Renee Ridgeley pushed for the inclusion of “The Simpsons” uniboob character Dr. Wendy Sage, but her breast cancer advocacy goes even further than that.
In October 2021, TV audiences were introduced to the first uniboob character on “The Simpsons,” Dr. Wendy Sage in the episode “Lisa’s Belly.”
Sage is represented as a breast cancer survivor who has a visible port scar and one remaining breast post-mastectomy, with flat closure on her surgery side. This new character embraces body positivity and brings visibility to a body type not commonly featured in television.
Sage works as a hypnotherapist in the show’s main setting of Springfield. In her debut episode, she is shown working with Lisa and Marge Simpson to overcome challenges with communication and body image. After their session with Sage, Lisa and Marge are kinder to each other and to themselves.
Sage is voiced by Renee Ridgeley, a voice actress and breast cancer survivor married to one of the show’s writers and producers, Matt Selman. Ridgeley says that she had been asking Selman for many months to feature a “uniboob” character on “The Simpsons.”
The idea was to not focus on cancer as the theme of an episode, Ridgeley explains. Rather, she wanted to simply normalize the inclusion of someone who was visually identifiable as a cancer survivor.
When she first read the script for “Lisa’s Belly,” Ridgeley says, she knew immediately that the hypnotherapist character would be the perfect opportunity to make her “uniboob” dream a reality. She remembers thinking, “This is so perfect. The whole episode is about body positivity.”
Ridgeley explains that while Sage is not meant to represent her personally, her own experience with bilateral mastectomy and aesthetic flat closure provided the necessary insight to accurately depict Sage as a breast cancer survivor. Through Ridgeley’s collaboration with “The Simpsons” character designers, Sage’s physical traits are noticeably realistic for someone who has undergone cancer treatment and related surgeries.
Notably, the episode script makes no reference to the fact that Sage is a breast cancer survivor. The cancer component of her character is seen solely in her visual representation. This intentional decision to present Sage as a typical character in the show helps to normalize the appearance of one-breasted women, Ridgeley says.
Women who have had mastectomies, no matter their surgery outcomes, are “whole women,” she emphasizes.
The caption on Ridgeley’s Instagram post (@lessthantwobreasts) that introduced Sage reads from the character’s own perspective: “When faced with mastectomy, I rejected the idea that people would see my one-breasted self as shameful, ugly, ‘not finished’ with treatment or less feminine. I am none of those. In fact, I feel proud, smokin’ hot and whole. A boob is a small price to pay for more time on this amazing planet.”
This Sage introduction represents a place of healing that Ridgeley hopes all those facing breast cancer will someday reach. “It’s a journey to get there: accepting, living in and appreciating your transformed body,” she says.
As Ridgeley hoped, introducing Sage as a one-breasted character has had a positive response from the breast cancer community, who can now see themselves positively and accurately represented on the longest-running primetime scripted TV show in the U.S.
“It’s a journey to get there: accepting, living in and appreciating your transformed body.”
Looking ahead, Ridgeley says that Sage will continue to be included as a regular Springfield resident in future episodes of “The Simpsons.” She adds that an updated version of Sage’s appearance will show naturally brown hair representing an avoidance of hair dye, an aquamarine blue shirt to recognize International Flat Day and pink trim on her shirt to represent the breast cancer ribbon color.
Before the dream of Sage was formed, Ridgeley’s advocacy work dates back several years to when she faced significant challenges in her own breast cancer treatment and surgeries.
Ridgeley says that in her experience, surgeons did not provide a full range of information regarding the risks and benefits of different surgery options. Even five years later, she says, the traumatic experience continues to impact her greatly.
She connected with an informal breast cancer group in the Los Angeles area and met others facing similar experiences. Ridgeley realized that many women were not presented with the benefits of aesthetic flat closure as an alternative to breast reconstruction.
In cases where women are not fully informed of their choices, they are not empowered to make the best decisions for themselves as individuals, Ridgeley says. It was her participation in this group that inspired Ridgeley to start advocating for breast cancer patient rights specifically around surgical options.
And although she personally had aesthetic flat closure, Ridgeley explains that she is not anti-breast reconstruction. Rather, she recognizes the choice as an individual one and advocates for fully informed decision-making for the best possible outcome.
In 2021, Ridgeley took her advocacy work further by co-founding Stand Tall AFC, an awareness campaign aiming to destigmatize aesthetic flat closure, alongside fellow survivor Stacey Sigman (founder of Flat Retreat Community).
Stand Tall AFC promotes body positivity and flat closure at public events, primarily breast cancer awareness walks in October. Walking among a large crowd (and, for some, proudly displaying their flat chests), these activists reach a wide audience and spark important conversations among the cancer community and general public.
The campaign also provides materials and support for advocates who want to demonstrate at breast cancer awareness events around the country.
“For some events we were helping a couple people, and then others like Central Park in New York were around 45 or 50,” Ridgeley says. In 2021, Stand Tall AFC was active at 24 events nationwide, including around 250 advocates from the flat community—both “flatties” themselves and their allies.
Ridgeley says that Stand Tall AFC organizers were thrilled to see an outpouring of love and support for flat advocates during the 2021 campaign. Their work was met with such positivity that additional organizers were brought on for future campaigns, including fellow survivor and activist Kim Bowles, founder of Not Putting On a Shirt.
Stand Tall AFC looks forward to continued activities and even higher turnouts at public events across the country in 2022 and beyond. This advocacy work, carried out at gatherings with high visibility, “brings a sense of depth and authenticity to breast cancer events. It gives us a reason to be there,” Ridgeley says.
Learn more about Stand Tall AFC and its upcoming campaigns at www.standtallafc.org.
Meghan Konkol is a freelance writer and French to English translator. Since being diagnosed with stage III triple negative breast cancer at age 32, Meghan has taken an active role in the cancer community to share stories and resources. She strives to support conversations around cancer and empower others to advocate for their own health and well-being.