At 22 years old, Faith Barber struggled with body image like any other young adult. Looking back on it now, however, Barber says she always felt like her self doubts were solvable with a little willpower and intention. Her sudden breast cancer diagnosis was an ugly and unexpected disruption to this line of thinking. New insecurities cropped up, ones that she had zero control over, like mastectomy scars and hair loss. Often, looking in the mirror felt hard, and she had to remind herself that this was her real life.
After going viral on TikTok for a video documenting the biopsy results that confirmed her cancer diagnosis, Barber leaned in, continuing to have candid conversations about confidence, positivity, and mental health with close to 300K followers. Now, nearly two years in remission, she explains to POPSUGAR why she’s taking the time to honor her body on her own terms.
Everything about my cancer journey was fast-paced; my decisions had to be made quickly. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 22 [in 2021]. I’d had no idea I had a genetic mutation (called BRCA2) that put me at a greater risk for cancer. Within weeks of my diagnosis, I decided on a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction, and as a result, I sadly had to say goodbye to my nipples. It was a lengthy, painful process, but it’s a decision that I don’t regret making.
The loss of my girlies flipped my world upside down. No one prepared me for it, and I barely had time to process it in the midst of my cancer treatment. Everything had to be done quickly because my cancer was aggressive, which is the reality for a lot of women.
After my double mastectomy, the doctors placed tissue expanders in my chest. Throughout my chemo treatments I would go in and get my chest filled [with saline]. It was bizarre, but after every fill, I got more excited — another step closer to completing reconstruction. Throughout this process, I went from hating scars to cherishing them. They felt like a badge of honor and strength.
Everyone’s reconstruction journey is different — and mine has been complicated. I’ll be two years in remission this year, and I still don’t know if I’m done. My implant flipped a few times, and I had a few corrective surgeries on top of fat transfers to make my chest look as natural as possible. I’ve lost count of how many surgeries I’ve had.
I’ve had nipple tattoos on my mind for a very long time. One reason I haven’t gotten them thus far is purely logistical — because of my chest mishaps. The last time my implant flipped, for example, we had to remove a lot of skin in order to help the implant stay in place. If I had nipple tattoos before that [procedure], I would have a very slanted fake nipple.
But another reason I haven’t gotten nipple tattoos is because, although I know how much they help others, I think they would be pointless for me. I don’t want to pretend what I went through didn’t happen. I lost my boobs. I can’t feel my chest — it’s numb. If I got nipple tattoos, they would be a ghost of my old life.
Plus, there are a lot of cool things that come with not having nipples: I don’t have to worry about a nip slip, or wearing a bra with a white, tight T-shirt. I’ll take the good that came from losing them.
“If I got nipple tattoos, they would be a ghost of my old life.”
It’s hard to explain why I might not want nipple tattoos to people who haven’t gone through what I have these past few years. Because I’m so open about my journey, people often ask me if I’ll ever get these tattoos. My surgeon thinks they would look natural — others think it would be weird not to get them. They want me to feel normal, and [they think] I should look like I have a normal chest when I look in the mirror. But I know I’m not going to feel “normal,” with or without the nipple tattoos. And normal is boring anyway, especially if you’ve gone through something like [cancer].
If I ever do get tattoos, they would highlight what I went through instead of hiding it. I’d want to get something like flowers or vines, complimenting my scars. Cancer has made me grow into the person I am today. As much as I hate what it’s done to me, I won’t ever let it make me feel less than.
Beforehand, you have this idea that you can control how you look all the time. Like, ‘Oh, you could work out, you could do this — you could do things to change [your body].’ And then once something happens to you, like what’s happened to me, you realize some things you cannot change. And you just have to accept, and you learn to love yourself, and there’s beauty in that.
— As told to Chandler Plante
Image Source: Courtesy of Faith Barber