Fashion was the last thing on my mind when, at age 38, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and chose to have a double mastectomy. My priority was minimizing the surgical strain on my body; ultimately, I opted not to pursue reconstruction. The struggle with how to dress this new torso of mine came later.

I loved my breasts. They were perfect plums. Highlighting their shape, their curve—and even offering tasteful glimpses of them now and then—was part of the deep current of pleasure I took in inhabiting a woman’s body.

And yet, growing up Catholic in Kentucky, I'd been taught that emotions were to be stuffed and bodies were to be covered. While some seventh-grade girls got to celebrate their budding breasts with triumphant fittings at fancy department stores, my mother handed me two white cotton triangles bound by a tangle of elastic, and that was that. I treated my breasts as I’d been taught to, burying them beneath elephantine sweaters in my teens and behind moth-eaten cardigans in my 20s.

Not until my 30s did I discover the joy of the reveal. I remember wearing a soft, black, low-cut halter top, buzzing all over with a sense of discovery. Though I'd been in this body all my life, I felt I was only now learning its secrets. I was, I came to realize, someone who loved to flirt with a swish of her hip or the suggestive hint of lingerie—and who relished the resulting look of desire in her girlfriend's eyes.

And then they were gone. After my double mastectomy, my chest wasn't just flat, it was scooped out. Once-favorite clothes hung awkwardly on my new frame. The material meant to cover my breasts bunched and gathered like a pair of wilted corsages. When it comes to womanhood, curves are currency, and I was flat broke. Fellow breast cancer survivors advised me to hide behind dark colors and prints. And so I bought zigzags, stripes, houndstooth. I filled my shelves with black and charcoal, which left me feeling bereft. The more I tried to hide, the more I lost sight of myself.

So I dug deeper, became creative, intentional. I stocked up on colorful nail polish. I indulged in playful dresses, bracelets, intricate rings. And I've stuck to one simple resolution: When I have the urge to go full-on femme, I refuse to let my flat chest stop me.

In 2013, four years after my double mastectomy, my sweetie and I eloped. I wore a soft, flowing halter dress the color of mourning doves—no patterns, no dark colors, no attempt to camouflage. Instead, the dress radiated how feminine I felt on the inside. Look closely at my wedding photos and you’ll see the protrusion of ribs instead of breasts behind the smooth fabric. But on that glorious day, no one cared, especially not me—as at home in my body as I'd ever been.

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