PUBLISHED ON: 2 July 2020

After breast cancer surgery, Dawn lost confidence in how she looked. An appearance on the BBC1 show, You Are What You Wear helped her to feel more accepting and positive about her body.

Dawn on You Are What You Wear
I felt hopeless when I looked in the mirror

Why – with my low self-esteem, shattered confidence, lopsided chest, and wolverine-style hair – did I audition for Rylan Clark-Neal’s new BBC1 show, You Are What You Wear?

I was sick and tired of crying and feeling hopeless when I looked at myself in the mirror. Breast cancer had changed me, and not for the better. Yes, I survived the single mastectomy and immediate reconstruction in the summer of 2018, and then the bouts of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and hormone therapy.

But what was left of me? Since my operation, I’d taken to wearing my husband’s clothes. I did not care about what I looked like. I felt that surgery and the side-effects of my arduous drug regime had stolen my femininity. What was the point of dressing like a woman when I didn’t feel like a woman? Reassuringly, my husband’s clothes were cosy and big enough to hide inside, like a secret den or that place at the back of the wardrobe. I felt safe.

I thought people would laugh at me

About a year after my surgery, I saw an advert for Rylan’s new show. They needed people with ‘real-life clothing issues’. Boy, did I have a lot of issues. I applied and got through.

I thought that people would laugh at me. My breast implant was hard, knobbly and very noticeable. Basically, I was just not symmetrical in the place I wanted to be symmetrical. Every woman knows what it feels like to feel so off.

Then there was my horrendous hair. After months of wearing attractive scarves to cover my bald head, my follicles re-emerged but they had holidayed on the set of X-Men. I had turned into Wolverine but not the good version – my hair was the wiry, curly version of Hugh Jackman, the one that lay on the cutting room floor.

I told myself earnestly that I was taking part to show viewers how breast cancer affects you physically and mentally but maybe the producers just wanted someone to give people a laugh. I arrived at the TV studios in Manchester in a total panic.

I didn’t recognise myself in the mirror

On the morning of filming Rylan took me by the hand, physically and metaphorically, and led me into the Mirror Room - otherwise known as THE ROOM WHERE YOU CANNOT HIDE. Although supportive, caring and urging me to find the inner strength to look at myself, it was an utterly heart-rending experience.

I’d not seen myself in a full-length mirror since my diagnosis and I did not recognise the woman staring back. I did not know who I was.

After this, the mirror was covered up and things started to get better. After being fitted with a bra that restored my old symmetry (goodbye practical and non-sexy sports bras), my confidence surged like the Severn Bore. I started to relax. Rylan introduced me to a super stylist called Lucie Clifford, who explained what to wear to flatter my shape and she even told me about fabrics that help you cope with hot flushes.

I was blindfolded and dressed in three different outfits – such a surreal experience. But at least I was laughing and everyone treated me with patience and kindness. Moreover, I was having fun – partly because no-one mentioned breast cancer, hormone therapy or hospital appointments.

The show changed how I think about my body and appearance

For my final transformation, I was given a hair and make-up makeover, blindfolded, and taken back to the Mirror Room.

Rylan was there for the Big Reveal. I felt nervous, emotional but also excited as I had no idea what I was wearing or what I looked like.

The blindfold was removed, and I stared into the full-length mirror. I gasped. It was me, but me from 10 years ago, in a beautiful dress and with a proportionate body shape. My husband came in and we both wept. Stuart is my tower of strength, but the show released buried emotions that he had kept hidden from me. Breast cancer affects the whole family, not just the person with the disease.

Since the programme, I think more positively about my clothing choices and appearance. When I was having treatment and focused on simply getting better, clothes were irrelevant.

Now, if I dress nicely and make an effort with my hair, my confidence soars and helps to carry me though the day. The entire You Are What You Wear experience was overwhelmingly positive and I love my new shape. At last, I feel like I do not have to hide.


For more inspirational stories of moving on from breast cancer, check out our Becca app.