[Warning: There are boobs in this post, and they are not happy. Also, Barbara E. said it better.]
Ok, people. I’ve had enough. It is none of your business what color my bra is. It is none of your business if I have, and I quote, “touched my boobs today.” *
(The answer is no. My fibrocystic boobs pretty much always feel like big lumps of cancer, and they hurt this time of month. Too much info? Then you shouldn’t have asked.)
Cancer is not a fashion statement. It is not cute. It is not sexy. Chemo is not cute. Major surgery is not sexy. Dying isn’t either. Losing people I love does not make me want to talk about my underwear.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand the importance of raising awareness. Women should not be ashamed of their bodies or what happens to them. I understand the importance of a good marketing campaign. If you’ve got something important to say, it helps to say it well. I have no problem with a campaign that makes women facing breast cancer feel supported. I have no problem with a campaign that makes what was once a shameful disease into something we can face together. I don’t even have a problem with laughing at the things that make us afraid, or by making a movement for change into something joyful.
But this whole “let’s all raise awareness, and it will be really cute because the boys won’t know what we mean,” or “let’s raise awareness by making double entendres – ‘Touch your boobs.’ Get it? It’s, like, funny!” is not amusing. For one thing, it pretends that if we can all band together, all do monthly breast self-exams, all buy enough pink shit, we can actually stop people from dying.
I’ve got news (really old news, but here goes): Breast cancer is not caused by lack of early detection. And it’s usually not cured by early detection either. There is a healthy debate about whether regular mammograms are a good idea, but even the American Cancer Society says that breast self exams “play a small role in finding breast cancer”, and, according to the National Breast Cancer Coalition:
There is currently no scientific evidence from randomized trials that breast self-exam (BSE) saves lives or enables women to detect breast cancer at earlier stages. In addition, there are some data that show that BSE greatly increases the number of benign lumps detected, resulting in increased anxiety, physician visits, and unnecessary biopsies.
So we might not know for sure the best ways to detect and treat cancer. We might save lives with this, we might not.
We do know that there are things that cause cancer. Living near hazardous waste sites. Working in factories with petrochemicals. Bovine growth hormone. Vinyl. Some pesticides and insecticides. Some water bottles and baby bottles and canned foods. Household cleaners. Cosmetics. Radiation. Even laptops, which means maybe I shouldn’t be writing this.
So, in addition to not wanting to talk about my underwear, I would not like to buy a vinyl pink ribbon magnet to put on my carcinogen-producing car. I would not like to buy a pink teddy bear made with plastic yarn in a sweatshop. I would not like to buy a pink t-shirt that invites people to concentrate on my breasts that is made with cotton picked by workers exposed to carcinogenic chemicals and manufactured with carcinogenic dyes by women with no health insurance in machiladoras. I would not like to buy pink cosmetics filled with chemicals that jack with my hormones, or buy pink-lidded yogurt made from milk from cows fed non-organic grain and shot up with rbGH.
I would especially not like to raise money for breast cancer research and see that money go to companies that sponsor breast cancer awareness events, manufacture breast cancer drugs or equipment, and, at the same time, make things that cause cancer. (And finding a company that makes breast cancer treatment drugs that doesn’t also make carcinogenic chemicals is so hard it will make you sick in the metaphorical sense too.)
So go ahead and do whatever screening makes you comfortable. Talk to your doctor. Talk to your friends. Talk to the press, if you’re brave. But do not, do not, do NOT make this into one big sexy excuse to make crude jokes, sell shit, and spread misinformation.
If we really want to stop cancer, we need to go to the root causes. Finding a cure sounds flashy, but we could save lives right now, without any more research at all. There are lives we could have saved that we didn’t. We need to read labels and make smart choices about what we buy. We need to make sure all women have access to great health care. We need to fight radiation and carcinogens and corporate pink-washing of health information.
This is hard. Way harder than buying a t-shirt, and rather less fun, because no corporation is spending millions of dollars on an advertising campaign to make it fun and easy for you to hold them accountable. We need to do it anyway. The lives of people we love depend on it. We do not need a corporate sponsor or cheap puns to love each other and take care of each other and make change in this messed-up world. If you want to protect my health, stop talking about my bra and my boobs, and start talking about things that matter.
PS – This post comes with a gigantor disclaimer. I know a good number women who have found the pink campaigns to be an source of support, or at least the occasional laugh, during their battle with cancer, or during a loved one’s struggle. Also, some really fabulous women asked me to post my bra color. Just because I hate pink doesn’t mean I don’t love the hell out of you. But you know that already.
*Don’t know what I’m talking about? Then you haven’t been on Facebook in the last two days.