Breast (Cancer) Awareness

By: hawkgrrrl
October 22, 2010

Breasts are everywhere this month!  Pink is the new black.  If people aren’t “saving the ta-tas” they are professing their devotion to breasts.  People are shelling out big bucks buying up rubber wristbands and tee shirts that say “I <3 Boobies!”  Some schools have banned the wearing of these items.  We ate pink Krispy Kremes the other day (“boob donuts,” as we called them–unfortunately, that didn’t scare the kids off of them, and I only got one!).   Everywhere you look, there are pink ribbons, enigmatic FB updates that sound like a dirty-minded bridal shower game, and businesses donating part of their profits to breast cancer research.

 I had a colleague a few years ago who was trying to give a speech to encourage employees to donate to breast cancer research, but instead of referring to the month as “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” he kept saying (to everyone’s amusement) “Breast Awareness Month.”  The trend in awareness seems to be moving in the same direction he mistakenly prophesied.  At least in my part of the United States, I’ve had breasts shoved in my face all month.  It’s like lunch at Hooters!  (I’ve never actually eaten at Hooters, but that’s what I imagine it’s like).

Preventing breast cancer is clearly a worthwhile charitable endeavor.  One in eight women will suffer from it (just half the number who will suffer from domestic abuse, but that’s a month of a different color).  So, does this recent campaign objectify women and trivialize this serious disease?  Or is it ingenious at promoting support for the cause?  I vote the latter, and here’s why:

  • WIIFM.  Face it, half the world has breasts, and the other half merely likes them.  For a woman, breast cancer awareness is a reminder that she has a potential pair of ticking time bombs down the front of her shirt.  For a change, men are being reminded of a reason they should care about preventing breast cancer that actually hits them where they live.  Hey, even misogynists can appreciate this rationale.
  • Universal Appeal.  You can “heart” boobies as a man or a woman.  Children “heart” them.  As a universal method of infant sustenance, they appeal to people of all ages.  Surely, there aren’t many people who do not “heart” boobies (and by extension, the campaign hopes, their owners).
  • Sexy Factor.  Cancer and its horrifying effects are about the least sexy thing a person can experience.  Talking about disease, especially cancer, can be depressing and sobering, and that is the approach usually taken (someone somberly explaining the harrowing effects of this disease on a loved one and pleading for donations to prevent others from losing loved ones).  That is certainly effective as well, but it has the disadvantage of being depressing and a tactic used by almost all charities.  This new “sexy” approach appeals because of its novelty.
  • Positivity.  As we learned in Inception, a positive idea has more staying power than a negative one.  A campaign with the word mastectomy inside a red circle with a line through it wouldn’t be nearly as effective as the “I Heart Boobies” campaign, which reminds us of health and sassiness, not the physical trauma that normally accompanies this disease if it goes unchecked.
  •  Humor.  Using a childish word like “boobies” to talk about a scary debilitating disease is incongruous; it makes us laugh.  That surprise factor is what makes us pay attention to the message.  And awareness is about consciousness, being awakened to something we have previously ignored.

Despite my praise for the campaign’s effectiveness, I’m hopeful that Prostate Cancer Awareness doesn’t jump on the bandwagon.

So what do you think?  Is the message effective?  Is awareness enough?  Are you more aware as a result of this campaign?  Do you feel schools should ban these items for being too racy?  Do you “heart” this campaign like I do?  Discuss.


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27 Responses to Breast (Cancer) Awareness

  1. JonJon on October 22, 2010 at 3:58 PM

    Well, not *all* of the other half likes them.

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  2. adamf on October 22, 2010 at 4:07 PM

    Seems to me the more we talk about boobies, especially associated with things like health, the less racy they become. I’m all for that, although I suppose some would not be, haha.

    I was going to do a post on Sesame Street and Katy Perry’s boobs, but maybe this is enough for now, lol.

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  3. diane on October 22, 2010 at 4:15 PM

    Absolutely teach thru humor. I think its the best way to learn, especially when dealing with such a serious subject

    I don’t have breast cancer(I hope I never will, )but I do have a bleeding disorder, I often make jokes with the techs when they have to stick me because I know that I am a hard stick, (chemotherapy screws up your veins)

    I find when I make a joke it makes the techs be less nervous and it helps them to concentrate. I think it helps them to know that I’m not going to yell at them if they do miss.

    outlook is key, for yourself and everyone around you.

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  4. Heber13 on October 22, 2010 at 4:18 PM

    You’re hilarious, HG. Great post, and I think humor is a good way to make it easier to talk about serious things. We often avoid things that are uncomfortable or difficult to talk about…so a good awareness PR campaign should make it easier to talk about what they’re trying to make people aware of, and keep the audience interested.

