A few weeks before the Legend video was released, O’Brien stood on a closed set with director Mishka Kornai.
“We’re absolutely not looking to exploit this,” he told her.
“It’s not exploitation,” O’Brien replied. “This is it. This is my real body. This is me.”
When cameras rolled, she looked into a mirror, as instructed, and readied herself the way she would for any ordinary day. Then, on one take, Kornai asked her to think back that day in 2010 when she realized a double mastectomy was the best — if not her only — option.
“That feeling I felt — that ‘this is it,’ devastating feeling — it’s always right under my skin, ready to go,” O’Brien says. She cried while she undressed on camera, and she cried weeks later, when she watched the footage back for the first time. But the tears aren’t all out of sadness; they’re a sort of celebration, too. Each time O’Brien sheds them, she sheds a piece of herself who felt defeated by breast cancer. She sheds the parts of her who felt ashamed of her body after surgery. She sheds the pieces of her past she doesn’t need anymore.
“If you keep living in a body you used to have or in a situation that’s not there anymore, you’re just going to be depressed,” O’Brien says. It’s what has driven her to “show everybody [her] chest all the time.” It’s what has driven her own photo project. And it’s what drove her to pose for New York photographer Isis Charise in the Grace project, a photo series of breast cancer survivors.