Sexy breast cancer campaigns trivialize real issues

People are more than their body parts

Pink ribbons are back on the news, on the feet of NFL players and even on plastic wrap dispensers. And just like they are every October of late, breasts are on display.

Earlier this month, the first advertisement to appear on UK daytime television with a “female nipple fully visible” aired. The ad encourages people to check and feel their own breasts for any irregularities, which could be signs of cancer. While campaigns like this are important, the name of the organization that sponsored the ad, CoppaFeel!, is alarming.

Even the Breast Cancer Society of Canada isn’t immune when it comes to demeaning sayings. Not only is the euphemism emblazoned on their “Fight for the Girls” wristband problematic, but it also excludes anyone who has breast cancer but doesn’t identify as a “girl” and doesn’t really factor in the 230 new breast cancer cases the Canadian Cancer Society estimates will be diagnosed in men in the country this year.

In response to “No Bra Day,” a campaign that encouraged women to go braless in a supposed attempt to start conversations about breast cancer, Ann Marie Giannino-Otis told Broadly the event insults people affected by the disease. 

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

“What does taking that bra off do? Does it bring research? Does it bring awareness or education?” she says. “It does none of those things. It sexualizes breast cancer, and breast cancer is not by any means sexy.”

The I LOVE BOOBIES! bracelets sold by Keep A Breast Foundation are often criticized for trivializing the realities of cancer. And perhaps most disturbingly, “Save Second Base” fundraising softball tournaments still happen every year. 

“They’re a cheeky way to get people, especially men, thinking about breast cancer, but they sacrifice the gravity of the epidemic and replace it with shallow sexual innuendo,” Anita Little says about these kinds of slogans in a Feminist Majority Foundation blog post.

Furthermore, as Lara Huffman, a self-identified breast cancer survivor, writes in a Huffington Post blog, it’s people, not breasts, society should worry about saving.

“The primary concern should be removing the cancer from the woman’s body, and oftentimes that means a single or double mastectomy. You know – not saving the breasts,” she says.

“It gives the clear message that the focus should be on saving our ability to be sexually attractive to the opposite sex,” Huffman, who had a double mastectomy, writes. “Heaven forbid you lose the body part that makes others feel attracted to you, because if you lose your sexuality, you lose your worth.”

In a Granada Hills Charter High School newspaper article, Chelsey Sanchez explains this problem is nothing new.

“We are used to seeing the media demoralize and sexualize women on a daily basis, and we have become so numbed (sic) to it that when we sexualize a disease revolving mostly around (women), we do not even flinch,” Sanchez writes.

As Nancy Stordahl summarizes in a 2014 Huffington Post article, “Sex sells; it even sells breast cancer awareness.”

But really, sexy breast cancer awareness campaign ideas are best left on the cutting room floor.

Danielle Doiron would love to get through one October without seeing another “Save Second Base” T-shirt.

Published in Volume 72, Number 7 of The Uniter (October 26, 2017)

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