Fondle Project: Breast Cancer Survivor Urges Women to Touch (and Learn to Love) Themselves
By Shahnaz Mahmud
Driving awareness of early cancer detection through self-examination is just one facet of The Fondle Project. On a more holistic level, the initiative, timed to Cancer Awareness Month, urges women to touch themselves, lovingly, and accept who they are as individuals, scars and all. They mustn't allow cancer or its aftermath to dictate terms for the rest of their lives.
The project emphasizes fashion and beauty, motivating women to treat themselves with self-respect and care. Seven brands—all female-founded, like Fleur Du Mal, Jacquie Aiche and Sticky Socks—are supporting the campaign.
In June, 10 percent of sales—across sweaters, socks, lingerie, jewelry and more—will be donated to charity partners including the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, The Breasties and Let’s F*ck Cancer.
The effort urges young women in particular to become more cognizant of getting in touch with their bodies and health. That's key, as breast cancer accounts for 30 percent of cancer found in women.
Fashion stylist, entrepreneur and breast cancer survivor Gina Lamanna created The Fondle Project to tell stories of hope and add some joy to the oft-arduous wellness journey. Kate Powers handled campaign photography, with Charlie Barkhorn serving as DP.
Muse spoke with Lamanna at length about the campaign.
MUSE: Can you tell us a bit about your cancer journey?
Gina Lamanna: My mother had breast cancer. So, at the age of 30, I was thrust into screenings every six months, because I had dense breasts. Because of that I was on a steady rotation of ultrasounds and mammograms. At 41, I had been misdiagnosed, but kept checking myself because I kept feeling something in my right breast. I brought it to my team of doctors. I paid for an MRI—and am grateful that I had the resources for this very expensive screening. That was when the suspicious findings emerged. Being my own advocate, following my intuition and getting a second and third opinion [are important parts] of my journey.
How does this tie into the idea for The Fondle Project?
It took me quite some time to rebuild my confidence, as well as my physical and mental health. After six surgeries, my body was full of battle wounds. But I'm also a fashion stylist. So part of my job is making women feel amazing. I have women that I've been working with for 20-plus years that have gone through various stages of their life, whether it's a divorce, a new baby, or a new job, and everyone's style and bodies change. In the beginning of my own journey, I didn't feel confident. I started leaning on some of my favorite wardrobe pieces that made me feel good. Getting dressed daily was a part of my healing, and also helped to build my confidence.
How did you turn the idea into reality?
I came up with the idea for this project because I have an incredible community of not only fellow breast cancer thrivers, but a close network of photographers, makeup artists, brands and designers. I wanted to gather some of these incredible women and share their stories, but also spotlight and empower them to make them feel sexy and beautiful. And get them in front of a camera to make them feel great. One example: We photographed this beautiful young girl who was told she couldn't have a baby because of chemotherapy and all of her drug treatments. But she had her miracle baby in November. And then the photographer chose to photograph me and my boyfriend, because I finally found love again after six years. So there's some beautiful stories woven into this.
Can we talk about this moment in time for The Fondle Project—how it's right for you and for women everywhere?
I was going through some stuff that made me seek out a new purpose in life. I lost my father, the pandemic happened, and everything that I went through with cancer led me to wanting to make an impact. I consider myself extremely fortunate that I caught my cancer so early. It's a new beginning—a second chance at life. I wanted to take that and really advocate and spread as much awareness as possible. To all women, especially the younger generations. Many people are not aware that 90 percent of breast cancers are not hereditary. So there's a very big misunderstanding among women, including very dear friends of mine that had chosen for many years not to get screenings because they have no family history.
How did you come up with the name?
My boyfriend Charlie suggested it. It makes you do a sort of double-take. But I quickly realized it's a call to action. This is about being fond of yourself, and being comfortable knowing your body—and loving yourself. This project is all about body positivity and self love.
What's been most challenging with The Fondle Project?
Being a single mother and having a business to run while creating something as magical as this can be stressful—while also providing a real sense of accomplishment. But I would say reliving my story, talking about it after six years was tough. I feel so grateful that I'm alive and I'm vibrant and I feel good that I'm capable of taking on such a big project. But in reliving my personal story and hearing the stories of others, it's hard not to absorb all of that. That said, all of these women—half of them were stage three and four—are all thriving and building their empires. For instance, Miss Sophie has three dance studios. We've all walked through fire.
And most rewarding?
Obviously launching this has been amazing and beautiful. The support has been unbelievable, not just from the brands, but everyone that's come forward to donate their time and get involved. People have asked: "How can I help?" "Can I donate?" "Are you going to do this again? I have a fashion brand."
I've been getting DMs and notes and emails, saying things like: "I don't feel alone." "I still feel beautiful." "I feel good again." "I'm dancing—and it's all because of you." "You put me back in touch with my body and myself." "I'm doing the things that I love." That has been incredibly rewarding.
If I make an impact on one woman and save one woman's life, I feel like I've done my job.