Mieko Rye has been a model for 20 years.
And a successful one, at that. Gracing magazine covers and ads for major brands, Rye has had what many models strive for: a consistent, accomplished career in the business.
Like all models, Rye has made a career that is partially dependent on mainstream approval of her appearance. She has spent the past 20 years acutely aware of what others think of her body, her skin, her hair — all of it.
Now Rye is battling stage 3 breast cancer.
Living with cancer is hard and, as we all know, takes a heavy emotional and psychological toll. But the impacts of the disease on one’s appearance can also be devastating for any woman, let alone a woman who has maintained financial security and independence based on her beauty. But Rye isn’t feeling sorry for herself. Not one bit.
The striking beauty did a photo shoot of herself now, with cancer, and boldly posted it on Facebook side by side with one of her older photos.
The images were breathtaking.
Underneath, she shared her honest, vulnerable reflections on living with cancer, her identity and yes, beauty. Here is what she wrote:
“I had this idea to do a photo shoot while battling cancer. When I first began my career as a model 20 years ago I did not embody the American concept of beauty. I was told I was too dark, too light, too curvy, or that my hair was too dry, too curly, or too big. No make up artist could match my skin tone because they never carried around proper foundation for women of color.
Then the curvy Brazilian girls took over the fashion industry, god bless them, and my career took off. I had a niche. Being “exotic” was cool… Being “ambiguous” was cool… Being “ethnic” was cool… Being “brown” was cool.
Now many of the celebrated parts of a woman that our culture defines as beauty I no longer have … eyebrows, hair, eyelashes, and soon my breasts…
Chemotherapy wreaks havoc on your body slowly. My sum of parts once interconnected and harmonious are now dissembled and out of tune.
It’s truly humbling to go from traveling and working internationally to being confined to my bed. Everyday is a challenge when simple pleasures such as eating, going for a walk, or carrying my child in my arms escape me. I was on the sidelines as I could no longer participate in the daily goings on of life.
With Cancer comes destruction. However, it has also provided me with the opportunity to rebuild from the inside out. I have shed what is no longer necessary and quite honestly, impeded my growth.
Being alive is essentially a very lonely proposition and I’m okay with this… Because I absolutely love and enjoy the woman I’ve become. So when I say I am alone, I mean free of a man, career, role, or title I may have clung to in the past to define myself. My happiness does not depend on the love, reassurance, loyalty, or approval of another.
I am simply Mieko. I have nothing to hide. I have stage 3 breast cancer and I have never felt more beautiful in my entire life.“
Her post has already received hundreds of comments and shares from women inspired by her words and bravery.
And all for being, as she said “simply Mieko.”
When I asked Rye what made her decide to share her photos, she revealed even more about her journey.
“When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer I was very afraid. I am a single mom and I quickly began assessing my chances of survival and how I would financially support me and my son since I was a model by profession.
I realized that fear was not going to propel me through this difficult situation. If I wanted to fight cancer, I was going to need to let go. I was no longer going to be a model. I was no longer going to recognize myself as I once was. I could not have control over cancer and what it was doing to my body, but I could control how I chose to react to it.
I decided to find my strength and set an example for my seven-year-old boy. Strength fights cancer, not fear. I began to ask myself, what are the top ten best things about having cancer? The answers ranged from no longer having to shave my legs to making an effort to emotionally connect with the key people in my life. This led me to a very positive place where I have chosen to remain.
Letting go is the beauty of this battle. I no longer care about what I used to look like. What I care about is the woman I am becoming. I felt I needed to share this with others affected by cancer. I have been modeling for so long that doing a photo shoot was the natural next step. I wanted to give people a picture of what cancer looks like and give them the power to embrace it. It can be beautiful!”
Her post isn’t just an example to her young son and an inspiration to those fighting cancer. It’s also a reminder to all women that despite the always evolving beauty ideals of the world, despite the ever evolving realities of our own physical appearance — which can change with illness or even just time — vulnerability, authenticity, and confidence never go out of style.