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Location: United Kingdom

Some people know me as OrangeBlossomer because that's me on Twitter. This blog is a random collection of daily musings about life and stuff I love, such as journalism, dog (sadly my dog died in 2010 so probably no more), women, love and lack of love, boobs (only seldom but it does get me extra online traffic), taichi (I practise) and spirituality (should practise more). I have a day job as a jetsetting publishing foreign rights manager but I am also an NCTJ-qualified journalist and a writer/columnist at heart. Writing is my opium.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Why breasts on show miss the point of breast cancer campaigns

Another October, another breast cancer awareness month. Besides the ubiquitous pink ribbons and charity goodies on sale everywhere, I could not help but notice the number of bare breasts that started appearing everywhere in the name of cancer awareness.

Last month Britain's Got Talent judge Amanda Holden stripped down to a pair of leopard print knickers and was photographed with only a pair of silver stilettos to cover her modesty. The London Evening Standard reported this was part of a charity campaign to raise funds for research into women's health issues.

This week some women on the social networking site Twitter started uploading photos of their cleavages, while tweeting the hashtags #BreastCancerAwareness and #BCAwareness to turn them into trending topics.

While a handful of good-humoured twitterers opted for publishing images of two watermelons, fried eggs, or man boobs, a few ladies replaced their normal avatars with images of their exposed bosoms – to the delight of the male Twitterati.

Below are some of the avatars available on the site as of today. Happy viewing:

Interestingly, all breasts on display were perfect, healthy-looking ones. Not a single mastectomised boob.

Put 'em away, love
It always floors me how women with no experience of breast cancer can think that exposing their bosoms in public can in any way promote awareness for a serious disease, which affects one in nine women in the UK.

The majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer will undergo surgery, either a lumpectomoy, removing the cancerous lump, with some of the healthy cells around it, or a mastectomy, in which they will lose one or both breasts.

Breast reconstruction is possible post-mastectomy, but as I mentioned in a previous blog, it is not a straightforward process, involving skin grafts and separate operations for adding nipples. And despite advances in plastic surgery, they will never look the same as real breasts.

As the mutilation affects one of the female body parts most closely associated with sexuality and femininity, losing part of a breast, a full one, or both breasts can have long-term devastating psychological effects on the patient.

I speak from experience – I am a breast cancer survivor myself. Although I only needed minimal surgery for an early stage cancer, my relationship with my body has never been the same since.

The gratuitous breast exposure samples on Twitter infuriated me because they do not take into consideration the feeling of those women who have lost their breasts, or whose breasts were deformed due to breast cancer treatment. It is not my business what part of her body a woman decides to expose on the Internet, but if their aim is to help breast cancer patients, I would borrow the words of a gay friend and say:
"Darling, put those tits away."
Publicity ...for whom?
Making one's avatar into one of a beautiful cleavage may excite men and raise...erm...alertness of a certain type, but it does zilch towards helping the cause of preventing breast cancer, nor of improving treatment and the patients' chances of survival.

At the risk of causing offence, I will go as far as to say it is a meaningless narcissistic act, which demeans the plight of breast cancer patients and trivialises the importance of a serious health issue.

If anyone thinks I am being extreme, I would invite them to go visit the breast care unit of a hospital and ask to be shown a mastectomised chest, speak to patients undergoing treatment whose hair, eyebrows and eyelashes have fallen out due to chemotherapy, patients experiencing acute menopause symptoms because they are on Tamoxifen. I challenge them to go round the ward in a low-cut top, flaunting perfect cleavage, when these women's are being butchered.

Breast cancer does need as much publicity as possible. The more aware women become, the sooner the cancer is diagnosed, the less radical the treatment will be, the higher the chances of survival. Taking one's kit off, especially in the case of celebrities, may help fill the fundraising kit-ty faster. But it must always be done with care and sensitivity, and never be used in a self-serving manner.

If you want to genuinely help fight breast cancer you can:

a) start a campaign yourself
b) help promote self-examination in women
c) make a donation to a breast cancer charity
d) participate in a fundraising event
e) volunteer your time to a charity

Below are some breast cancer charities in the UK worth supporting (click on links to find out more). I am personally hugely indebted to Breast Cancer Haven, so I have listed them first. Please feel free to leave me comments with further suggestions, and I will add them to the list

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Friday, 2 October 2009

The day Liz Jones killed a succesful blogger's will to blog

I first learned about Catherine Sanderson, a Paris-based British expat blogger known as Petite Anglaise, on an article I read in a Saturday Guardian about how blogging can lead to unexpected business opportunities and book deals.

Blogging about her personal life story, in which she falls in love with a fellow blogger and breaks up with "Mr Frog", the father of her daughter (whom she calls "Tadpole"), "the Bridget Jones of Paris" attracted thousands of followers worldwide. According to the Guardian article, "at one point her site was getting 4,000 hits a day".

Sanderson landed a £450,000 book deal from Penguin, who had discovered her blog. The memoir obviously sold well, as a second book, French Kissing, has only just come out, this time a novel.

Yesterday, I happend to buy a copy of The Daily Telegraph and saw an article saying Sanderson, now 37, had written what appeared to be her last posting. In it, she admits she had been losing her inclination to blog for some time.

What struck me, however, was the fact that what made her take the final decision was reading an article in The Observer about...Liz Jones, whom she describes as "a newspaper columnist who has made a living out of sharing every aspect of her personal life, showing little or no regard for the feelings or right to privacy of the partners/lovers/neighbours that she uses for material."

Sanderson says:

"It left a nasty taste in my mouth. Personal blogging was something I felt the need to do during a short, pivotal period of my life but, as I hope I demonstrated in my memoir, I realised,with hindsight, that particular path was strewn with landmines."

Sanderson knows about landmines. When the British accountacy firm she worked for as a secretray discovered her Internet diaries, she was promptly sacked. She later sued the company for unfair dismissal and won the case, as reported in The Telegraph in March 2007. The Penguin book deal came two months after losing her job, so a case of one door closes, another door opens?

The tone of her last blog, "Over and Out?", seems to be one of relief.

"As far as personal blogging is concerned, I've turned the page. And it feels good."

Reading Sanderson's personal explanation of her decision in The Telegraph, I can see why a no-holds barred personal blogging style could have exposed her daughter and new husband to bullying and/or ridicule, and the more she restricted private life off her blogs, the less material she found to write about.

The conclusion might be that unless you have Miss Jones' boldness (or should it thick skin?), and can ignore bullet holes in your postbox and daily hate mail at your doorstep, taking up confessional writing as a means of living may always entail walking a thin line between fame and success and utter personal tragedy.

Here is Ms Petite Anglaise on BBC Breakfast talking about her blog:

Related links:

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