Karin Horen is a survivor. A warrior. A mother. And now a published author. Her story is inspiring; surviving breast cancer multiple times and her continued dedication to raising awareness about the disease.

Tiana Grace from The Last Fashion Bible spoke to Karin Horen at the launch party for her new book, I Am More Than Just My Tits, to talk about her journey, the change in society toward diversity and why a positive attitude is your greatest asset.

Tell us about the title of your new book I Am More Than Just My Tits. What’s the story behind it?

I met a guy that looked at me and I was telling him I had my breasts reconstructed after breast cancer and he said to me, “But they look really great” – I was wearing a dress, I wasn’t naked. I said to him immediately, “Hey, I’m more than just my tits, you know?” And this is how the story began. I realised this definition of myself is really what the title means. I had to go through a lot in the last six years to actually understand who I am.

When I got my breast cancer at 26, I was quite young – I just went through the surgery and all the treatment. It wasn’t that significant to me, as much as it has been in the last few years, with all the reconstructive surgery that actually failed, and left me with so many scars. I had to keep on looking at myself, reinventing myself and actually building my confidence again.

The book is all about self-confidence, body image, how to treat women, how we treat ourselves as women, what really defines us as women, and how we keep on going.

Image courtesy of Batemann Publishing

There’s so much pressure for women to look and feel perfect – especially in the fashion industry. What do you think of the current body positivity movement?

The recent New Zealand Fashion Week was all about diversity and making sure we know that the imperfect is perfect. The more I go into it, the more I talk about it, the more I share it, the more I realise that even looking at what is going on in social media, there is a change. I think that women, especially when we’re maturing, have an obligation towards the new generation, to educate them, to keep reinforcing the fact that it is not about the external – and people should be treated equally, both women and men.

I know that the first impression is the first few seconds you look at someone, but if you’ve got a big smile on your face, then you’ve nailed it. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got the big boobs or not, if you’ve lost a limb – it’s really about your attitude. I think there is more responsibility to be taken by society and social media – and, of course, the fashion industry.

I’m called a socialite and on many occasions I have to find the right dress for an event. When you’ve lost your breast, you can’t really wear the majority of dresses, so you’ve got to find yourself, find strength in you, and the beauty in you. It was hard to find the right outfits when I was going through different stages of reconstruction. I did have breast reconstruction, so that made it ‘easy’ and I would flash them sometimes and I was really happy. But when I lost my right breast, again, after the third or fourth surgery, I had to reinvent myself and I had to find solutions to how I felt. When I come home and I take off my clothes, I know my scars and I know my story. I had to learn to love them. I had to learn to say to myself, “You are more than just your tits. You are who you are. And if you portray that to others, then others will treat you the same way.” There should be more openness about it, more discussions. The book is really to create discussions and open conversations around body image and self acceptance.

Please share with us some practical advice for those out there struggling with their body image.

It’s all about mindset. Follow the people who really inspire you. I was inspired by a couple of Instagram influencers, like Jessica Quin, who lost her leg from cancer when she was a little girl. I followed her for a long time and thought, she can’t hide the fact she lost a leg – everyone can see it. So am I going to hide the fact my tits are not perfect, or that I haven’t got nipples, or whatnot? So, I think, first of all, because we were talking about social media and all that influencing going on, follow people who really inspire you, that you can learn something positive from.

The second thing is to really strip yourself down and understand where that insecurity is coming from. The fact that something happened to you doesn’t mean you should loose your confidence. It means you were carrying something – maybe before that happened – and now it’s only triggered by what happened to you. So that moment of adversity, that moment that something happened to you in your life – if you had surgery, or you had an accident, or you lost a person you love – whatever it is, it’s a trigger. So you have to go back to the root of where it all began and learn yourself.

I think reading positive affirmations – when I started Paddle For Hope in 2011, it was all about that. Then, when I got my second diagnosis, I had to learn to love myself again. And so, it’s about self-love. If you don’t love yourself, nobody’s going to treat you that way. If you look in the mirror and only try to find faults, then you’ve got to start the journey of recovery and healing. To me, the whole thing with the book is, it was a healing process. Getting all these toxins out and making sure I do believe in myself again, looking back on photos and the journey that I’ve gone through, and giving myself a tap on the shoulder, saying, “Hey, you’ve actually done amazing.” Portray that, talk about it, then you also get support from others, so it’s like a snowball.

