“Since I could hold a crayon, art has always been my escape and my place of healing. This past year I needed it more than ever. In November of 2017, at the urging of my breast surgeon I finally decided to take control of my life, and I scheduled a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy for the coming July. For 5 years since learning I was BRCA1+ I had hid in agonizing silence, going for screenings every six months, facing scares and biopsies and feeling horrifically alone the entire time. I was now less than ten years younger than my mother was when she was diagnosed, and I was terrified. I was finally ready, in theory.
On a whim that January I typed in “#BRCA” into the search bar on Instagram and my life changed forever, for the better. I found an amazing, open, supportive community of women willing to share their stories and experiences to help others. After years of silence, I cannot even put into words how incredible this was to have. I wasn’t really ready to start talking about myself yet, but my toes were in the water, and I was back in my sketchbook. This community got me through my surgery in July, and through the ongoing months since of relearning my body, and how to love it and myself. I was determined to find a way to give back some of the good I had received.
In October of 2018 I did my very first series of Word Women. I had not yet begun soliciting stories, but instead I created four drawings inspired by three women who had truly helped me find myself again. I created outline drawings of women’s bodies and filled them in with words about strength, self love and empowerment. After this, I was ready to keep going. I posted requesting women who wanted to tell their stories to email me a photo and a blurb about their journey. To say I was overwhelmed by the response I received would be severe understatement. I am so proud to say that I have now drawn over fifty women, with many more stories waiting in queue. I wanted to share the journeys of women with the world. I wanted to shed light on the stories that society has too long swept under the rug. I wanted to help make sure no other women live in shame and silence while dealing with things that are entirely out of their control,be it abuse, a diagnosis, or anything else. It is my hope that this is only the beginning and that I will be able to continue to grow this project for a very long time to come.”
Melanie Lynn Penn is a technical designer living in NYC. She was diagnosed as BRCA1+ six years ago and underwent a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy in July of 2018, at the age of 30. She was looking for a way to use her art to give back to the community of women that helped her find emotional healing through the last year and in doing so her word portrait project began. Using outline style portraits, words and phrases to tell stories of individual women, she hopes to help bring awareness to what women deal with as they face diagnoses, surgeries and other trials of life that would normally be left unspoken. Artwork can be seen at @Melanielynnpenndesign on Instagram