Patrice Dougan is the Herald's education reporter.

Husband backs wife's brave pics

Protester's 'miss the point' over campaign

Some of Beth Whaanga's Facebook friends complained about her photographs. Photo / Nadia Masot
Some of Beth Whaanga's Facebook friends complained about her photographs. Photo / Nadia Masot

The Kiwi husband of a breast cancer patient who suffered an unexpected backlash after posting topless photos of herself online to raise awareness of the disease is standing by his wife's actions.

Beth Whaanga, 32, made global headlines this week after the confrontational photographs of her body displaying her post breast cancer surgery scarring provoked complaints to Facebook.

Maui Whaanga, 32, said he was completely supportive of wife Beth's decision to expose her cancer-ravaged body to the world in a series of black and white pictures.

"It's true life. It's getting the truth out there and what really can happen, it's reality," said Maui, who is from Hamilton but lives in Brisbane with Beth and their four children.

"My grandmother passed from breast cancer and also my aunty on my mother's side, so I think it's important for our daughter, especially with both my side and Beth's side [being at risk of breast cancer], to realise the importance of prevention where possible." After being diagnosed with the breast cancer gene BCRA 2, nurse Beth had a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction in November.

She also had a hysterectomy.

It's the same mutation that prompted Hollywood star Angelina Jolie to have a mastectomy last year.

On Sunday, Beth posted black-and-white photographs to her Facebook page in a bid to raise awareness of breast cancer and what hidden struggles people may be going through in their lives. The images label all the scars and how she got them, and kick started the project, Under The Red Dress, with photographer friend Nadia Masot.

But the move prompted an unexpected backlash, as some of the couples close friends "defriended" them from Facebook. Some went as far as to report the images as pornographic to the social media website's administrators.

However, they were cleared of any indecency and the photographs have stayed online.

Maui said they expected some people would not "appreciate the photos for what they really are", but did not think they would lose friends over it.

Read more: 'If you're offended by this you're missing the point'

There had also been overwhelming messages of support from around the world. "I've been grateful for them sharing those stories, there are times when I've been in tears from reading through the emotion that's come through in their messages," Maui said.

They received so many messages Beth had to create a page solely for the project because they couldn't keep up. The Under The Red Dress page has had more than 23,000 likes and more than 900,000 page views in just a few days. "The support has been fantastic. We never expected it to really take off as much as it has. When we put it up we thought our friends and family, and some of their friends, might see this, but we had no idea it would take off this quickly or get so much exposure."

The couple hope that other people will now follow Beth's lead and submit similar photographs of their scars, possibly as a global project. Earlier, Beth Whaanga said the images were not at all sexual, and anyone offended by them "missed the point".APNZ

- Herald on Sunday

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