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September 02, 2010


Darla Gaylor

If I recall properly, on the whole, more women die from heart disease than from breast cancer. My mother-in-law died from breast cancer, which she chose not to tell anyone in the family about until it was too late to treat.

It seems as if, like AIDS, breast cancer, serious as it is, gets so much ink b/c it largely effects one segment of the population that doesn't happen to be straight, possibly white, men. I would like to see the diseases that affect the larger portions of our society getting the greater part of our tax/ gov't research dollars. And for those diseases that affect proportionally fewer individuals, it would be nice to see those advocating for me to be more aware of what is right in front of my face (or chest) to keep their shirts on. I don't need naked PETA chicks to remind me to be nice to animals, and I do not need naked breast campaigns to remind me to be nice to my own breasts either!

Headless Unicorn Guy

Here we go again (sigh). Cue up a little Classic Momento from Dr Demento...


It's a messy situation. Money is needed for research, treatments etc, but sober, fact driven campaigns aren't as good at raking in money as flashy, tongue-in-cheek lookit-mah-boobies campaigns. I'm torn between wanting to be respectful of the scope and impact of the disease, but wanting the money that the not-so-respectful take gets. A billboard with breast cancer facts is going to get less attention then (well painted) breasts on a billboard. As for how the tone got this way, some of it's purely financial, some of it's just because Americans like any opportunity to show some boob (can't quite comment on the Singapore ad being a part of this, being that it's Singapore and that they showed nipple, which wouldn't fly in the states.) Americans also don't like to the see the breast as anything but a sexual organ. It's part of why some people freak out at public-breast feeding, they can't separate sexy-fun-time breasts from feeding-my-child breasts, so they freak. Some of it's the times. Camp is big, light-hearted approaches to serious subjects bring in more people and keep them comfortable. I mean, it's been a kinda-crappy decade. Chances are, when times get better, awareness campaigns will take on a more, personal tone, as opposed to a more ironic one.

Tom Babcock

My gut reaction is to agree completely with Melisssa May, but it might also be useful to reserve judgement in the short term and see if the campaign is successful--does it raise more money than other campaigns, or does it increase screening? If either were to be demonstrated I might find it necessary to reconsider my objections to an apperently exploitative (or perhaps just juvenile) approach. And while there can be arguments regarding inappropriate means to achieve a desireable end, are there differing levels of inappropriateness that guide when it is important to take a moral stance?


Melissa, thank you for your post - I was unaware of what was going on in Singapore.

You've said it perfectly, and I concur 100%. My grandmother died of this horrible disease, and both myself and my mother despise many of the current "awareness" tactics because they are so classless, tacky, and sometimes downright offensive. My grandmother would have been horrified to see them.

Thank you for standing up to the all-mighty Awareness gods and saying what definitely needs to be said!

Melissa May

Here's my main question guys: Why is breast cancer the only disease that gets treated this way? Some of you raise the point that money's needed, and maybe this is effective enough to be justifiable if the impact is great enough. Well, then why not start using the same methods for raising money for other diseases too? Should we start mocking HIV patients if it in the end it raises money for their treatment and research? How about childhood leukemia? Can we make a joke out that, too? I mean it's for the children, right? And we'd be Raising Awareness. So in the end, it's a win, even if it hurts some feelings.
Somehow, I don't think these kinds of campaigns would fly if they were applied to any other illness, but for some reason (I don't know why), it's completely justifiable in the case of breast cancer.

Talya / Tree McCurdy

Breast cancer is treated this way because it makes a lot of profit. Not donations-- profit.

Look into the advertising costs of any pink-packaged marketing campaign and you will find that the costs of changing the packing exceed the amount of donations generated.
Look up the costs of research-- heck, look up the costs of keeping a single woman with mets alive for one year. The monetary impact of the donations raised through these campaign aren't even drops in the bucket.

You've only scratched the surface; scratch deeper, and you will learn that the biggest contributors to these "Awareness" campaigns are those industrial giants whose products and processes have the the greatest scientific links to the causes of breast cancer. It is basic business for them to want people to think "breast cancer" and think "cure" instead of "prevention".

Campaigns like this one from Singapore hit me the hardest, because they kill women. *Our FIRST line of defense against breast cancer remains removing the breast at the first confirmed trouble.* The more we emphasize the importance of breasts, the more difficult it is for a woman to take the step most likely to save their lives. In my friends and the families of my friends there have been too many women who have died because it took them two weeks, four weeks, six weeks of denial before they committed to the masectomy, and by then it was too late.

Headless Unicorn Guy

It's part of why some people freak out at public-breast feeding, they can't separate sexy-fun-time breasts from feeding-my-child breasts, so they freak.

Had someone in my family (who would have come of age around WW2) tell me once breast-feeding was "unnatural". Twenty years later, and my head's still going "tilt" from that one.

Why can't women's breasts be BOTH "sexy-fun-time" AND "feeding-my-child"? Is there some new law of nature that says they can't be both? Or have things gotten that specialized?

Cady Driver

Thanks for posting this Melissa......I completely agree with you. After all, we don't see ad campaigns like that for prostate cancer. Why should we as women be treated as if our breasts are a completely separate entity?