You’re a full-time professional and single mum, with three young girls. How do you feel about the modern-day woman who is expected to do it all?

Many times people have asked, “How do you do it, Karin?” I don’t know, it might have been my upbringing. If you read the book, you might understand that a little bit more. My father was a military man, I was in the military — I learned resilience from a very young age. I couldn’t just sit down and feel sorry for myself when anything happened. Nowadays, as women we are expected to do a lot more than maybe our grandparents or some of our mothers. This whole feminism thing that’s happening, on the one hand, is fantastic. On the other hand, we still need to do the mother job, which is also a full-time job. I heard that a mother’s job is around 50 hours a week of work. Then you’ve got your career, working and earning money because it’s costly to raise children and then to have that extra help outside of school hours. We are expected to do it all.

What we need to remember is we’re not supposed to do it all. So we need to breakdown the day, make a list, and we don’t have to do a whole list. If we’ve done one or two things – or not – it’s still okay. I used to lean toward being a perfectionist, everything needed to be immaculate; the house, the dinner, the kids need to look this way or that, my body had to look amazing, my clothes had to be the latest. But it all really changed with my perception, the more I matured. Now I know that I just need to be organised, which means to put everything in my diary, to make lists of what I need to do, and learning to say no. It’s okay to say no to situations that don’t benefit you, or if someone’s trying to suck it out of you. Because I’ve done charity work for many years, people ask a lot. They assume you want to do public talks, attend events. But you’re giving time. It doesn’t have to be money. It’s time.

The most important people in our lives are our children and we have a responsibly towards them. Our job as a parent is important. We’re not fortunetellers, we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, or even the next five minutes. Everything can change. For me, it’s not about long-term plans. After what I’ve gone through – I lost my mum at a very young age, I lost my father, I’ve had breast cancer – twice. I’ve lost relationships. I don’t want long-term plans. So there’s less pressure when you don’t have those. Put less pressure on yourself. Learn to be happy where you are, find that peaceful place and surround yourself with the right people. People who will support your journey, who will support your decisions. Don’t be anywhere, in terms of career, that you don’t want to be because ultimately, it’s taking precious time away from the most important thing, our children. Our responsibility is the kids, the family, the next generation, and to keep them in your experience, to inspire them. That’s all.

Photo courtesy of Carmen Bird

If you could choose just one message that we could take away from the book, what would you want that message to be?

Well, the book has got so many chapters that talk about different subjects that mean a lot to me. One of the things I talk about is community support and having good, strong relationships with people and actually investing time in these, because it pays back. When you create good relationships with the community, and you go through adversity, you can keep going. This is your oxygen.

Another thing I would definitely emphasise is, sometimes from adversity comes creativity. When we’re alone, we have time to think. We can take it as a privilege to be able to sit down, reassess ourselves and who we are, and try to find a real, true, genuine path. That’s what actually happened to me. Since I’ve shared my story with a lot of people, I found the strength not just keep going, but to tell the story and learn from it, to teach others.

So, my biggest message is, tell your story. Because there is a saying: we tell our story the best. And everyone is inspiring in their own way. So share your story. Touch other souls. You never know who you’re going to touch by sharing.

Where can we follow you on your journey?

On Instagram: @karin_horen

What don’t you leave the house without?

I don’t wake up without a smile, so I won’t leave without a smile. My rule is when I say goodbye to my children when they go to school – give them a kiss and smile at them and hug them – even if they don’t want it at that moment.

But then you’ve got the lipstick and Revitalash in my handbag …and my glasses because I can’t see anything!

We have a copy of Karin Horen’s new book ‘I am More Than Just My Tits’ to give away, courtesy of Bateman Books! Stay tuned to The Last Fashion Bible’s Instagram account to for details on how to enter the competition.

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