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One-of-a-kind fashion show promotes breast cancer awareness

“Who says you need two?” is the motto of Monokini 2.0, a Finnish art project that staged a fashion show in Helsinki on Saturday. The unique show featured ten women who have experienced breast cancer modelling swimsuits designed for women like themselves, who don’t wish to have breast reconstruction surgery after a mastectomy.

Milsse Tapojärvi uima-altaan päälle rakennetulla catwalkilla Yrjönkadun uimahallissa.
Breast cancer survivor Milsse Tapojärvi models Monokini 2.0 swimwear in central Helsinki. Image: Pekka Koli / Yle

Finland’s oldest public swimming hall on Helsinki's Yrjönkatu filled to the rafters on Saturday as participants gathered to see a special fashion show. Monokini 2.0 featured ten women who have battled breast cancer and had one or both of their breasts removed.

Although a few of the models are still not 100% cancer-free, on Saturday they stepped out in front of the admiring crowd to model swimwear from some of Finland’s top fashion designers. The suits were specially made to fit their bodies comfortably and in a flattering way.

“I have a very long history of breast cancer that went on for many years. This is naturally a unique experience. It definitely requires a bit of courage,” says one of the models, Sirpa Ikävalko.

“This has been a fantastically wonderful experience and I feel honoured to be a part of it. It has been a very healing project for me. I can help promote the idea that we are beautiful, even if a piece is missing,” says Milsse Tapojärvi, another model in the show and cancer survivor.

Appropriate swimwear hard to find

Top fashion designers Teemu Muurimäki, Mert Otsamo, Tyra Therman, Outi Pyy and Sasu Kauppi were among the big names in Finland asked to design a Monokini 2.0 suit.

Stores are full of swimwear designed for women with two breasts. Women who have undergone a single or double mastectomy report that finding a suit with the right fit and look at stores is very difficult.

“It is extremely challenging. I am grateful that I can sew myself. There is a certain kind of discrimination in the stores, if we have to go through so much trouble to find something suitable,” says Tapojärvi.

The swimwear in the show highlighted the women’s’ bodies as they were, without the extra padding that many women resort to. It forced the participants to reveal what society expects them to hide – to present themselves bravely, just as they are.

“I would hope that our example would bring courage, joy and a zest for life to everyone who has gone through breast cancer. Maybe we can even offer some peer support,” says Ikävalko.

“We wanted to convey the message that every woman – whether she has one or two breasts – should feel that she is whole and sweet and beautiful, despite the pressures that our environment and our culture impose upon us,” say the two women behind the Monokini 2.0 event, artistic directors Vilma Metteri and Katriina Haikala.

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women, affecting 4,800 women in Finland each year. Statistics show that one out of every eight woman will be struck with breast cancer at one point in her lifetime. An estimated 40 percent of Finnish women with breast cancer choose to continue their life with one or no breasts after they receive a single or double mastectomy.

Worldwide attention

In the summer of 2014, Monokini 2.0 held a photo exhibition in The Finnish Museum of Photography. News of the exhibition was reported widely in several fashion magazines, like Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire, as well as on popular social media sites like The Huffington Post, Bored Panda and Buzzfeed.

When mega pop star Lady Gaga’s charity wrote about the Monokini 2.0 project on its Facebook site, it caused so much social media traffic that the project’s website crashed.

Click here to watch the website’s video in English.

All of the proceeds of Saturday’s fashion show will be donated to the Cancer Society of Finland for breast cancer research. 

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