Our Boobies, Ourselves

I can’t take sides on this.

The I Love Boobies controversy is heating up again. I wrote about it last year when I heard about schools banning the bracelets. Now a video is making the rounds for the Keep-A-Breast Foundation/I Love Boobies campaign as part of the Zumiez Couch Tour. It generated a fair amount of discussion at Peggy Orenstein’s blog.

I watched the video and I just couldn’t get worked up about it. Yeah, they come off like Stoners for the Cure, and yeah, we see guys saying they like boobies, but I personally am more offended by the wall-to-wall pink at my grocery store every October. Pink Fritos? Pink Tic-Tacs? Seriously? How many shopping days until Breastmas again?

I wholeheartedly agree that we have more awareness of breast cancer than anyone could possibly want. I wholeheartedly agree that more money should be spent on research. But I think it’s a mistake to insist there’s only one way to support breast cancer. I’m not sure we can insist on the appropriate level of seriousness either. As I mentioned in my post last year, is it possible that death is too abstract for the young? Can we benefit by reaching them where they are, not where we think they should be?

We all bring our own filters to these things, so here’s mine. I have had a single mastectomy and reconstructive surgery on both breasts. I am a huge believer in humor, some of which is politically incorrect. I came of age in the ’70s. I still have a battered, marked-up copy of The Female Eunuch, and I’ve been to consciousness-raising groups. (See Feminist under Wikipedia.) I think the young women survivors photographed in the Scar Project are beautiful warriors. I see none of these things as mutually exclusive.

Your perceptions are obviously shaped by a different set of life experiences. But whether you agree with the Keep-A-Breast Foundation or not, and whether you think they’re putting their money or emphasis to the best use, at least they’re doing something. That’s a lot more than you can say for the ridiculous Facebook “campaigns” where women were supposed to say what color their bra is or, more recently, where they like it (that is, where they like to keep their purse).

The best slam I saw against the ridiculous “Where I like it” FB purse campaign, as well as the best argument on how breasts don’t need any more awareness, comes from Rainbow Rowell, a columnist for the Omaha World-Herald. She’s not angry or political; she just writes very powerfully about how she becomes uncomfortable every October.

I can’t take sides, but I am willing to keep an open mind, and her column really made me think. You might even say it raised my consciousness.

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10 thoughts on “Our Boobies, Ourselves

  1. Following the discussion on Peggy Orenstein’s blog I was impressed with KAB’s willingness to engage in a dialogue with the blogosphere (not something generally seen with my other favorite breast cancer charity). I also appreciated the passion in their responses. They clearly believe they are doing good. And you are right, they are doing “something”. But so are a lot of other breast cancer charities. And the “something” is getting us nowhere fast. Mortality rates from cancer remain virtually unchanged in decades. Yes we’re all aware, but for some reason, we still don’t see Research as being the number one priority in fighting this disease. In fact at some point in their response to Peggy, KAB said they had decided not to focus on research because many other breast cancer organizations were already doing that (or something to that effect). It’s just not true, and is symptomatic of the wider problem of people just sitting back and thinking that dropping a dollar in a tin or buying a bracelet is doing “something” and that’s enough. But it’s not. If the money isn’t going to the right place, that is, a place that allows us to meaningfully progress in the fight to eradicate this cancer (and others), then what’s the point? How many other organizations are running education and awareness campaigns? Hundreds, if not thousands. And how much money is being wasted in the name of education and awareness at the expense of possibly life-saving research?

    With all that said, I did like KAB’s take on wanting to do more on REAL prevention in terms of carcinogens in the environment, but I don’t think rubber bracelets destined for landfill are a great way to start this kind of campaign. And healthy lifestyle messages? Great but this shouldn’t be limited to breast cancer. In fact I think it’s a great all-round message for kids. Perhaps they need to step away from breast cancer entirely and just focus on educating and encouraging kids to exercise, healthy diet etc so they can live better lives, period. Forget I ❤ Boobies, how about I<3Life. There's a campaign that all kids could get on board with without any degradation to women or sexualization of diseases, body parts etc.

    As for the terminology they've used for this campaign, my question is Jacks, where does it all end? Do you want to see I<3Ass, I<3Urine, I<3Balls, I<3Poop etc on T-shirts, bracelets etc, just because someone thinks they're doing good for other cancers/diseases? As well as the social and sexual connotations of this campaign. I think women's body parts are objectified enough in other parts of society. Do I really need to see my diseased, and now absent body parts objectified as well? In fact, KAB also said in their response to Peggy something to the tune of, it was hard for them to not to take her blog post as a personal attack. Well I kind of feel the same way when I see I<3Boobies. Just a very painful and personal reminder of two body parts that I used to love and quite enjoyed having around, until they had to be surgically removed. Ultimately my breasts will be the reason for my death. I don't need to be reminded of this by some spotty 12 yr old skater kid, who thinks it's funny and cool to wear one of these bracelets.

    Whew…..so Jacks that's my two-cents worth and I think this is such a worthy discussion, and I thank you for your equally valid viewpoints. I know we both want the same thing. We just disagree on how to get there. Peace xxxx

    • I think that was four cents worth!!! 🙂 Thank you for your comments–insightful and intelligent as always. I do want to believe it can be a big tent.

      But I also know I’m in the cheap seats for this circus; you are front and center. If I were in your shoes I have no idea how I would feel about this.

  2. Jackie, You raise some really valid points in this post. Like I keep saying over and over, I don’t care how or what these organizations do to get money. (Well, really I do, but you know what I mean) I just want more dollars earmarked for research, research and more research. I try hard not to judge people’s motives, because as you said, everyone comes with their own set of viewpoints and experiences.

  3. It’s tough to walk that fine line between humor & tackiness. You can get a lot across by the judicious use of humor, which I use liberally myself. But I guess the main thing that bothers me about fundraising efforts to promote breast-self exams & mammograms is that the assumptions they are starting from are often not well-informed. For younger women in particular, mammograms do not detect their cancers early enough, and what we need are more effective diagnostic options. Recent studies about mortality among women who got regular mammograms have even suggested that women who were screened regularly had a higher mortality rate than women who didn’t (still investigating that one…). Ultimately, saving our boobies takes a back seat to saving our lives. And that requires more pertinent research. There are no easy answers, and that’s what makes all of this so thorny.

    • Kathi,
      I completely agree that we need better diagnostics. I wondered about that back when all the flap started about starting mammograms later and not doing BSEs. If you’re too young to get a mammogram and BSE only catches cancer after it’s gotten a huge head start, what are young women supposed to do?

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments.

  4. Pingback: Whose Breast Cancer Is It, Anyway? « Dispatch From Second Base

  5. Pingback: “Boobies.” I said it. Now, May I Have Your Attention Please? «

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