Do Sexy Breast Cancer Campaigns Demean Women?
Awareness campaigns use multiple techniques to sexually objectify women.
Posted Nov 21, 2012
Trending perfectly with a culture that commodifies almost everything, from the most intimate aspects of social life to the war on breast cancer itself, breast cancer advertising and a new genre of trendy awareness campaigns use sexual appeals as a way to get attention and raise money. Some even claim to be educational, vital in the pursuit of a breast cancer cure, and instrumental in helping to save lives.
“It doesn't matter if you're into itty-bitty-titties, the perfect handful, jumbo fun-bags or low-swinging flapjacks, what matters most,” says Pornhub, “is that your kind and selfless gesture will go a long way towards helping our sisters to find a cure.” A video from the American Cancer Society argues that women are “glad their chest has our undivided attention” because they are “living proof that breast cancer can be defeated.” Boobstagram makes awareness claims by saying, “showing your breasts on the Internet is good, showing them to your doctor is better.” A Feel Your Boobies campaign uses sexual innuendo to try to persuade women to feel their breasts as a way to increase their survival potential.
Awareness campaigns like these use sex and women’s bodies to sell products, ideas, and a way of life.
Sexual Objectification of Women
Sexual objectification refers to the practice of regarding or treating another person merely as an instrument (object) towards one’s sexual pleasure, and a sex object is a person who is regarded simply as an object of sexual gratification. It is a type of objectification, which portrays people as objects (to be looked at, ogled, or touched), commodities to be purchased, used, discarded, or replaced, or any way that dehumanizes a person. Sexy breast cancer awareness campaigns use a variety of objectifying techniques.
4. Objectify breasts with language. Sexually objectifying imagery is reinforced with trivializing language that further sexually objectifies women. There are hundreds of slang words for breasts. How many of them are used in breast cancer awareness campaigns? Jugs, rack, melons, hooters, coconuts, funbags, headlights, cans, knockers, tatas, boobies, second base. A “Save the Cupcakes” fundraiser for Susan G. Komen for the Cure sells gourmet cupcakes such as the Tatas Sampler with Java Jugs, Honeynut Hooters, Coconut Milkshakes, Mango Melons, Tangerine Tatas, and Rocker Knockers – “cupcakes created to look like all types of breasts from various ethnicities to sizes.”
Beyond immediate distraction, sexy imagery has not been found to stimulate thinking. Advertising targets the subconscious, not the conscious. Jeane Kilbourne, author of Can’t Buy My Love argues that women have been conditioned early on to believe that their physical attractiveness is the most important thing about them. Advertising reinforces the message that sexual appeal and physical perfection can and must be attained thereby playing upon an inner critic that incessantly desires approval. Sexy campaigns also support the notion that women – even those who experience bodily damage and trauma due to treatment for breast cancer—are less important than their sexual appeal.
Read about these and other implications in my next post, "Sexy Breast Cancer Campaigns DO Demean Women. So What?"
Dr. Gayle Sulik is the author of Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women's Health. More information is available on the book's website.
© 2013 Gayle Sulik, PhD ♦ Pink Ribbon Blues on Psychology Today
*Note: All of the representations analyzed here are used to illustrate cultural trends and are shared in accordance with Fair Use policies. At the request of its creator, an image from the Body Paint Project was removed from this article.