In December 2008, aged 39, Rachael Lonergan was diagnosed with aggressive triple negative breast cancer.
The Sydney freelance media strategist spent 2009 in treatment with two operations, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and more.
Lonergan considers herself recovered. ”They never say never, but so far, so good,” she says.
But what continues to make her sick is the way women’s breasts are sexualised and objectified by companies who pinkwash their motives by supporting breast cancer charities, especially during October – Breast Awareness Month.
”My ‘donation’ to research in the form of malignant flesh should not be devalued, by my cancer being reduced to a Benny Hill punchline,” she tweeted recently.
Bonds has set up Boobs billboards in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Its website promised to ”reveal everything”, which, unsurprisingly, was its new bra range. Bonds also has a partnership with the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF).
One in eight Australian women will develop breast cancer. On average, seven women die from breast cancer every day. This year it’s predicted 14,940 women will get the disease, but juvenile boob-centric campaigns trivialise it. Should we be about ”saving boobies” or saving lives?
”I honestly thought this year the ‘pink industry’ had moved beyond the ‘awareness via titillation’ strategies and was so mad to see the Bonds work,” Lonergan says.
”I attended an NBCF forum in August where the chief operating officer assured me that they take all marketing partnerships seriously and would never do anything to denigrate survivors. I told her of a number of off-colour examples they’ve supported in the past and she claimed they had a new attitude to these things. Apparently not.”
Breast cancer survivors take these pinkified sexed-up campaigns personally. They survived, but for many their breasts didn’t.
The sexification of breast cancer ”awareness” means you mainly see women with perky breasts intact, and you’d hardly know the average age for contracting the disease is 60.
”Every woman I know who has been through the same thing has issues with how their breasts look and feel after surgery,” says Lonergan.
”You get cut apart and chunks removed, burnt with radiotherapy, nerve damage and then all the time confronted by breast-cancer-charity-approved campaigns saying, ‘Your worth as a woman is in having perfect, undamaged breasts,’ is just so depressing. It affects … self-confidence, relationships. I just don’t accept that there is a greater good being served by these kinds of campaigns.
”No one makes sexual jokes about men who require prostatectomies to save their lives, do they?”
Sexualising breast cancer campaigns is nothing new. Slogans have included ”Help The Hooters”, ”Save The Jugs”, ”Man Up, Save Second Base”, ”Save The Tattas”, ”Save The Headlights” and ”We’ll Go a Long Way for a Good Rack”.
The Grosvenor on George topless bar in Brisbane boasts of selling ”the world’s first boob-shaped pizzas”. Proceeds go to breast cancer charity the McGrath Foundation.
The Nena and Pasadena clothing company (N&P), co-founded by new Sydney Swans star Buddy Franklin, promotes the Tour de Crawf bike ride supporting Breast Cancer Network Australia. He has appeared on N&P’s social-media sites with the network’s branding. But N&P gear pictures women headless or faceless, handcuffed and positioned in degrading poses such as on all fours or curled up on the ground.
TITS (Two In The Shirt) is a porn T-shirt brand sold at City Beach. Their range includes images of women in lingerie ”checking” each other’s breasts. A ”Check 1 Check 2” T-shirt shows a topless woman checking her breasts. Semi-dressed women shown breast to breast are shown adorned with the pink ribbon.
Nominated for best apparel at Adult Video News awards, proceeds from the ”Tits for Tits” range also go to breast cancer groups.
I’m not saying breast cancer awareness campaigns haven’t been effective – and certainly they receive more funding than cancers that don’t attack breasts. Responding to critics of the Bonds campaign, NBCF chief executive Carol Renouf says, with the money pledged by the company, the ends justifies the means.
But boobs-for-a-cause campaigns demean women by appealing to the potential loss of a sexual object, rather than the potential loss of her life.