When fashion photographer David Jay discovered that a good friend with breast cancer underwent a mastectomy only two weeks after her diagnosis, he realized that the “pink ribbons and fluffy, pink teddy bears” that most people associate with the disease, were horribly anodyne. Jay spent his career photographing models with “perfect” bodies; now, he wanted to show “the beauty that transcends the glossy, mass-produced images force-fed by popular media.”
Via The Scar Project, Jay shot over 100 portraits of women, featuring their mastectomy scars. Jay’s subjects are young–ages 18-35. “Ninety-nine percent of media attention on breast cancer is focused on women over 40,” says Jay. But his friend was only 29 at her diagnosis. Jay began the project several years ago. In 2011, the project spawned a book and film and now, a new exhibit in Houston features his photos.
Jay says that he is never shocked by the bodies of his subjects, but that many of his viewers are. “I have yet to meet anyone who has said they previously knew what breast cancer looked like. Really looked like,” he says. The photographs are both arresting and difficult to look at. But they are a truer reflection of what so many of the 11,000 young women diagnosed with breast cancer each year experience. Indeed, as the Scar Project’s tag line reminds us, breast cancer is not a pink ribbon.