Pioneers in Flat Advocacy
A blog series designed to highlight and amplify the voices of the flat advocates who blazed the trail and laid the foundation for those that followed.
When Barbara Kriss needed a bilateral mastectomy in 2006, she realized that she didn’t want reconstruction but couldn’t find information or support for women who felt like she did. In 2007, she founded BreastFree.org, a non-profit website that presents non-reconstruction as a positive alternative to reconstruction. BreastFree.org has information about living breast-free with and without prosthetics, as well as a flat closure image gallery and stories from women who chose to go flat. Barbara has been featured in the Chicago Tribune, Cure Magazine, Paint it All Pink Magazine, and BreastCancer.org.
When you were making your reconstructive choice, how did you end up choosing flat?
“I didn’t think I wanted reconstruction, but I went for a consult with a plastic surgeon. That convinced me it wasn’t right for me. I loved my breasts, but they didn’t define me. I didn’t want any more surgery than absolutely necessary. I actually felt that if I had reconstruction and the two reconstructed ‘breasts’ didn’t match, that would be much more upsetting to me than being flat.”
How has your surgical result affected your healing process moving forward?
“I was very fortunate that my breast surgeon gave me the cosmetically pleasing result that I requested before surgery. My chest is flat and smooth, with symmetrical incisions. My surgery was in 2006 and the thin incision lines are now almost invisible. When I first saw my chest after surgery, I felt relieved. I thought I looked fine, even beautiful. Although I choose to wear breast forms when I’m out and about, I feel totally comfortable with my breast-free self.”
How did you decide that you wanted to be an advocate?
“After my diagnosis, I struggled to find information online about mastectomy without reconstruction. Other than a discussion forum on Breastcancer.org, which provided some support, I found virtually nothing. I felt that, building on my own experience, I could create a website that would cover everything from making the decision not to have reconstruction, to preparing for surgery, to recovery and learning to live breast-free.”
What is your proudest accomplishment as an advocate?
“I founded BreastFree.org in 2007. At that time, many breast surgeons didn’t even mention non-reconstruction as an option. I believe that BreastFree.org helped enable women to advocate for themselves and thereby helped swing the pendulum toward a more balanced approach, in which doctors no longer automatically assume that women want reconstruction. And I’m proud that I paved the way for sites such as yours, which have brought even greater visibility to the flat option.”
What has been your biggest challenge as an advocate?
“My approach has always been that each woman should choose what feels best for her. I’ve never been against reconstruction. Rather, my advocacy has been about making sure women have equal access to information about the option of not reconstructing. I also believe that once a woman decides not to have reconstruction, wearing breast forms or going flat are equally viable options. These views may not be quite in sync with the current flat movement. As the photos of me show, I choose to wear breast forms (unweighted foam forms, very comfortable!). At times, I feel I have to defend this choice.”
What have you learned as an advocate that you would like other advocates to know?
“Over the years, I’ve received hundreds of questions and comments from women who visit BreastFree.org. I’m constantly amazed that women keep coming up with questions and perspectives I hadn’t considered. It’s a reminder that we all bring different ideas and backgrounds to our experience of mastectomy and of living breast-free. Advocacy has taught me to listen better and not to assume that other women have the same needs and expectations as me.”
What is your vision for flat advocacy generally? What do you want the future to look like for women going flat?
“My vision is the same as it has always been – the choice of having reconstruction or not should be viewed (by the medical community and the world) as equally valid options for women facing mastectomy surgery. I’d like the future to be one where women can feel beautiful and whole without breasts.”
A pioneer may start as a lone voice in the wilderness, but their passion for and commitment to their cause inspires others to join them. This has led to exponential growth in the field of flat advocacy over the last decade or so. In 2020, we have flat photography projects, full length memoirs, nonprofit organizations, communities on social media, and even gatherings across the world… all made possible by the work of the advocates who blazed the trail.
If you know of a pioneer in flat advocacy that you’d like to see featured, please let us know!
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Disclaimer: Any and all information published by Not Putting on a Shirt (NPOAS) on behalf of a third party is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as a substitute for medical or legal advice from a licensed professional. Views expressed and claims made by third parties do not necessarily represent the views of NPOAS.