The SCAR Project: Breast Cancer is Not a Pink Ribbon

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month—a month awash in pink; pink ribbons, races, rallies; pink lights illuminating landmark buildings; pink shoes worn by NFL players. This sugary color is everywhere to remind us about a hideous disease that ravages 1 in 8 women and more than 2,100 men each year. It is there to implore us to get screenings and inspire us to raise funds for research so we can put an end to it.

While this is all good, it has its limits. To me there’s no better way to understand the reality of breast cancer than to experience The SCAR Project. This book and photographic exhibition goes far beyond the pink and grabs us by the throat, forcing us to come face to face with the human dimension of this disease, reminding us that under no uncertain terms is breast cancer a pink ribbon.

Photo 20 from The SCAR Project

Image courtesy The SCAR Project/David Jay

Australian-based fashion photographer, David Jay, created this project to pay tribute to young breast cancer survivors under age 40, a group least often associated with the disease even though it’s the leading cause of deaths in young women ages 15 to 40. Ten thousand women in this age group will be diagnosed this year alone.

His raw portraits may be difficult to look at, but even harder to to forget because these courageous and beautiful women represent breast cancer stripped down to the bare truth.

Portrait of breast cancer survivor from The SCAR Project

Image courtesy The SCAR Project/David Jay

Portrait of young breast cancer survivor from The SCAR Project

Image courtesy The SCAR Project/David Jay

Portrait of young breast cancer survivor The SCAR Project

Image courtesy The SCAR Project/David Jay

Portrait of Breast Cancer Survivor from The SCAR Project

Image courtesy of The SCAR Project/David Jay

Portrait of young breast cancer survivor The SCAR Project

Image courtesy of The SCAR Project/David Jay

Portrait of young breast cancer survivor The SCAR Project

Image courtesy The SCAR Project/David Jay

Speaking about the project in Digital Photo Pro, Jay says, “For these young women, having their portrait taken seems to represent their personal victory over this terrifying disease. It helps them reclaim their femininity, their sexuality, identity and power after having been robbed of such an important part of it. Through these simple pictures, they seem to gain some acceptance of what has happened to them and the strength to move forward with pride.”

Portrait of Photographer David Jay

Image courtesy The SCAR Project/David Jay

To see more images and find additional information, please go to The SCAR Project:

or check out the book on Amazon.

Photo of The SCAR Project book on Amazon

Here’s a synopsis:

The SCAR Project: Breast cancer Is Not a Pink ribbon. Volume I is 126 pages and contains 50 portraits of young breast cancer survivors, as well as an autobiographical sketch by each woman, describing her experience with breast cancer. The SCAR Project is an exhibition of large-scale portraits of young breast cancer survivors shot by fashion photographer David Jay. The SCAR Project puts a raw, unflinching face on early onset breast cancer while paying tribute to the courage and spirit of so many brave young women. Dedicated to the more than 10,000 women under the age of 40 who will be diagnosed this year alone The SCAR Project is an exercise in awareness, hope, reflection and healing. The mission is three-fold: to raise public awareness of early-onset breast cancer, to raise funds for breast cancer research/outreach programs and to help young survivors see their scars, faces, figures and experiences through a new, honest and ultimately, empowering lens.

30 thoughts on “The SCAR Project: Breast Cancer is Not a Pink Ribbon

    • You are welcome, Arindam. I’m honored to share The SCAR Project on my blog and help bring awareness about the reality of breast cancer. I just found out there’s also an Emmy-award winning documentary, “Baring It All,” directed by filmmaker Patty Zagarella, which premiered in the US earlier this year. I don’t know if it will be shown in India, but if you’re interested in learning more, you can go to The SCAR Project Facebook Page.

  1. You took my breath away with this post. Women are most beautiful when they are accepting of themselves, which is what stands out for me. We are so much more than what glossies portray us to be. Beautiful as are the comments.

    • This project took my breath away too. That’s why I felt so compelled to share it. I agree the comments are as beautiful and strong as the women in these photographs. Thanks for adding yours to the conversation.

    • Thank you Bonnie, but I must pass that “Bravo” on to David Jay and these young women. Because of this project, breast cancer will no longer be just a pink ribbon.

  2. Hi Becky,

    You have taken a great leap to bring the Scar Project to your blog. Breast cancer has touched us all in some way and these brave women are heros for coming forward and showing, not telling us about their lives.
    Great blog, Becky.

    • It is an honor to be able to share The SCAR project on my blog. David Jay and all the women who took part in this project have handed us a gift–the gift of reality, which is much more powerful than any pink ribbon or battle cry will every be. I’m glad you appreciated this as much as I did. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Ann. It’s always nice to hear from.

  3. I could not agree more: ‘pink’ has been a clever, effective (even if politicized and overused) breast cancer awareness tool. But it doesn’t hold a candle to what the SCAR Project brings to light. A very powerful post, Becky.

    • Deborah, you are right about The SCAR Project bringing many things to light: reality, strength, beauty, healing and so much more. These women (and all the others who took part in this project) have done a tremendous service for breast cancer awareness. I applaud them all for baring their scars, letting us share in their victories, and taking us far beyond the pink.

