Health & Wellness

Cancer survivor Samantha Paige bares mastectomy scars in Equinox photo campaign

"What do I need to do to feel amazing about myself, regardless or because of my scars, and own them as something that is beautiful?"

It's a powerful question posed by Samantha Paige, 41, of Santa Barbara, California — with a powerful image in Equinox's 2017 "Commit to Something" campaign to match.

Equinox
The rose tattoo is an “incredible piece of art” that was drawn on temporarily for the photo. “At this point in time, I don’t want to cover up my scars," Paige said. "They feel precious to me."

Paige had a preventative double mastectomy in 2008 after testing positive for a gene mutation that indicates a heightened risk for female-specific cancers. Having watched her mother battle breast cancer (and already survived thyroid cancer herself), she wasn’t taking any chances — for her own sake or that of her then-infant daughter.

After getting the double mastectomy, Paige opted for reconstructive surgery, which she was told can help many women feel happier and more normal. But she couldn’t shake the feeling that the silicone implants just didn’t belong in her body — and over the next few years, she felt her health and her sense of self increasingly decline.

“I couldn’t look myself in the mirror,” she said. “I’d had a horrible breakup, I decided to close my company … I realized I had a choice: I could distract myself further, or go inside and start asking the questions.”

RELATED: BRCA gene mutation for breast cancer forces tough choices

For Paige, that means getting her implants removed — a decision she acknowledges is different for every woman, but helped her feel healthier and more true to herself. Determined to live without shame and spread a message of empowerment, she started Last Cut, a photo-documentary and book project that addresses how people can embrace their scars and live authentic lives.

When the opportunity arose to participate in the Equinox campaign, it was essentially a new platform for the message she’s been touting all along — and a way to reach even more people.

“When I look at myself in that image, I don’t feel like I was showing up just for women who have had that kind of surgery,” she explained. “We all have internal and external scars. For some people that may be illness, could be divorce, something related to career or politics.

“What we’re told we should look like, how we’re told we should act, creates inner turmoil ... I’m letting people see someone who is comfortable in their skin.”

Her message syncs up well with the Equinox campaign, which explores how commitment defines who we are as individuals. “The 2017 campaign challenges viewers to take action and celebrate dedication to what they commit to within themselves,” explained Elizabeth Nolan, Equinox’s executive creative director.

She continued, “Samantha ... embraces a new definition of beauty within herself after a double mastectomy. Equinox’s Commit to Something campaign is helping Samantha spread her message that we can all find greater happiness, wellness and freedom by sharing our truths and committing to something.”

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As for the rose tattoo seen on Paige's chest in the campaign image, it’s not real, but rather an “incredible piece of art” that was drawn on for the photo. “I have lots of tattoos, but not on my mastectomy,” Paige explained. “At this point in time, I don’t want to cover up my scars ... They feel precious to me, because they mark so many important chapters in this 20-year journey.”

Paige's 9-year-old daughter remains one of the greatest motivators for her message. “I always say we're perfectly imperfect, and that’s where the magic is,” Paige said. “That’s what I want to teach her.

“I've had a ton of stuff happen to my body, and willingness to share is my purpose,” she continued. “I can finally look myself in the mirror and love the person that I see.”

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