Nerralea can teach us all something incredible about beauty and confidence.
Nerralea Van Der Merwe looked at a photo and thought she looked beautiful. The photo was of her body post a double mastectomy. A stay-at-home mum of 3 boys, Nerralea was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago. Touched by the Body Image Movement (started by Taryn Brumfit to redefine and rewrite the ideals of beauty) Nerralea began a journey to love her body.
She shared her story with News Limited:
“Body image is something that most women deal with from early on, regardless of what happens in their lives. It’s something that I’ve always not been entirely confident with, myself.
But when I was pregnant with my third child, at 32, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I had to make some decisions as to where I was going with my treatment and I chose to have a double mastectomy.
I struggled a lot because I felt I looked horrible. I didn’t look like a woman anymore.
Here I was with all these horrendous scars. It was difficult to look at myself in the mirror.
A friend of mine is a photographer and she talked me into having some photos taken, because I wasn’t in a great place at the time.
But once we had taken the photos, to be able to see myself in that picture ... the scars meant that I was alive.
“I look at [the photos] everyday. You’re so critical of yourself, but the way [my friend] did the photos, I saw myself in a different light.
It was probably the first time in a long time that I could look at myself and think, ‘I actually do look beautiful’.
It didn’t matter that I was scarred, because I was going to defeat the cancer. The longer I’ve gone down the journey, the easier it’s become.
Actually, it’s funny, because I’m much more confident in my body since the surgery.
I’ve had part of the [breast] reconstruction. I’ve had the implants put in. So the final stage is the nipple reconstruction which I’m still yet to have. That will happen over the next two years or so.
I still don’t look like a ‘normal’ woman from the outside, to other people. Though I’m quite happy with my body because I can see it in a different light.
I’m never going to be model material and I don’t care anymore.
Looking at my kids everyday, the decisions I made mean that I get to see them grow up and I get to watch their life journey, and that makes it so much easier to be okay with myself.”
“My husband was very supportive. As a woman, you worry, ‘What’s he going to think?’.
But he said, ‘I didn’t marry you for your boobs’.
He’s been great. He’s never once made me feel like less of a woman for it.
There were days when I was really struggling with how I looked, and he made sure that he let me know that it didn’t matter to him and that’s not what he married me for.
I’m forever grateful for that, because I know people whose husbands have walked out because they couldn’t deal with it.
The decision [to have a double mastectomy] wasn’t easy, but it was always something that I just felt was the right thing to do. It was always a decision I felt at peace with.
It’s reduced my chances of getting breast cancer significantly. That’s what it came down to.
The decision to remove my breasts also meant that I didn’t need to have further treatment. I didn’t need to have radiation therapy or chemo.
I go back to the specialist in August for the official all clear. But as far as we’re concerned, I’m cancer free.
And there’s always a silver lining — now I’ve got implants they’re nice and perky.
I think society has a lot to answer for, with Photoshopping and [digitally] altering pictures. Because we always have this altered view of what we should be and should look like.
If we as women viewed ourselves differently, we wouldn’t be so hard on ourselves and we wouldn’t be so hard on each other. We’ve got another generation coming up that are looking to us as examples.
I look at magazines or other women that had much smaller frames than me and feel disenheartened that I could never get there. I’ve always had a muscly frame, so I was never going to be a small, thin woman.
Before my surgery, I wish I could have seen some more photos of people that have gone through what I’ve gone through.
I’ve had a lot of people, even people I don’t know message me and thank me for sharing my photos, because they’re going through similar things. And it makes my journey a bit more worthwhile.
I haven’t gone through it for nothing. If I can help someone else, then that’s even better.”