The female population on Instagram lit up this past weekend when illustrator Peniel Enchill (@peniel_enchill) posted her Breast Cancer Awareness sketch of three women – one in a pink feather skirt, another in sequence and the last in pink leggings; all three fully accessorized with boxing gloves and completely bald – topless revealing post mastectomy scars. The women on both ends revealing bilateral mastectomies. The woman in the center revealing the results of a unilateral procedure. The posts garnered nearly 50K likes across 3 related posts in addition to a stream of reposts.
Hundreds of comments rendered praise. A couple of male-bozos commented brainless remarks but two comments came from women who could not understand the logic behind the illustration and the claims of its beauty.
The artist behind the illustration is English based illustrator, Peniel Enchill, Creative Director and owner of the Peniel Enchill brand. Armed with amazing talent and her pencil, a powerful message was delivered. Enchill shares with us her inspiration and motivation behind the powerful sketch. We also take a crack at the ‘why’ something that has garnered so much pain can be proclaimed as beautiful.
Here is what Enchill shared with Sly on her work and the impact it has delivered.
Sly: What is the message you hoped to convey with this sketch?
Enchill: The image was made for three main purposes;
- To highlight. As you may know, October is the month dedicated by many to raising awareness for breast cancer. Some run marathons; some have gala’s and charity events dedicated to breast cancer, and several other initiatives. Art is the tool I use.
- To encourage. There’s several out there experiencing breast cancer currently. Some are fighting to survive, others are witnessing the struggle of a loved one, and some are living as survivors. I felt this image could encourage someone at any of these stages to keep going.
- To inspire. Mainly to check! Feel for lumps. This ideally should be done regularly as woman. However, most of us fail to (myself included) and seeing an image like this, I hope, would make at least one (if not a few) ladies check.
Sly: @letcherhannibal commented on your artwork , “Guess nothing is private anymore”, and @onin5makeup said “@penielenchill I had breast cancer and there’s nothing more horrifying than looking at my scars. There is nothing beautiful about this picture.” What do you say to those who see it as an invasion of privacy or an unwanted exposure?
The first comment, I feel, was just an expression of preference. There are several people fighting this battle publicly on social media platforms. Whether it’s the loss of hair, weight loss some face through treatment, or intimate scars; I would think majority of us look past the physical and focus on the emotional. But not everyone is comfortable with this and that’s preference.
The second comment however tugged on my heartstrings not because I was offended, but because it seemed to come from a place of so much hurt. I can’t say it’s easy to come to terms with these scars because I’ve never had to, and some survivors never may. But I have consolation in the number of people who reached out in one way or another with positive feedback about how the illustration made them feel about theirs.
Sly: Why are the open actions of women, like some on IG like @ihartericka, impactful?
Enchill: I love her! I love her bravery and blatant passion for her beliefs. There’s so few of her with her courage to share.
Sly: Why do you think some find it offensive?
Enchill: Upbringing, culture, faith? However we’re constantly bombarded daily with near nudity almost everyday on the Internet, for entertainment, and other flimsy reasons. I’d rather it be for something positive.
Additionally, I’ve come to realize no one action will yield 100% positive feedback because we all come from different backgrounds with very diverse ways of thinking. And in a time where everyone is one click away from sharing an opinion, it’s evident. What may inspire someone will disgust another.
But it’s opportunity cost; are you willing to inspire that one person or please the other by omission? You choose.
An English-based fashion illustrator of Ghanaian heritage, Enchill specializes in fashion and lifestyle illustrations with a particular focus on her West African culture. She first uses her talent to make a change in how women of color are viewed but her breast cancer sketch crosses the boundaries of color and heritage to a place too many women know and understand, regardless of color and background, whether victims of breast cancer or the family or friend of victims.
The beauty in the art is the declaration that it is okay to bear these scars as so many do. The scars are not an outward display so it is easy to feel as though it is a cross one bears alone but the response to Enchill’s art proves the contrary. So many women, and many so young (so we encourage you to get checked even if you are under 40), carry the marks and the reminder of the devastation that was. You are still beautiful. And the testament of your strength is in a form of these scars, and that is more beautiful still.
As women, this is one of those things we release into the sky and let float about us distinguishing our strength from men.
So, 1. you are not alone; 2. be sure to get oneself checked, do not let fear get in the way; and 3. Enchill and Slymagazine.com will continue to celebrate the power of those who have lived through the trial and remember those who have lost.
Donate to breast cancer research here.