My thesis is called, "Sutured Skin in Place of Womanhood." It looks at breast cancer survivors who have been through mastectomies and reconstructive surgeries. It focuses on the trauma of losing your breasts and how that affects one's gender identity. It also focuses on sexism surrounding reconstructive surgery. Through my research, I discovered straight women typically opted for reconstructive surgery, whereas queer women opted to go flat. Queer women tended to go flat more often because they felt less pressure from the patriarchy to look a certain way. Breast cancer survivor and and women's health writer Catherine Guthrie stated, "I had come out as queer in my early twenties and so for eighteen years, at that point of my diagnosis, I had been thinking about sexuality differently and I had been thinking about gender identity differently." I, unfortunately, came across a horrible phenomenon happening to breast cancer patients everywhere. After requesting to go flat, patients would wake up to find empty sacks of skin on their chests where they had thought would be a smooth, flat surface. The doctor's reasoning? "You might want breasts one day." This is, undoubtedly, horrible especially because many women chose to go flat to avoid any more further surgeries which would now be required to remove the sacks of skin. The doctors faced no repercussions for deliberately going against their patients' wishes. Women are being butchered by doctors who are ingrained to think a woman's value comes from her breasts and will easily put aside her health and well-being to appease a patriarchal idea of what it means to be a woman. For my collection, I wanted to embody as many of these elements as I could. All of the fabric is in shades of brown and clings to the body to mimic skin. I created bioplastic beads that sit under the fabric to give the illusion of cancerous lumps. The vein technique was created to resemble my own grandmother's stage IV metastatic cancer. The cancer spread to her blood causing leukemia. Some garments come up over the mouth to bring light to the women who have been silenced by their doctors. I discovered a medical-grade thermoplastic called Aquaplast used in radiation therapy. I molded the plastic into sculptural wearables to elevate my collection beyond clothing. Many of the garments are restrictive around the arms to mimic the results of reconstructive surgery. During reconstruction, doctors take muscle from the patient's back and move it to the chest causing limited arm mobility for life. I also incorporated specific suturing techniques used during these surgeries to stitch my collection. My goal for my thesis is to give a deeper understanding of breast cancer and use it as pinpoint in the much larger issue of women's medicine. So often women, especially women of color, aren't taken seriously when discussing symptoms which results in a much higher death rate in women for diseases that are treatable.
[ BIO ]
Samantha Johnson is a recent Parsons graduate with a degree in fashion design and creative entrepreneurship. She graduated top of her class with a 3.8 GPA. She is currently a design intern at the brand Retrofête with hopes to have her own successful brand one day. In high school, Samantha competed on Project Runway Junior and took everything she learned during the show and applied it to her work to continue to better herself. She attributes her 15 year dance background to her love of avant garde fashion and costumes. Samantha has since worked at big brands such as Marchesa and IMG.