  4. Thanks for sharing this Becky. I’m one who bristles at all the “fighting” and “battling” metaphors. As if those who don’t make it didn’t try hard enough or were somehow weaker willed than those who survive. But that’s me-there’s no right way or only one way to approach, treat and live with breast cancer.
    I never felt heroic, or inspirational though many women labeled me as such-it secretly made me cringe. I was treated for a disease, and had a successful outcome. That’s all really. These photos however are inspirational, and brave.

    • Lynne, I so appreciate your thoughts. Your comment is eye-opening on many levels. I think it’s especially important to reiterate: “There’s no right way or only one way to approach, treat and live with breast cancer.”

      I wonder if we use words like “fighting,” “battling,” and “heroic” because we are terrified of this disease, and perhaps feel like if we don’t get into that frame of mind, we won’t be strong enough to collectively beat it? I don’t have an answer, but I fully appreciate why you would cringe at these notions and labels.

      • I agree with Lynne. I think we use the words ‘fight’ or ‘battle’ because of how hard it is. The treatment feels like a battle: against your own weakness, against fear, against despair – every single day. The battle is in keeping hope alive.

      • Good timing on this discussion… I was in a writing class tonight and learned about a local (WA state) woman who’d written a book for children with cancer. She specifically wanted to move away from the “fighting” imagery, and wrote the story from a garden metaphor instead. The garden needed to be weeded; cancer was the weed. “Hope Lives in a Garden,” I think.

        Anyway, this was stunning, Becky. I haven’t yet been very personally touched by breast cancer, so I realized I’ve been lulled into a pink complacency (“Oh, the world looks like a 7 year old girl painted it; must be October.”) David’s photos just about made me stop breathing. Thank you for sharing them, thanks to him for his vision, and thanks to all of the women surviving on their own terms.

      • Olga, I’m so glad you added another comment. What you wrote speaks volumes. Thank you.

      • Tele, your reaction to these portraits was nearly identical to mine, as was your gratitude toward those involved in the project. I think even those of us who have been touched by cancer, be it personally or through family or close friends, will forever by changed by the power of these photographs. Thanks for stopping by to share your thoughts. It’s nice to see you here again.

  5. These photos tell us so much more than any words can. These women are such heroines because through their scars they truly reveal the reality of breast cancer to the rest of the world. Thank you so much for posting this important blog, Becky.

    • I agree, Jessica. These images say everything. I’m grateful that David Jay created this project and even more grateful that these women had the guts to share a very personal part of their lives with us.

    • You are welcome, Tina. This project deserves to be seen by many. The power of these portraits far outweighs any amount of well-intentioned ribbons or rallies.

      I’m so sorry your mother was stricken by breast cancer, but I’m relieved to know she survived. My mom survived it for ten years, but unfortunately then died of colon cancer.

  6. Great post, Becky. I had breast cancer and I can tell: the pink ribbons are a mockery. The reality is anything but pink. For me, my hope was my mother. She had breast cancer twice, survived twice. I saw her scars, witnessed her courage, and her example helped me deal with my own cancer. I knew I could beat the ugly disease: after all, she had done it twice.
    Thanks for the info about The Scar project.

    • Olga, thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us. This says it best: “The reality is anything but pink.” I’m sorry that both you and your mother had to endure this hideous disease. There really are no words for what you have been through, except that I’m glad you are here to share your story. Thank you.

  7. Truly a testament of courage and strength, both on the part of the women and on the part of the photographer to go against stereotype. I recently read “Bright-Sided” by Barbara Ehrenreich. It’s about her fight with breast cancer and the problem with the relentless positivity and cutesie-ness around the movement — often to the point where survivors are made to felt they “caused” their disease. Like these photos, it tells another, equally important, story.

    • I think the pink ribbons and “cutesie-ness” created around the movement may be a way to try to help us stay sane as we witness so many of our loved ones getting knocked around (and often out) by this disease. There’s nothing worse than feeling powerless as you watch somebody you dearly love suffer. Raising funds for research and sporting ribbons makes us feel strong–like we’re not going to let this #$@R& disease win. I believe it comes from a place of good intentions, but based on all the comments I’ve received so far from breast cancer survivors, I’m not sure it brings any solace to those going through it. Barbara Ehrenreich’s book sounds like a good eye-opener–just like The SCAR Project and so many of these comments here. Thanks for sharing this.

    • This project knocked my socks off on so many levels, it’s hard to put it into words. More than anything, it’s what these young women represent. They are our sisters, cousins, nieces, aunts, wives, moms. They are you. They are me. They are all of us. And they are fierce and beautiful.

      Having gone through breast cancer with my own mom, I know the reality of this disease, but it’s rarely ever shown on this personal level. David Jay did a terrific job. My hat is off to him.

    • Thank you! Unfortunately I accidentally pushed the PUBLISH button before I was done writing this post (never blog while trying to take care of a sick child!), but the power of these photographs (and women) speaks for itself!

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