My aunt just recently died of complications from breast cancer. She'd had a double mastectomy and died in tremendous pain from multiple procedures. Probably the last thing she wants to see is some gorgeous model's breasts plastered all over an ad campaign that's using her disease to promote a product. It's insulting.


Melissa, thank you. You raised so many important issues here, and you really made me think. I wish I could say that people are just trying to raise money and doing it the only way they know how, but I think that just begs the question: Why isn't there anything similar to Raise Awareness regarding prostate cancer? So it can't just be about raising money or awareness. And as Talya points out, the messenging of the campaigns-- such as "save the Boobies"-- is not just insulting, it is directly contrary to the woman's best interest, which is to have the mastectomy as soon as possible in some cases, and to save THEMSELVES. Great point, Talya.

I think that perhaps the answer is very simple, so simple that I never even stopped to think about it until I read your blog. I think that the popular culture's view of women has become so misogynistic, the commitment to woman-as-sex-object first and foremost is so strong, that it simply eclipses everything else--even life-and-death issues like cancer, and a woman's health and well-being. No matter how serious the issue, sadly, it just all gets swallowed up in that black hole and when it comes out into the public realm, it must be repackaged as 'sexy" no matter what. If it is to be public and it concerns women, then it must be sexy. Just like those prudes in the Victorian era supposedly didn't allow sexy in the public realm, not even uncovered piano legs--although that is apparently a myth--we don't allow non-sexy in the public realm, when it comes to anything concerning women.


Please don't take this the wrong way, Headless Unicorn Guy, but are you in fact a guy???
I have this funny mental picture of an elderly woman and a younger man (if this was 20 years ago) talking on the front porch about breastfeeding, and my head is going "tilt", too. Although, I agree with you that breastfeeding is very natural (it was the only thing there was for oh, say, a few THOUSAND years).

I am all for modesty, and believe that baring one's breasts for cancer awareness is just as bad as baring them for drunk college guys on Spring break. My only thought, and I haven't actually seen the ads, is that marketing is very contextual. An American's view of the ads is most like very different from those in Singapore. Again, I am not condoning the topless women issue, but I am addressing the feeling of the campaign. What we feel as disrespectful and mercenary may be viewed very differently by the intended target audience of the campaign. It is like when the "Got Milk" ads were introduced in Mexico. The direct translation is "Tienes Leche", but the implied meaning is "are you lactating" not "got milk". It is always a bit of an apples to oranges comparison when talking about ad campaigns in different countries.

Headless Unicorn Guy

Please don't take this the wrong way, Headless Unicorn Guy, but are you in fact a guy???

Last time I looked down while in the shower, I was.

I'm also an ex-kid genius and general weirdness magnet.


Here's one that is gaining steam: http://www.jsyk.com/2010/09/10/boobies-bracelets-are-still-stirring-up-a-debate-in-schools/

I certainly wouldn't allow my 7th or 9th grader wear these...


Do you really think the profit is the only concern? Since.. people diagnosed with cancer can die from other things, and these numbers do not take into account the fact that some of the deaths are from causes other than breast cancer.


Wonderful post, I've wondered the same thing. Here we have a campaign about beating the "Boobie Monster" and on one of the breast cancer charities pink days, they lined up a bunch of clotheslines with pink bras on them in the city centre, to Raise Awareness (I love that capitalisation by the way)...

My grandma & a close friend both died from breast cancer so this is a cause very close to my heart, and don't see how naked boob pictures and pink merchandise are helping anyone (even without the modesty aspect considered). I work for a cancer charity that covers all kinds of cancers and you are much, much better to donate directly to a breast cancer charity (or any other cause) than either a) get topless to Raise Awareness, or b) buy a water bottle with a pink lid. It costs so much money to do these ads and pink bra displays, not to mention the profits raised, as already mentioned above, and that is money much better spent where it counts - on research for a cure, for care for patients with cancer, and funding services such as mamograms.

The view of women as sex objects way before any other aspect doesn't help. We don't see Awareness-Raising campaigns for testicular cancer in such a graphic way, or men's breast cancer - no pictures of bare, muscled chests in the name of Raising Awareness. Which isn't exactly the point when it comes to modesty, I know, but the plight of women with breast cancer & their families/loved ones is so far removed from these sexed-up images that it is sickening.

Ok ... rant over. Great to see people talking about this though, because it's really important to delve into and Raise Awarenes about what these charities are really doing....

Account Deleted


I love your words Melissa! It's absurdity at its most demeaning.

You may find the article above interesting. I just finished reading the book ( Smile or Die ) by the author and it's quite refreshing.

Melissa May

Thanks Priya. I'll check out the link.

Dori Price

I'm a little late weighing in on this subject and post but your comments, Melissa, are powerful! Seriously, I think the "Awareness gods" (as you termed them) undermine our sensibilities. What are they thinking? As women, we are exploited enough through meaningless, unproductive, and demeaning ad campaigns only to promote items of no eternal value. Then, we have breat cancer, which is a horiible disease, and we miss the mark on approaching awareness campaigns with dignity and respect for those who have been afflicted or know someone who has.

Thank you for writing so passionately and giving a voice to a much needed topic.

Most Sincerely,
Dori Price

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