PAULETTE LEAPHART SURVIVED breast cancer and she wants the world to know that scars, whether physical or emotional, do not necessitate shame.

In 2014 Leaphart was diagnosed and was told she needed a double mastectomy. She was also informed there was no option for reconstructive surgery for her due to some pre-existing health conditions. After the surgery and several months of chemotherapy, Leaphart was finally pronounced cancer-free. But her journey was far from over.

After a photo of her scarred chest went viral on Facebook, she was determined to help other survivors of trauma. She decided to walk across the country baring her scars, planning a 1000-mile journey from Biloxi, Mississippi to Capitol Hill in an attempt to spark a conversation regarding trauma and shame.

Over the past decade, American society has gotten a little better at talking about breast cancer. There are pink ribbons on products and billboards, especially when Breast Cancer Awareness month rolls around every October. But this “pinkwashing” can sanitize the intense and heavy reality of the cancer that will affect one in eight U.S. women.

After hearing Leaphart’s story last August, producer Sasha Solodukhina was inspired to document the journey. Since the project’s inception, Solodukhina partnered with director Emily Mackenzie to create Scar Story, a feature-length documentary chronicling Leaphart’s ‘walk of no shame.”

“People are capitalizing off of a disease,” said director Emily Mackenzie. “It puts a big smiley face on something that is not cute or smiley.” Pinkwashing “turns something that is devastating into something palatable,” Mackenzie says, noting that breast cancer is the only disease that involves this style of marketing.

By telling her story, Leaphart is set on changing this narrative. “I don’t want to give them a pretty story wrapped up in a pretty pink bow,” Leaphart said. “Because that’s not what it is.”

Women are often conditioned to believe that conventionally attractive physical bodies equate to self worth. It’s no surprise then that losing a body part often regarded as ‘critical’ to female beauty can be devastating for many women who have to have a double-mastectomy.

Before undergoing her own surgery, Leaphart tried to find images of other women who had lost their breasts to cancer, but could only find post-op photos. This inability to find empowering images of post-mastectomy bodies left Leaphart feeling hopeless and without representation. Leaphart wants to use her body and experiences to bring topics of body positivity — particularly post-trauma — to the surface.

Throughout Leaphart’s journey, the two filmmakers also plan to collect scar stories, physical or otherwise, from people across the country for a multimedia mosaic of stories.

“We all have our own traumas,” Solodukhina says. “Being able to connect can lead to questions of how we can make these experiences less isolating.”

The documentary also aims to increase political attention to health care policy. Class and race can play a role in determining exposure to chemicals associated with cancer, and racial and ethnic minorities in the United States are often exposed to higher levels of environmental pollutants.

Also, a large portion of cancer research funding goes to pharmaceutical companies for treatment advancement. The high cost of development makes them prohibitively expensive for many individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

“The money raised by women walking for a cure goes into an industry that often cuts out women like Paulette who don’t have the resources to buy them,” said Mackenzie. After her cancer treatment, Leaphart’s family was left in a bad financial position. “A huge amount of money goes into researching treatment as opposed to looking at environmental causes of cancer and illness.”

On April 30, after over a year of physical training, Leaphart started out on her long walk to the White House. “She has supreme confidence that she will be able to handle it physically and mentally,” said Solodukhina. “She’s not afraid of being hurt because she’s been there before.”

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