Breast Cancer Awareness month just ended, but that does not mean that the issue of breast cancer has left the people’s minds. This year alone, tens of thousands of women under the age of 40 will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Families who have lost loved ones, women who are crossing their fingers that they stay in remission, and those who have been recently diagnosed need to be supported and celebrated long after those pink ribbons have gone away.

That continued support and celebration has been the goal of The Scar Project, started by fashion photographer David Jay. Long after October’s pink ribbons have gone from stores, Jay sticks around to make raw, inspiring, and poignant portraits documenting young breast cancer survivors. This Pulitzer-nominated exhibition and its corresponding book attempts to heighten awareness about early-onset breast cancer, raise money for cancer research, and transform the ways we think about breast cancer survivors.

The Scar Project’s subtitle, “Breast Cancer Is Not A Pink Ribbon,” highlights Jay’s attempt to reshape society’s representation of breast cancer and its survivors. While slogans that focus on breasts, rather than the debilitating effects of breast cancer, have been used as clever and catchy ways to raise awareness for breast cancer, the result of such slogans on survivors is not always positive. These slogans sexualize a disease and imply that a woman’s breasts—not her life, not her health, not her relationships—are the most important part of her and the part most worth saving. For breast cancer survivors whose lives have been saved by mastectomies that remove that sexualized and feminized part of her body, dealing with those catchy slogans can be painful.

Jay’s photographs are real and raw, but they also empower people who have been affected by breast cancer by highlighting the courage and bravery of breast cancer survivors. Jay says he began the project simply to raise awareness–the resulting empowerment came later:

“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.”1

Since The Scar Project began David Jay has photographed over 100 breast cancer survivors, all between the ages of 18 and 35. You can view many of these images on The Scar Project’s website. You can also order the book full of fifty powerful portraits of young survivors at The Scar Project’s website.