It must be a sign that change is in the air, especially in the advertising world. While we’re certainly not trying to claim that objectification of women’s bodies and co-opting women’s autonomous identities have completely vanished in mainstream advertising, we are also seeing the effects of “femvertising”. That is the nickname given to advertising that is underscored by a more empowering message toward women.
We’re hoping this direction continues to evolve and challenge and shape social narratives in a way that allows entire generations of girls, boys and gender non-conforming individuals to grow up in a world where they feel like they belong and their bodies are not just capitalist fair game.
We have to admit we are not used to seeing a tonne of advertisements and campaigns for fitness companies that are affirming or empowering. So when we came across Equinox’s “Commit To Something” campaign, we were positively taken aback.
One of the images released features Samantha Paige, an artist, mother and cancer survivor. In the image shared on Instagram, we see Samantha sitting in a chair getting a tattoo on her chest. Samantha was diagnosed with thyroid cancer as a young woman, and soon discovered she tested positive the BRCA 1 gene mutation. She decided to undergo a double mastectomy. After 6 surgeries, today Samantha is proudly showing her scars in the Equinox ad, which simultaneously upends the typical imagery of gym bodies we are used to seeing in fitness advertising, and allows a real woman’s body to be on full display without any sort of addendum or apology.
“This year’s campaign revolves around the notion that what you commit to is who you are, so we’re daring viewers to take stance and look inward, even if doing so makes you a little bit uncomfortable,” said Carlos Becil, executive vice president and chief marketing officer, Equinox in a statement.
For those who aren’t familiar with the BRCA 1 gene mutation, it is an alteration of the gene which which produces tumor suppressing proteins, which help repair damaged DNA play a role in ensuring the stability of the cell’s genetic material. Those found with the mutation are more susceptible to female-specific cancers such as breast and ovarian.
Actress and humanitarian Angelina Jolie famously wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about discovering she had the gene mutation, and how she elected to have a preventative double mastectomy. It went viral, and lead to a huge increase in women getting tested for the gene.
In an interview with People Magazine Samantha explains her decision to get the preventative mastectomy, knowing that she was highly susceptible to getting breast cancer due to the gene mutation.
“When my daughter was seven months old, my determination to be healthy for my baby was so strong that I decided it was the right time to preemptively have the double mastectomy. I didn’t want to keep going for MRIs and mammograms every three to six months — it was too unnerving and the risk seemed too great,” she said.
She said it was an empowering moment for her, knowing she was committing to looking after her health in order to ensure she would be around to look after her daughter.
“As a new mother, it felt very powerful to make the decision to not be waiting for a diagnosis, but to sort of flip that on its head,” she said.
After the mastectomy she decided to get implants as part of reconstructive surgery, but they didn’t feel right. She got a staph infection from them, and eventually decided to remove them.
“The implants were presented as, ‘This is how most women feel happier and more normal’. When I got the implants, I was in a very different mindset…When I had the implants out, I realized that we all know what matters most to us, and the next step is the action we take to stand up for those ideals and those beliefs and those values,” she said, adding that it made her feel better immediately.
The subtle message of accepting your body for the way it is and choosing not to conform to what mainstream society and advertising says constitutes a “woman” is important here.
“Equinox’s message of ‘Commit to Something’ is about being able to look at yourself in the mirror and realize who you are and stand up to those values. It just dovetails with what I believe in. I hope people will look at the image and walk away saying, ‘Wow, that’s incredible that that woman feels so comfortable in her own skin,'” she said about the campaign.
She also understands how her journey will impact her daughter’s perspective on body image.
“After coming to this place of loving my body and every scar, my goal is to influence, first of all, how my daughter feels about her body as a growing woman, and if it can influence another person to do the same, I feel as if I have done something beautiful,” she said.
If you are interested in learning more about Samantha and her journey, check out her book project Last Cut, which she started in 2016. The images we used in this article (aside from the Equinox image) come from the Last Cut website.
“Last Cut began as a desire to curate a gallery of images of strength and authenticity. I had no idea the Last Cut book would begin with my decision to remove my silicone implants. However, my decision to openly share my story as one dedicated to living this way launched a call for engaging conversation and connection with others seeking the same,” she writes on the website.
The project also includes a series of conversations with women and the experiences they have been through. In one episode, Samantha talks candidly about the issues she battled after being diagnosed with cancer at the age of 21. She dealth with trauma, anxiety, depression and PTSD around her multiple surgeries, before making the big decisions which would lead to her emotional and health freedom.
Samantha is now working on a memoir about her life and working with photographer Lisa Field on the Last Cut photo documentary. While she has the physical scars which enabled her to push through difficulty to take control of her health and well being, for others it may be emotional or metaphorical scars that will allow us to find a space to live our true authentic selves.
Big props to Equinox for including such an incredible woman like Samantha in this campaign, allowing the inspiring message of “Commit to Something” to go far beyond just an image with a logo.