October 31, 2012
(USA TODAY) -- Many breast cancer survivors say a crop of pink-ribbon campaigns have hit a new low -- by sexualizing breast cancer.
A porn website has been using breast cancer to increase its Web traffic this month by offering to donate 1 cent for every 30 views of its videos. The intended recipient for the donation, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, rejected the offer and instructed the site to stop using its name.
Yet pornographers are only the most extreme example of a disturbing trend: using sex to sell breast cancer -- or make a profit, says Gayle Sulik, author of Pink Ribbon Blues. Sulik, who recently lost a friend to the disease, notes that magazines and advertising campaigns now routinely use topless young women to illustrate a disease whose average victims are in their 60s.
"I don't see the porn site to be much different from the 'Feel your boobies' T-shirts," Sulik says, referring to the Pennsylvania-based Feel Your Boobies Foundation. "It sexually objectifies women, trivializes breast cancer and uses the objectified woman as window dressing for the profit-making machine."
Newer cancer groups are embracing slogans such as "Save the Ta-Tas" and "I Love Boobies" in the name of humor and reaching out to a younger, less conservative audience. Other groups say they're trying to stand out from the crowd of public service announcements that arrive every October, during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
A poster for the "Save 2nd Base" fundraiser at Tao restaurant in Las Vegas last month, for example, depicted a curvy model in a string bikini, noting "everyone in pink bathing suits receives open bar." An online version of the ad went viral, spread by outraged cancer survivors. The restaurant did not return phone calls for this story.
Although proceeds were to benefit Komen, the cancer group's spokeswoman, Andrea Rader, says Komen hasn't heard how much was raised and won't accept the donation. Rader says the restaurant was supposed to get Komen's approval before launching the ads but did not. "We would never have approved that," Rader says.
She notes that Komen, which has been criticized for its "cause marketing" partnerships with companies such as KFC, disapproves of coy language for body parts: "We just say 'breasts.'"
Breast cancer survivor Kathi Kolb used computer graphics to create an alternative "2nd Base" poster on her blog The Accidental Amazon, making the bikini model look more like a cancer patient: with a catheter port in her chest and a prosthesis in her bra.
"It's thinly disguised prurience," says Kolb, 58. "It's worse than ever."
Still, Kimmy McAtee, spokeswoman for the Keep A Breast Foundation, says its "I Love Boobies!" campaign aims to "speak to young people in their own voice about a subject that is often scary and taboo." T-shirts and bracelets "speak directly to our target audience in a way that is authentic, inspiring and refreshing. We always want to take a positive approach to breast cancer awareness, rather than a funny or sexy one."
Even mainstream groups, such as the American Cancer Society, are using humor to get their message across. "It's OK to look at our chests," the society announces, with videos showing close-ups of women's chests. On the website makingstrideswalk.org/boobs, the society announces that a fundraising walk "was created to focus on breasts, and women are glad their chest has our undivided attention."
In a written statement, the American Cancer Society said, "People are exposed to a wide variety of breast cancer information during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, and this video was intended to break through the clutter to capture the attention of social media users, who we want to encourage to spread the word about an important message: empowering women to take control of their breast health."
Breast cancer survivor Lani Horn, 41, of Nashville says such groups miss the point. "All of us are really fed up," Horn says. "Save the ta-tas? No, save the women. A lot of us had to give up our ta-tas to live."
Cancer, she says, "doesn't make you feel terribly sexy. There's a cruelty to this, when you're in danger of losing the sexuality they're selling."
Copyright 2012 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.