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Stop saving the ta-tas.

October 8, 2010

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.”

Seriously? This is about your mom, so let's be classy.

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?

I admit I like the ribbon with shoes. Exercise to reduce your risk of nearly every health problem except muscle fatigue.

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.

The snuggliest way to reduce cancer risk.

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.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. October 8, 2010 6:37 pm

    SUCH a good point, kai. thank you for writing about this incredibly important distinction. just a few days ago i was seeing these “save the ta-tas” bumper stickers and i was thinking how sad it is that the other cancers aren’t as “popular,” like there are no fashionable prostate cancer stickers on BMWs around these parts. and now you’ve posted this and worded it so perfectly, so THANK YOU.

  2. Allumer permalink
    October 8, 2010 7:47 pm

    My. God. It’s like you read my mind. I spent half this week writing a ranty and rambling post about this, but I got too angry to actually make it coherent. I agree a 100% with everything you are saying and you mentioning other diseases particularly hits home. My sister had stage 3 melanoma at 21, but skin cancer isn’t sexy the way boobs are. I lost a close family member to mental illness, but losing your mind isn’t as important as losing your breasts and it’s considered shameful. How many people knew that the first week in Oct. is Mental Health Awareness Week?

    I am so disgusted with this campaign. I want everyone to be healthy. To be whole. With all the innuendo and pinkness and gah (!) everything else I have to think that the biggest reason this campaign is so popular is the fact that people are obsessed with breasts as a sexual object rather than a multi-functional PART of a woman’s body.

    And I’m not even going to get into the consumerism. Because, of course people would rather BUY something dumb (that is wasteful to manufacture) instead of just cutting a check . Sigh.

    Thanks for writing this. Now I can hit the delete button on my frothing at the mouth.

    • Allumer permalink
      October 8, 2010 8:00 pm

      Also, can I just say that if you had a personal blog it would be awesome.

      • October 8, 2010 8:10 pm

        Ditto.

        But hey this IS her personal blog!

        I have everyone’s blogs to catch up on. And then I will post a post about everyone else’s blogs. And maybe other blogs. And making friends in the blogosphere. Because we have them, right?

        …right?

        Cave, going, s’lates.

      • Allumer permalink
        October 8, 2010 8:44 pm

        What do you need, Saya, for us to beat you back into your cave? Don’t you want that danged degree? I don’t want to hear another peep outta you.

    • Kaimalino permalink
      October 8, 2010 10:36 pm

      I hope I didn’t steal your thunder, Allumer. Feel free to add–Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a whole month, after all, and it’s not even half-over. Also, it took the use of the thesaurus not to use the word “titillate” in this post. It was actually the word I meant, but I couldn’t stand the thought of such awful, tasteless punnishment.
      I’m relieved to hear it’s not just me thinking “Really? REALLY? This is the best we can do?!” with all this so-called awareness going around.
      And yeah, Saya’s right–this is my personal blog because there are too many little people around here to let me write much more. I have no idea how you all do it all, even though Maryam has graciously reminded me that she really doesn’t. . . but I am still impressed with everyone’s prioritizing skills. (Except yours, Saya! 😄 Back to the salt mines for you!)
      Actually, I DID know the first week of October was Mental Health Awareness Week, but only for shallow reasons. . . there was a fundraiser run for the National Alliance for Mental Illness. Sometimes I learn about legitimately important causes in shallow ways, like through community running events, but I like to think there is some dignity preserved.
      I’m sorry for your losses. I never met my mother-in-law, as she died of melanoma when my husband was in high school. We’re big on sunscreen around here.

      • Allumer permalink
        October 9, 2010 1:50 pm

        Oh no, I’m so happy you did this post; I have reams of half finished non-sensical ranty posts. Also, totally should have mentioned that although my sister was given only a 15% chance of…well, living, she turned 30 and had a baby boy last year. Doctors are still scratching their heads over that one. Allah? Can you hear me? Thank you so much.

  3. October 8, 2010 7:57 pm

    I’m breaking my ban to say: I love this post, it’s brilliant. Being in my cave-of-acadeblah, I have to say all this has mostly passed me by, but I did have a great deal of puzzlement reading ‘I like it on the kitchen counter’ on Facebook, and yes, haram things crossed my mind and I thought ‘?’ and then I moved on with my life (i.e. went back to Tiliouine et al., 2009 and Cronbach’s alpha blah blah blah).

    On which note: back to the cave. S’laters.

    PS – May you all be happy and healthy and strong, ameen.

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