    However, don’t discriminate. Men get breast cancer too (but not at the levels that make it something to dedicate a month towards, so I’m not trying to take away the pink thing in any way).

    My great friend (guy) had to go get checked out, and said it was the most awkward thing sitting in the waiting room with all the other women, but was able to use his humor to start talking to these other women about his lump…which eased some tension the other women were having, and they were all able to laugh and then actually open up a little to talk about their fears and their thoughts while waiting for the doctor. The running joke became, “If men can get breast cancer, we need to legislate equality and make it possible for women to have testicular cancer also!” He said what started as an awkward environment ended being pretty funny.

    Everything has a time and place, so humor has a limit, but I find it a very effective tool.

    I also think saying juvenile words like “Boobies” is just fun to do. Boobies, ta-tas, boobies. Ok, I had my fun.

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  5. Jon on October 22, 2010 at 4:22 PM


    “the less racy they become”

    Does that mean women won’t have to run away to feed their kids anymore? My wife never does, she just feeds the kids in sacrament meeting (w/o a blanket, of course, modestly still) and everywhere else. Except for at an elementary school in UT where she was volunteering her time, the school made her do it in a “private” place. Of course, UT has pretty good breastfeeding laws.


    Did you get the bottle as a baby then? :) Just messing around with you.


    So does the awareness include the damaging effects of regular breast cancer screening (radiated)?

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  6. Jana on October 22, 2010 at 4:24 PM

    I don’t buy “pink” Breast Cancer Awareness products. I hate the way cancer is commodified by companies who are only giving pennies to the cause, while often selling products that are actually destructive to the environment and are themselves cancer-causing (i.e. pink donuts?). I’d rather see companies promoting healthy eating & lifestyles (but it’s hard to color real fruits and veggies pink, I guess–overprocessed & artificially-flavored yogurt is much easier to turn “pink”).

    I have a friend in the cancer community who’s quite active in the “Boycott October” movement. Here’s her post about that “1 in 8″ factoid: . I also recommend clicking on her “Boycott October” tags to see other relevant posts.

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  7. Heber13 on October 22, 2010 at 4:32 PM

    To Hawkgrrrl’s point, I find it more effective to have a Positive message (“save a boobie”) rather than a negative movement … like boycott a cancer movement that doesn’t get their statistics right.

    I understand the Assertive Cancer Patient’s point, but the attitude makes it harder to rally around rather than the pink approach.

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  8. Steve Evans on October 22, 2010 at 5:24 PM

    I do some work with the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, and this has been an interesting topic for them as the month has gone on. Their own campaign — Mammogram Promise is far more focused on actual steps to improve cancer detection and survivorship. Awareness is a crucial element in fighting cancer, but my sense is that awareness in the abstract can just be corporate flash and needs to be backed up with actual incremental steps that will actually fight cancer.

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  9. Jana on October 22, 2010 at 5:49 PM

    Heber: I can imagine all kinds of ways to rally around healthy behaviors rather than rallying around pink ribbons and pink teddy bears. Cant you? And wouldn’t that save far more lives than buying pink m&m’s will?

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  10. Stephen M (Ethesis) on October 22, 2010 at 6:29 PM

    The statistics on breast cancer aren’t as accurate as one might like (they are like saying that 100% of men will get prostate cancer — which would be true only if men lived long enough and did not die of something else).

    Prostate cancer, while being more prevalent, is never likely to get as much attention, other than those few times someone says “if only men had a condition like breast cancer, then …”

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  11. Alice on October 22, 2010 at 6:49 PM

    Jon (#5) I’ve started nursing in sacrament meeting too, with my last baby. Last week, my Mister and I spoke in church. Our other kids were sitting with a cousin who was visiting, but we kept the baby with us. He got hungry, so I fed him. I don’t think anyone even noticed.

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  12. Alice on October 22, 2010 at 6:49 PM

    (and I’d like to read the Sesame Street/Katy Perry post)

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  13. That Gal on October 23, 2010 at 2:43 AM

    I can appreciate the argument for humor. If people are more likely to donate when they hear “save the ta-tas” than “breast cancer awareness,” then okay. More money for research is a good thing.

    But I still don’t like this campaign. In a culture in which women are frequently reduced to their body parts, this campaign does not feel empowering to me. A more empowering campaign might feature survivors telling their stories, their experiences, the things they’ve been able to accomplish, the valuable relationships they have. Would this campaign bring in less money? *sigh* probably. But who knows?

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  14. Left Field on October 23, 2010 at 6:53 AM

    “I <3 Boobies!”

    Is that "I have <3 boobies"?

    I guess I don't quite get that one. Perhaps a show of solidarity with those who have only one?

