Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Boobies, Ta-Tas, and Cha-Chas, Oh My!: The Sexy-Fication of Cancer

An excerpt from my latest post at Adios, Barbie:

“Save the Boobies!  I  ♥ Ta-tas! Save Second Base!”

Like the ubiquitousness of Lance Armstrong’s Live Strong armbands and Susan G. Komen Foundation’s pink ribbon festooned campaigns, “I heart the boobie” bracelets seem to be everywhere these days. Such as on the arms of young women showing their breast cancer awareness — and potentially getting kicked out of school for doing so. (Luckily, we have a little thing called the first amendment that applies, shockingly, even to high schoolers.)

Okay, we get it. We all heart the cha-chas. From Victoria’s Secret push-ups to plastic surgery obsessions and Girls Gone Wild type television, mainstream culture is hugely obsessed with breasts. (Unless you’re a mother trying to breastfeed your hungry infant with them, but that’s another blog post.)

Just recently, I read a fantastic critique of this sort of cutsie ‘Save the Ta-Ta’ campaign by Peggy Orenstein, who says,
Kittenish cancer campaigns… [are] simultaneously pathologizing and fetishizing women’s breasts at the expense of the bodies, hearts and minds attached to them. In that way, they actually suppress discussion of real cancer, rendering its sufferers — those of us whom all this is supposed to be for — invisible.
To read the complete post, please go to Adios, Barbie here


  1. I just participated in a 5k walk and I actually found myself surrounded by all of this. I realized at some point that some of it infantalizes women and women's health, or so it seemed to me. Did that keep me from walking? No. The fact that I could do so, even with a balance disorder, was an achievement. And having survived several biopsies, two associated with my breasts, it is something that strikes close to home. My mother is a survivor and so far I have remained blessedly cancer free.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Satia. Yes, I think it's absolutely about supporting individual women while simultaneously critiquing corporate agendas... Kudos on completing the walk, and thank you for sharing your own and your family's story...

  3. This is an interesting commentary. The movement toward sexifying the cause has gained momentum, and part of me thinks that if it raises more money...gets us closer to a cure...helps the cause, then it would be worth it. I guess it will be some time before we can have a true cost-analysis of what this movement is doing for cancer (and women) MMF

  4. Great post, Sayantani! I've been bothered by "Save the Boobies" merchandise since it first started to become so popular, and I haven't been able to totally put my finger on all of what bothered me. You and the other authors you cite have done such an excellent job of capturing it and more of the issues surrounding and similar to it.

    I think part of my distaste for the popularity of this campaign is that -- like the PETA ads I see everywhere which objectify or degrade women -- they use sex and objectification to sell something that should ultimately be about values and humanity. While to some extent I'm glad that the support is being found, even if I disagree with the means by which it's reached, I'm disappointed by a society which either asks for or condones those types of sales messages.

  5. Thansk for the comment Rachel - I agree re: the PETA images! There are these ridiculous ones of half-dressed women in cages, Pam Anderson as TSA worker (a really bizarre one) -- when will we not use one kind of injustice/oppression to combat another?