In the accompanying project manifesto, artists Katriina Haikala and Vilma Metteri, the creative leaders behind the Monokini 2.0 project, said: “We think that the current focus on breast reconstruction after mastectomy as the only way to a full life, is a breast-fixated way of seeing what a woman is. We want to incite a positive self-image of breast-operated women by showing that you can be whole, beautiful and sexy even with just one breast or with no breasts at all. Our other aim is to dig into the restrictive social taboo on what is considered appropriate – by exposing something that is not there. Seeing an exposed breast is considered nakedness, but why is exposing no breast also considered nakedness?”
Monokini 2.0 is an art project that re-examines popular culture and takes a stand on Western commercial culture’s narrow idea of women’s ideal appearance. It strives to expand the idea of what is considered to be beautiful in the female body by emphasising that beauty lies in one’s confidence and community’s acceptance rather than constructed ideals of a “perfect body.” The artists have asked a group of Finnish designers to design a swimwear collection for women who have gone through breast cancer. While swimwear is conventionally designed for women who haven’t had a mastectomy, many women who have had one breast removed due to breast cancer don’t wish to have breast reconstruction operation and would like to continue their lives with one or no breasts at all.
On August 29, 2015, two shows created on the occasion of the Monokini 2.0 catwalk will take place at Yrjönkatu swimming pool in Helsinki, Finland. Presenting 10 empowered women, 10 haute couture bathing suits, 10 beautiful photographs and a world-touring photography exhibition, the show presents swimsuit models who have experienced breast cancer and the suits especially designed for single-breasted women. Bringing together professionals from art and fashion, the unique swimsuit collection is not intended to hide or shame – instead, it reveals, empowers and celebrates the courage of Finnish women.
The first woman modeling for the Monokini 2.0 project was Sirpa, a courageous woman from the board of the Finnish Breast Cancer Association. After publishing Sirpa’s photograph, the artists received a lot of interest from women in the project. All the models presented as part of the project have contacted the artists after seeing the Monokini 2.0 photographs that have been released online. While modeling for a swimsuit photo shooting is a big step for anyone, it requires incredible courage coming from women who have gone through radical changes in their bodies.
Sirpa says that on her long and sometimes difficult journey with breast cancer, “Monokini 2.0 project has been an amazing experience. I hope that my picture will give strenght, belief and courage to the women gone trough mastectomy: womanhood is not about all breasts (or not having them). I hope that within this project the discussion of these matters will become easier and more natural.” Designed by Haikala & Metteri (Tärähtäneet ämmät), Sirpa’s swimsuit was the first Monokini 2.0 ever designed and sought to play with the concept of a beach and swimwear in the spirit of Helmut Newton. Issues related to the ideas of an ideal beauty have already been one of the main topics in the artist duo’s researches for years, as a way of investigating cultural norms of what is considered beautiful and accepted and what is not. The artists then designed Milsse’s swimsuit, who hopes “that through these pictures everyone can find strength, courage and certitude to endorse her/him self. Everyone is perfect exactly as they are!”
Kristiina’s swimsuit was designed by Outi Les Pyy, who says the opportunity to participate in this project inspired her renewed ideas about the female body and our relation to making and wearing clothes, especially when it comes to underwear. Perceived to be a relevant cause, Sasu Kauppi designed the swimsuit for Marjaana, who in turn says: “Cancer has drilled holes to my bones and taken away my breast, that’s all. I don’t let it in my mind to steal all the precious things in me. I’ve heard from many people ‘you are so brave,’ but with you, for the first time, I really felt like it. ‘To indefinite and beyond’.”
“The idea of Monokini 2.0 was born out of a need for clothing down as much as possible during a persistent heat wave,” says Elina Halttunen, who had the original idea behind the entire project and who designed her own swimsuit due to difficulties in finding fitting bikinis. “Having done that, I thought that maybe there would be others out there like me, women who wanted swimwear that would not make them feel that they were missing a breast. Besides, being one-breasted creates great possibilities for cool swimwear design.” Elina continues to say she does not want to hide or stop swimming: “I do not want to undergo extensive plastic surgery operations and I do not want to be forced to use the uncomfortable prosthesis on the beach. I want to feel as free and active as I did before my cancer, and Monokini 2.0 gives me a chance to do exactly that.”
Designer Tyra Therman says she was immediately drawn into the project because she felt it gave her a chance “to think about the different and interesting aspects about feminity, which plays a huge role in working as an underwear designer. Designing a swimsuit for Virve gave me new ideas about nudity and modesty.” Mert Otsamo designed the swimsuit for Katja starting from the two words that instantly came to mind when thinking of these women: courage and strength. Reetta stresses this is “absolutely the most remarkable project that I’ve ever seen, heard, or been part of, especially considering that there is no need to see women with mastectomy as sad persons. It shows that the project has achieved maybe even more than it was originally planned.” Her swimsuit was designed by Vilma Riitijoki who says she wanted to be a designer in this project “because I am a swimmer who cannot swim and I do not wear a bra. When I started my fashion studies eight years ago I dreamed of designing a swimming suit. My Monokini 2.0 is hand made of fishing supplies. We are all swimming in the same water, we all have our missions and we all are perfect. There is someone waiting to catch us with their net, no matter if we have none, one, two or three breasts. I believe this project will open up a new perspective to humanity and inner beauty.”