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  15. JonJon on October 23, 2010 at 9:17 AM

    Jon, very funny. Actually, I think I’ve just always assumed I was breast fed, but maybe I wasn’t. And maybe that’s what’s wrong with me!

    Adamf, a Sesame Street/Katy Perry’s boobs post is still needed.

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  16. clare on October 23, 2010 at 10:48 AM

    Left Field (#14): <3 is a "heart" emoticon.

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  17. hawkgrrrl on October 23, 2010 at 11:53 AM

    I sort of agree that boob donuts are a bit of a mixed message since being overweight contributes to cancer risk, but if you run a Krispy Kreme and you want to raise awareness, ya gotta work with what you’ve got. And maybe that’s a message that will reach more “at risk” women. Even so, I do thinks it’s a shame that such a little percentage of purchases goes toward the cause. However, we didn’t buy the boob donuts because of breast cancer. My son aced a test and asked for them as a reward.

    Best ever cancer awareness campaign, IMO, was an enigmatic sign at Hoss’s Restaurant in Pennsylvania. It said: “Support cancer research. Dine at Hoss’s on Mondays”. It sounded ominous.

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  18. Left Field on October 23, 2010 at 1:09 PM

    Ok, I guess I see that now. All I could get out of it was “I have less than three boobies.” Most of us do, but I couldn’t figure out what that might mean on a t-shirt.

    Maybe the slogan would work on a t-shirt with along with a pair of blue-footed boobies.

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  19. hawkgrrrl on October 23, 2010 at 2:04 PM

    Left Foot – actually, there are some breast cancer tees with pics of the birds. Great minds think alike?

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  20. Left Field on October 23, 2010 at 8:48 PM

    You can wear a shirt like that if you don’t mind every passing ornithologist exclaiming, “Nice boobies!”

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  21. rc on October 23, 2010 at 10:22 PM

    I live in Pennsylvania. My kids’ orthodontist is near a restaurant called Hoss’s. Is there another Hoss’s besides the one in Exton?

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  22. hawkgrrrl on October 23, 2010 at 11:16 PM

    There is a Hoss’s in Elizabethtown. Or at least there was a few years ago.

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  23. Doug on October 24, 2010 at 12:04 AM

    A quote (likely mis-attributed) from the late Sen. Everett Dirksen:

    “There were boobs in Congress long before Margaret Chase Smith” (the first woman elected to both the House and the Senate.

    It’s quite alright to support women’s health issue, including breast cancer research. However, it seems that well-proportioned mammaries tend to cause back problems in the female, and neck problems as well as bruised cheeks in the male.

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  24. Jared L. on October 25, 2010 at 4:47 PM

    I understand Jana’s point, but I don’t think throwing money at breast cancer is all the pink ribbons are trying to accomplish. It is about awareness and women getting their mammograms and such. I saw a statistic the other day that the 5-year survival rate for women with breast cancer is now 90%. That’s a fantastic number, but detection (being aware) is the key.

    My wife was lucky (blessed) enough to have a doctor tell her to get a mammogram just over 11 months ago. Only 36, and it had nothing to do with the problems she had at the time, but it saved her life. She lost a breast, but my children and I still have her.

    Ladies, when you see a pink ribbon, dollars are nice, but I would rather it first reminds you to act on preventing or detecting early this awful disease.

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  25. jmb275 on October 26, 2010 at 7:27 AM

    This issue is fairly important to me. My mom is a nearly 20 year survivor of breast cancer. I’m with HG on this. I think the campaign is great. It’s cute, sexy, and gets men involved in a way that appeals to what most men love! When my mom went through it there was very little awareness other than doctor recommendations for mammograms, etc. I think we do a much better job now of creating awareness, and awareness is the first step to early detection.

    As for the school situation, I generally think people in our culture make way too much over the perceived sexuality of every little detail. Personally, I wouldn’t care if they had them at my child’s school. Shoot, I would be happy if they passed them out! But then again, I didn’t think the Katy Perry thing on Sesame Street was a big deal either.

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  26. Doug on October 29, 2010 at 1:42 AM

    Not that I resent ANYTHING directed toward’s women’s health, including breast cancer research. Not merely that women go before their time (painfully), but those that “survive” endure pain and disfigurement, and the self-esteem issues that accompany it. So naturally it’s a ‘no-brainer’ to combat this scourge.
    Nevertheless, I’d like to see an equivalent effort driven towards prostrate and/or testicular cancers. Not that I expect the same sympathy, but those are significant men’s health issues.
    After all, what good is it to preserve the sisters’ health if the brethren are droppin’ like flies?

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  27. Stephen Marsh on October 29, 2010 at 6:04 AM

    Doug, just because men die before women by about seven years these days doesn’t mean they are dropping like flies ;)

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