Sylvia | calgary photographer
Approximately a month ago Tasha Westerman contacted me to ask if I would like the opportunity to volunteer at the Calgary Rethink Romp, a breast cancer charity event. I was honoured. I called my friend and amazing photographer Kristen Shima and she graciously volunteered her time to come along with me. I have to say it was incredible. All of these amazing women in Q Haute Cuisine dressed as superheros. Not afraid to live… or have fun. It’s easy to see why, some of them have been faced with breast cancer and others have had a loved one that struggled. Some lost the struggle, some won.
Kristen and I photographed these women for hours and it was so much fun. Pink wigs, superhero shirts, full on super hero outfits and everything in between. We met some amazing people. One of these people was Sylvia Soo. She came dressed as a super hero and looking spectacular right down to her stilettos. She was beautiful. I saw her pictures and thought, I would like to do some portraits of this girl. I later discovered on her blog that she is a survivor. A University student. A young survivor.
My friend Gabe of Perspectiveye joined me at the shoot. You can see his perspective here.
Sexy was not a part of my vocabulary growing up. I was a skinny church girl with big, round glasses and crooked teeth, incessantly teased for my washboard chest and toothpick frame. In fact, one person said to me, “It was a miracle that God could fit a stomach and liver inside such a tiny body.” So there I was- a skinny, awkward girl that spent every second day reading the Bible and the rest of her time reading Nancy Drew and Edith Blyton. I had no clue what sexy was.
By the time I met my first boyfriend I had began to grow some “sexy.” When I entered university, I had formed enough hips and enough “breast” to feel like a woman and not like a boy.
Fast forward three years, two and a half boyfriends later, and there I was a young, tanned, slender body with a head of long, black hair. Men wanted to date me, and photographers wanted to shoot with me. I felt sexy. Then I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I realized that I was about to lose everything that had previously defined me as sexy.
I turned to the one person who constantly told me how beautiful I was. I needed my boyfriend to be there for me. I needed him to love me even without a breast, without my hair and with the potential to tip the scale over 115 lbs. I felt that if he was going to love me when I didn’t look or feel sexy, it would be enough to get me through the dark days; days when I was throwing up in a toilet or watching the hair from my head fall to the ground, days when “sexy” had left.
However, the nights when I stared into the mirror and felt extremely unattractive, he wasn’t there. He left before chemo even started and that made me sad. In his place, India Arie’s “I am Not My Hair” had found it’s way onto my iPod and her lyrics provided me comfort for those tearful nights where “breast cancer and chemotherapy” had taken away “my sexy.”
Arie’s lyrics blared from my headphones telling me that I was “not my hair” and I was not “this skin,” rather, I was “a soul that lives within.” I realized I needed to re-define what sexy meant to me. Yes, sexy had a lot to do with how I looked on the outside, but I began to realize it had a lot more to do with how I felt on the inside.
Today I could pass you on the street and you would never know that I had cancer. You would never think that a year and a half ago, I was completely bald and could barely stand to look at myself in the mirror.
When Michelle had asked if I’d like to do a session with herself and Gabe, I said yes, not giving much thought to why I was doing the shoot, other than it would be fun. As the shoot unfolded I felt beautiful, I felt like a woman, and I felt sexy once again.
The photos celebrate how resilient my body has been, a body that has been pumped full of toxins, swelled to shocking proportions, and yet has returned to me.
Here’s to bringing sexy back, inside and out.
Perspectiveye blog (for more photos from the calgary shoot)