For many people who are currently undergoing treatment for breast cancer or who have survived breast cancer, life will never be the same. It’s common to struggle with not feeling like your old self, not recognizing your body as your own after all the changes it’s been through, and not knowing how to pick up where you left off in life.
Photographer Charise Isis is hoping to help people who have undergone treatment for breast cancer regain their confidence and self-image and love their bodies again. She started a photography project called The Grace Project to help women—and a few men—recognize the beauty still present in their changed bodies.
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The theme of the photoshoot Charise recently performed at the Marie Coffin Gardens in Wilmington, Delaware, was Greek goddesses. Her subjects were all draped in soft flowing garments that tastefully showed off their scars and highlighted their natural beauty. She spent 20 minutes with each one, doing her best to make them each feel special and beautiful.
“I think really what deep down happens is you’re asking yourself to accept the scars and your journey and the things that have happened to you, and so there’s a real transformative thing that happens as I’m photographing people,” says Charise. “There really is a shift toward an acceptance of how their body now is, the change that they’ve had.”
Charise’s goal is to help cancer patients and survivors accept and appreciate their new bodies and heal emotionally from the trauma they’ve faced. She also hopes to help others put a face to breast cancer and show off the courage and grace of those who have gone through it.
Roberta Albany of Royersford, Pennsylvania, was one of the subjects Charise photographed in the session. “I want women that look like me to see that we’re still beautiful after we have mastectomies,” she says.
“The stars aligned and I was like, this is what I need to help me transform into this goddess,” says Elle Shaeffer, a retired first-grade teacher from Newark, Delaware, who had her troublesome breast implants removed a few weeks before her photoshoot. “So I feel like, despite my nervousness about it, it will just be so transformative, that I will be able to just be at another level of healing.”
This particular photoshoot, which involved 24 men and women between the ages of 28 and 68 who are undergoing cancer treatment or who have survived breast cancer, is just one small part of Charise’s larger project. She hopes to collect 800 portraits—one for every breast cancer diagnosis recorded in the U.S. in a single day—and display them all together on silk banners in one large exhibit.
“We’re all imperfectly perfect. I like to think that broken is still beautiful,” says Charise. “Our scars are beautiful. They’re like the map of our lives, like the things that have been written on our body that we have needed to do in order to survive.”
Check out the video below to see Charise in action and learn more about her project.