstructed of the models (whose shoot, by the way, was the sultry stuff that La Perla catalogues are made of). ‘But the new Paula just figured – why the hell not?’ She’d taken the words right out of my mouth. See, I happen to think that there’s a strange sort of confidence that comes with having gone through a Bullshit time with your tits. A fuck-it kind of confidence; an assured acceptance that, since this is how your boobs are going to stay, there’s nothing else you can do but lump ’em and love ’em. I appreciate how ridiculous that must sound coming from a woman who’s done nothing but bang on about the Bullshit-battering her confidence has taken over the last couple of years. Because, heck, my confidence isn’t by any stretch of the imagination what it once was… but that doesn’t mean that it’s been completely destroyed, either.
All that said, I was shaking like Lindsay Lohan in a courtroom dock when the time came to say ‘cheese’.
‘Ohmygodohmygodohmygod,’ I chanted as I appeared in the room.
‘You all right there, love?’ said the utterly lovely photographer.
‘Just crazy-nervous,’ I said, hiding behind a giant headboard. ‘How about if I just stand here, with my head poking over the top? That’s okay, right?’
‘Hm, I think we might need you out here,’ he coaxed, pointing toward a bay window.
‘Or here? Like this?’ I said, now doing the walking-down-stairs mime you do the other side of a kitchen counter. ‘This is cool, right?’
‘I’ve got to say, you don’t seem nervous,’ he said.
‘Oh, I always act like a dickhead when I’m anxious,’ I admitted, almost relieved to see that my fear-induced idiocy stretches to more locations than just doctors’ consultation rooms.
‘Really?’ he questioned.
‘Yup. See, how’s that for nervous?’ I said, holding out a hand that was shaking like a blancmange in a hurricane.
‘Fair dos,’ he conceded. ‘But really – nothing to worry about. You just tell me what to do and I’ll bear it in mind.’
‘Right. Well, first off, can you please keep my giant arse out of the frame?’
‘Giant?! Bah, lemme see,’ he said, spinning me around and exaggeratedly inspecting my rear end.
‘You don’t need to look that close!’ I squealed. ‘It’s practically the size of Lambeth.’
‘Lambeth! Give over. No – it’s more like, um…’
‘See! You don’t have a comeback! It’s Lambeth. Or maybe Tower Hamlets.’
‘Listen here you,’ he said, slapping Lambeth on its left cheek. ‘You’re perfect. We need confidence! Sass! Come on now, Lisa, make like Madonna.’
‘Madonna?! How old do you think I am, you cheeky get?’
‘Okay, Lady Gaga.’
‘Right, with every click I want you to give me a different pose, okay?’
‘Oh-kaaay,’ I said apprehensively, preparing my best camera-face.
‘Lean forward a bit, hands behind your back.’
‘Head down, looking up at me.’
‘Peering out the door.’
‘Back at me.’
‘Towards the window.’
‘Smile at your mate.’
‘Fiddle with your hair.’
‘What about piss yourself laughing?’ I said, struggling to maintain my model-face through a giggle-fit.
‘This is great!’ he flattered as he snapped. ‘This looks really great.’
‘Meh, you say that to all the girls,’ I growled through a gritted-teeth grin.
‘Come and have a look, then,’ he said, offering me his camera screen.
Now usually, when looking at photos of myself, I'm instantly checking for jowls or flared nostrils or expanses of gum or stray mole-hairs. But not this time. Nope – on this occasion, my eyes shot first to my left tit, then to my left underarm (the site of my lymph-node removal and now the place from which my lymphoedema tends to swell), then to my right tit, before finally looking myself in the eye. And chins. Of course, nodoby ever looks at a photo of themselves and says how great it is (well, nobody except perhaps Kanye West) but, from what I remember, what I saw wasn’t hideous. It wasn’t your usual La Senza fare, granted – lawks, it wasn’t even your usual Bhs fare – but nor was it the piss-taking stuff that readers-wives columns are made of. Yes, my arms looked a bit chubby and yes, my lymph-node scar was visible and yes, my bad lymphoedema day was plain for all to see. But that, I’m reasoning, is just what I look like. It’s just the way I am. And if this catalogue is aimed at cancer-practiced, real women, then that’s what they’ve got.
To my surprise, though, it was actually weirdly nice to see a picture of my girls (my girls encased in satin, mind, but my girls nonetheless) – not least when (a) they’re normally used to being ignored every time I look in the mirror and (b) one of them is mere weeks away from its use-by date. And, in fact, it’s kicked off a bit of unexpected nostalgia for my soon-to-be-deceased right’un. Suddenly, I’m not brusquely seeing my natural tit as a deadly weapon that could kill me and must immediately be removed, but instead as a treasured old mate who’s ‘going away for a while’ (y'know – in the way that dead pets are ‘sent to live on a farm’).
See, in order to get my head around what will be happening in exactly three weeks from this moment, I’ve been treating the demise of my remaining ladybits as a necessary evil; a Brazilian wax that I’d rather not endure but will ultimately be for the best. And it’s been a tactic that’s worked. I mean, hell, there’s just no getting around the fact that, given the BRCA discovery, this is What Must Be Done. But lately – in particular since saying yes to the bra shoot – I’ve found myself readjusting those thoughts, and softening enough to mourn the forthcoming loss of my lady-lumps, both chest- and pelvis-located. I’m finding myself donning tighter tops and low-cut dresses, wearing push-up bras (even despite the discomfort), sticking out my chest, cupping my right boob while I watch TV and staring at it in the bath; forcing myself to spend the kind of quality time with it that you might with a sick relative.
So I suppose, really, finding yourself confident enough to have your photo taken in your bra shortly before you’re about to lose what’s beneath it is sort of like waking up to discover you’re having a really good hair day on the morning you’ve booked in for a re-style, then checking yourself out in the reflection of every shop window along the way. It’s like I said before: it’s the fuck-it confidence of accepting your flaws; of feeling the fear, saying ‘sod it’ and doing it anyway. Which probably explains why I’ve just ordered a bodycasting kit to make a mould of my boobs before I head into hospital. But that, I suspect, is for a whole other post…