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Can Naked Breasts Make Important Political Points?

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Photo Credit: Mark Lidikay/Wikimedia Commons

Coppa Feel and similar campaigns embody some pretty serious stereotypes about women and sexuality. The tactic they use to “lighten it up,” to sell funny shirts and bracelets to both boys and girls, is to center cancer awareness around the importance of breasts to a woman’s femininity, and to the men who want to “get to second base” with them. If the shirts said “Save Your Lives” instead of “Save the Tattas”, and the bracelets said “I <3 Good Health!” instead of “I <3 Boobies!” would anyone be wearing them? If the calendar was filled with clothed girls and featured tips about how to give yourself a breast exam, would they have made a profit? Probably not, but that reveals that this campaign isn’t just about cancer awareness and prevention—it’s about strategically using stereotypes about women’s bodies, identities, sexuality and worth for a “sex sells” campaign around a completely unsexy disease. A disease that often requires mastectomies or leaves breasts deformed, forcing women to re-define their femininity while being constantly surrounded by “supporters” who sport “I <3 Boobies!” bracelets and show off their own healthy breasts to “raise awareness.”

 In reality, the only honest and informative way to spread awareness should be to do just that— to make people aware. These campaigns are hardly “lightening up” the issues; instead, they’re misrepresenting them. Cute-ifying cancer through hot pink bracelets, naked cheerleaders winking at rugby boys, and frivolous “save second base” T-shirts doesn’t really make people aware of the disease or how to effectively prevent it, but it does reinforce some harmful stereotypes about our feminine identities. Spreading real awareness isn't cute or commercial, but neither is cancer. 

So yes, the girls in the calendar got naked for a cause, and yes, SlutWalk protestors get naked for a cause, too. But is it hypocritical to be critical of using nudity for one cause and not the other?  I say no. It comes down to normalising vs. challenging societal expectations about women and their bodies.  Coppa Feel, and women who proudly pose naked to earn their profits, reinforces existing notions about breasts—that they’re sexualised objects separate from the woman herself, and they exist largely for male pleasure. SlutWalk challenges these sorts of ideas—women’s breasts are not men’s toys, and their bodies are their own. However, it’s important to recognize that criticism should be examined from the top-down—these large and complicated issues did not start nor will they end with a cheerleading team’s naked calendar.

A naked female body makes a statement, but that statement is not a blank canvas—whether we like it or not, our bodies are always political. But the politics are always changing—two years ago, who would have thought that there’d one day be a powerful movement called a SlutWalk? Context matters. Motivation matters. And when it comes to breast cancer awareness, lives should matter—not just “boobies.”