Stop saving the ta-tas.
Stop saving the ta-tas, and start talking about women’s health.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and I am freaking out.
I’m being inundated from every side with encouragement to “show my support” by buying pink items (shirts, cosmetics, soap, candy, even a Kitchen Aid mixer).
A local radio station is sponsoring a team for an upcoming fundraiser road race to benefit breast cancer research. Their team name? “Save the Ta-Tas.”
A girl I know and love (who is a thoughtful young lady, I promise) purchased and enjoys wearing a rubber bracelet emblazoned with the slogan “I (heart) Boobies.” Clearly the suggestive marketing has gotten to her, too. The purchase price was a donation to breast cancer research, she tells me, and it’s just fun, so what’s your problem, Auntie?
Well, then there is the Facebook campaign.
In 2009, there was a Facebook campaign asking women to reveal the color of their bra as their status update to promote breast cancer awareness. It was a coy secret from men, who wondered why women were suddenly posting a single color word with no explanation, and the campaign received some media attention. (I can only imagine it was a pretty slow day in the newsroom.) I declined to participate, on the grounds that it was pointless and immodest.
(Besides, anyone who knows anything about my religion can accurately guess the color of my bra, and anyone who actually knows me knows it’s a nursing bra.)
This year, there is another Facebook campaign, allegedly to promote breast cancer awareness. In 2010, women are encouraged through their Facebook friends to announce in their status where they like to place their purse or handbag when they come home. The result is a lot of vague innuendo.
“I like it on the kitchen counter,” one status says.
“I like it on the coffee table by the door,” reads another.
“I like it on the floor in front of the fridge where people can see,” says yet another.
The comments from the people who read these status updates ranges from confused joking (“Honey, I think we need to talk,” responded one perplexed husband.) to egging on the insinuations (“Wow—spicy!”). Where’s the actual education?
At the risk of being labeled a prude (oh, wait, that ship sailed nearly 20 years ago, and that’s OK by me), I have to say this “awareness” campaign really bothers me. I don’t think flirting is a crime, but disease is not cute. What does sexual innuendo have to do with being aware of breast cancer? (Nothing.) How does being suggestive help those who are fighting the disease? (It doesn’t.) Is breast cancer awareness getting attention because it’s somehow sexy, compared with, say, pancreatic cancer or melanoma? Where’s my “I (heart) prostates” bracelet, hmmm? I’ve got a hunch any breast cancer survivor (or person of good taste) would take issue with that attitude.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m definitely anti-cancer, and even more pro-breast than most. As a volunteer lactation counselor, I bet I say the word “areola” more in one week than most people say in a lifetime. I love my work, and it is an honor to witness a new mother realizing her breasts, which she previously may have seen solely as decorative props that were too big/small/saggy/pointy/whatever are exactly perfect for nourishing her baby.
But what is beautiful is the relationship between the mother and her baby, and the determination and confidence the woman feels as she embraces a new, more powerful version of herself. It’s about the whole woman, not just her breasts.
Women have more than one body part. I don’t want to “save the ta-tas,” I want to save women. Women are mothers, wives, sisters, aunties. I will gladly take any opportunity to become more aware of how to reduce risk factors for cancer instead of make a suggestive joke out of a major health issue.
Last July, I participated in a breast cancer awareness campaign when I attended a rodeo on “Tough Enough to Wear Pink” night. Normally, I like rodeos about as much as I like root canals, but my husband’s work sponsors that night and I am obligated to attend. Instead of being suggestive and inappropriate, “Tough Enough to Wear Pink” was brilliant and inspiring. The crowd was a sea of pink shirts. Every rodeo rider—male and female—wore pink attire such as a shirt, a hatband, a kerchief or a belt. But the event was much more than a pointless group fashion statement– volunteers collected donations for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation. (Komen, by the way, has a strict policy of not using any slang words to refer to breasts.)
Midway through the events, about 20 women of varying ages were escorted into the arena, where they were introduced as breast cancer survivors. The audience gave them a standing ovation, the announcer acknowledged their contributions to their families and communities and said how grateful we all were to be in their company, and—my favorite part—the cowboys competing in the rodeo saluted them as those women were declared the toughest people in attendance.
It was about the women, not their breasts.
If you’re interested in being aware of breast cancer beyond its affiliation with the color pink, I recommend this article about reducing your risk factors by Dr. Ann Kulze.
You should not be surprised to see that maintaining a healthy body weight, exercising regularly and eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables are proven ways to reduce one’s risk of developing breast cancer.
One prevention option Dr. Kulze does not list is breastfeeding. Yep, nursing a baby decreases a woman’s risk of breast cancer, as well as several other types of cancer.
Sometimes lightning strikes, but we can do our best not to golf in a storm. Similarly, we can make every effort to stay healthy and know that even if bad luck does come our way, we have given ourselves the best odds to overcome it.
Finally, just for the record, if I’m ever in the awful situation where I must choose between my breasts or my life, as much as I appreciate my breasts, I choose my life.
Don’t save my ta-tas.