Timo Rissanen designed Camilla’s swimsuit after being invited to participate and having followed the project on Facebook for a couple of months, inspired and deeply moved by the models. “The thought of getting in front of a camera in a swimsuit is scary for most of us,” says Rissanen. “Here are women whose bodies defy the narrow ideals we’ve collectively set for them and yet they are modeling swimwear with a twinkle in their eyes.” Camilla herself remembers that when she first heard about the project, “I knew I HAVE TO participate in it! I knew I had to challenge myself to do this, just had to. We’ve been watching Top Model (USA) for soooo many seasons now with my kids, it looks so easy to get a good pic… so this was extremely fun to try out what it’s really is like. I did find out pretty quickly that posing isn’t easy at all, just a simple pose was hard work 🙂 You really have to put your soul into this, otherwise the photographs don’t turn out that good at all. But, I loved it! This was my moment of glory (since I’ve never even been married…), somebody did my make-up, my hair, told me what to wear… The team really made me look.”
In her research, Elina Halttunen, PhD, mentions she was surprised by the argumentation of the breast operated women in Norway protesting about the long waiting time for breast reconstruction. “They said that they felt like ‘half a woman’, ‘mutilated’ and ‘not fully treated for their illness’ without surgery. I have also been operated for breast cancer and must admit that I got a bit provoked. I think everybody who wants a reconstruction should get one as soon as possible. I am also aware that breasts are powerful symbols of womanhood, sexuality and nurture, and that they are important for the self-image of many woman. But I also think we are getting quite fixated in what we consider beautiful, healthy and normal. I still feel like a whole, healthy woman even without my left breast. I don’t think my value as a woman is reduced because I now have a little less fat, glands and skin than before my operation. I also think my scar is beautiful. It reminds me of the second chance at life I got in exchange. As I am now thankfully cured for cancer, I also consider myself healthy and finished with my treatment. Getting a plastic operation to restore my looks would be treating something else than cancer.
But I do know that I do not look normal. I get reminded of that every time I am naked, especially if I am naked among other people at the swimming pool. I get stared at. And I think I get stared at because we do not see breast cancer operated women anywhere. I have never seen another operated woman in public pools or on public beaches during my whole life and I have been swimming actively in many countries, pools and beaches. I think it is quite surprising, as there are 1.8 million women operated for breast cancer each year globally and in most cases the treatment is the removal of the breast. This means that there must be millions of operated women hiding themselves from the public eye. I think that is sad and I want to do something about it. I do not want to hide, I do not want to stop swimming, I do not want to undergo extensive plastic surgery operations, and I do not want to be forced to use the uncomfortable prosthesis on the beach. I want to feel as free and active as I did before my cancer, and I am pretty sure that there are others out there like me. Therefore, I came up with the idea of the Monokini 2.0 swimwear.”
Monokini 2.0 and the accompanying exhibition is an opportunity to address relevant issues of stigma and social exclusion in healthcare, expanding well beyond issues of breast cancer and beauty. For those who will take time to investigate the project and attend the exhibition, it is an opportunity to reflect and seek answers about the ways society as a whole imposes unacceptable burdens that often lead one to hopelessness and misery.
What Monokini 2.0 shows is that the ways to make society more inclusive can only be found by working with individuals themselves and integrating them into projects that exceed disciplinary boundaries. The sick – much like the poor, the undervalued or the unwanted – need to be responsively and participatively brought into the mainstream in order to undermine socio-political and cultural rhetorics. This serves to disentangle ‘normalising’ agendas and those ideological narratives that function well within neo-liberalist policies. Such policies encourage a type of consumerism based on the proliferation of deregulated global private enterprises which displaces citizenships and processes of individualisation, leading to widening and deepening inequalities, and increasing the numbers of those excluded.
Monokini 2.0 successfully breaks with perceptions that individuals are often responsible for their own exclusion, showing that misrepresentations can only be countered by virtue of one’s self-perception, courage and broader self- and social responsibility. It is possible to venture so far as to say that projects such as Monokini 2.0 can have a substantial contribution in challenging a series of conceptions, policies, practices and economies that have been built around constructed ‘differences’ and ‘deviances.’ They empower individuals to authoritatively contest the macro- and micro-politics of exclusion, but also the determinations that shape and can drive mental, socio-political, economical and practical responses.
– The information, materials and additional critical commentaries have been put together by Sabin Bors, curator and editor-in-chief of the anti-utopias contemporary art platform.