November 8, 2013

Let’s stop being boobs when it comes to breast cancer

We need to reset how we think about and talk about this devastating disease. Using pink, long associated with little girls and hyperfemininity, to symbolize breast cancer infantilizes the women who are battling for their lives.

Now that November is here, in all its bronze and orange glory, I say it’s time we rethink pink.

October was breast cancer awareness month, and I support all the groups that work hard to raise money to help find a cure for the devastating disease. But the pink ribbons, which debuted in 1992, and the tsunami of pink merchandise that followed need to be retired.

No sick woman or man — about 1 percent of breast cancer occurs in men — is served by putting pink dye in fountains (which looks like blood, ick), pink gloves on NFL players or pink lights on the Empire State Building.

Breast Cancer Action (whose website palette is black, white, gray and red) has long railed against “pink washing” by corporations. The group argues that many companies reap far more in profits from pink tie-ins than they donate, and that some companies that seek benefits from pink promotions manufacture toxic products that may contribute to the causes of cancer.

Those are valid points but my objection is based in dignity, not dollars.

Using pink, long associated with little girls and hyperfemininity, to symbolize breast cancer infantilizes the women who are battling for their lives. Plus, the cotton-candy hue (

Pantone 232

) used by Susan G. Komen is a color that looks good on no one over the age of 6.

The last thing a woman who has lost her hair from chemotherapy needs is a tacky-pink hat.

The other disturbing development in the breast cancer awareness campaign is a recent shift in focus on brassieres and breasts.

Two area breast cancer benefits that are well-intentioned but in need of a makeover are Art Bra KC and Bras Across the Kaw. In the first one, decorated bras are modeled live and auctioned off. In the second, donated bras are hung from a bungee cord stretched across a bridge in Lawrence.

No woman facing mastectomy needs to be reminded of the disfigurement by a parade of bras. Not to mention the unintended titillation caused by such displays.

Even more disturbing is online exhibitionism masquerading as health promotion. For example, “mamming” is the practice of laying your breasts on an object and uploading a picture of it on Instagram.

The group advocating the perv-bait portraits claims its motivation is taking the awkwardness out of mammograms. A dubious claim, given that most of the women taking part are younger than 50, an age group for which routine mammograms are not even recommended.

I also question the real motives of the inventors of No Bra Day, a Facebook event Oct. 13 that encouraged women to “set the ta tas free” to support breast cancer awareness. I have a better idea: Keep the ta tas private and donate money to cancer research.

The most egregious offender of this past cancer awareness month was a group that ran a YouTube “campaign” by pledging to donate $20 to support breast cancer research for every woman who allowed the male filmmakers to rub their faces in her breasts. Happily, the group they tried to give the money to refused to accept it when they found out how it had been raised.

Sadly, no one can accuse me of being insensitive to breast cancer victims, because like everyone in the world, I have lost friends and relatives to the disease. Sexual and sexist images and language defame their beautiful souls and insult loved ones fighting for their lives.

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