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

5 comments:

  1. If you thought what you posted, check this out (NSFW):

    http://www.boobiethon.com/gallery/categories/female/

    Pretty much it is just women baring their breasts and saying it is supporting the cure. Can't quite figure out how, though...

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  2. Wow, thanks for pointing me to that link. Just had a look, and I'm speechless. That is the most tasteless and outrageous site of the type I've encountered so far. It is a porn site posing as breast cancer campaign. And children can view this freely?!

    The links of the photo participants are self-promos that take you to erotic blogs with such adult content that it has been blocked by Google...Supposing the donation amounts on the site are real, given the type of ladies who are "participating" on the site, I wonder if the money is not funding some pornographic enterprise.

    I am surprised breast cancer charities in the US have not protested and demanded this be taken down...the lack of respect is blatant.

    I may investigate further. Thank you again.

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  3. Chie, Excellent post. I think your exactly right. There is no relation to women posting their breasts on Twitter and actual survivors of breast cancer. If they wanna support through an avatar, don the pink ribbon, color your avatar pink, or just shut it. :)
    My grandma lost a breast to breast cancer, my mom had cancerous tumors in her breast tissue which had to be removed. I am VERY aware, of close I could be to getting it, and so I do EVERYTHING I can to learn about it, and how to help lower the risks.
    Good job, lady.

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  4. I think the paragraph that is the crux of the point is this one:

    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.

    The problem is that we will never all agree on what defines care and sensitivity. What may seem as a bit of fun for one person can be upsetting to another.

    And the main point of it is to have people raise awareness. I tweeted about this the other day after seeing some breasts in avatars and lots of guys started following links. Now that may not raise cash right away, but it may raise awareness, which can be a equally good thing if it has more people check for breast cancer.

    No-one's breasts were forced into doing this and it will help raise awareness, so I have to come down - with respect for those who disagree - on the side of this being a good thing.

    What I can't work out is how the Boobiethon makes money though. It claims to have raised $50K so far.

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  5. Thanks for commenting, Craig.

    I understand what you are saying but I'm afraid I'm not convinced by that argument (sorry...;)). As you say, at the end of the day, it's MEN who are following those boob-avatars, not women, who should be their main target audience (even though b.cancer can occur in men too). The person who put up those pictures will see an upsurge in the number of followers, but unless she is also promoting a link to a page where you can read about how to do self-examination, how you can find out whether you are in the high-risk group, what you can do to prevent breast cancer, etc, it is only helping raise her own popularity.

    If people really wanted to make it "fun" without looking so self-serving, they could ask people to sponsor their breast-baring photos by making a small donation, which would go to a breast cancer charity. If they managed to raise a pre-set X amount of money, then they could put up their boob avatars for the rest of the month, and it would all be a good laugh.

    A lot of breast cancer charities offer fantastic support to breast cancer patients, or they are developing better treatment, better screening methods, etc, but they desperately need funds to continue their work. In my opinion, they're best equipped to raise awareness on a national level, so by helping them, we help the awareness campaign.

    I'm not trying to be a spoil sport. I do know these ladies on Twitter have good intentions. I do understand it's just a bit of fun. But I also have first-hand experience of what having breast cancer means for a woman, and believe me, it is no laughing matter.

    ReplyDelete

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