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FTBC and the Sexification of Breast Cancer

Claudia Schiffer Fashion Targets Breast Cancer FTBC UK campaignFashion Targets Breast Cancer is an organization dedicated to raising awareness and funds in support of breast cancer research, education, and patient care whose beginning in 1994 was sparked by Ralph Lauren's loss of his friend Nina Hyde to the disease. FTBC is touted as "...the worldwide fashion community's singular and most successful response to breast cancer."

Yay for them. I still hate how they promote it.

We are not inundated with shots of sproingy, young bodies that conform to our cultural ideals of fuckable beauty when it comes to other cancers such as colon and rectal cancer, so why must so many campaigns to raise funds and awareness for breast cancer, and specifically FTBC UK's most recent efforts, be so sexy?

Sienna Miller Fashion Targets Breast Cancer FTBC UK campaign  

Part of the reason for this is obvious: thoughts of colons and rectums just don't elicit sexy feelings in as much of the population as thoughts of breasts do. In response to the widespread sexy thoughts that any mention of the word breast elicits, FTBC UK has chosen to use Sienna Miller's spank-bankable image above, which is purportedly "bringing sexy back", to help further their cause.

FTBC UK, by the way, is using these images of the likes of Kylie Minogue, Claudia Schiffer, and Sienna Miller to promote sales of its fashion collection, 30% of which proceeds will go toward Fashion Targets Breast Cancer. None of the three are are shown wearing items from the listed collection to promote it.

I am not against sexy. I like sexy. The thing is, though, when I think of breast cancer, my mind doesn't leap to BOOBIES! like I think a lot of marketers thinks it does. Breast cancer just isn't sexy. In fact, it makes me feel anxious about every little ache in my chestal area and manages to suck some of those sexy thoughts right out of me.

What I am against is the pornification of a deadly and rampant type of cancer just because it primarily afflicts women. Prostate cancer is just as common, but we do not parade nubile, half-naked, ass-waggling men around in its service.

Why? It's not just because a lot of us don't like to think about their buttholes. It is also because our public images are generally served to men, whether consciously or not, and serving up hot men to promote prostate cancer awareness would uncomfortably gayify the whole the thing for a goodly portion of the male population. We can definitely serve up the hot ladies to promote breast cancer awareness, though, because as images served to men, they are anything but gayifying, despite the fact that their primary purpose is to supposedly target women.

Fighting breast cancer is not about being sexy or fighting to remain sexy. It is about fighting against a cancer that takes daughters and mothers and friends and lovers out of our lives in truly nasty and horrible ways. As a survivor of cervical cancer and someone who has had and will have friends battle breast cancer, the sexy spin that is often put on breast cancer just seems so wholly inappropriate. It also completely misses the fact that 1 in 1000 males gets breast cancer, too. I met a man who had battled breast cancer twice and had never even told his own family out of shame over the sexualized nature of his completely non-sexy condition.

When even this issue of such breadth and gravity is opportunistically sexualized without so much as a nod to the truth of the disease lived by its victims, survivors, and their families and friends, I kind of lose faith in how far we seem to believe women have come in terms of our visibility as full human beings within this society.

How do you feel about the sexification of breast cancer?

. . . . .
Schmutzie hopes that they don't start trying to make colon and rectal cancer bootylicious.

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THANK YOU. I always say that prostate cancer will be cured first because it's the disease that affects the wealthiest people in the world (older men). I believe breast cancer will be second for the very reasons you describe above. While curing any cancer is great, cancers are all different and it's sad to think some will be cured first because it's economically desirable or sexy.

Carol (@kaseandannasmom)

I participate in #BoobieWed on twitter, where many change their avatars to their cleavage. This is not to sexify breast cancer, but to remind folks to check their boobs once a week.

I get flak for doing this -- I'm not doing it for male attention or to be a whore. I do it because it's fun and light-hearted, a welcome juxtaposition to the darkness of breast cancer. In no way does that mean I take breast cancer lightly or that I don't understand how horrific it is (how well I know this is a very personal story).

I honestly feel like anything that draws attention to this disease and causes us to a) check ourselves often and b) brings $ to breast cancer research is a win.

Fawn Amber

I'm with Carol. Anything that draws attention and gets people to write checks gets an A in my book.

A few years ago, my sisters and I made our own shirts for the Susan G. Komen race, and our logo was a bumble bee dressed as a ghost. The slogan was something about "Saving the Boo-Bees" and I was surprised that a few people were actually offended. Now of course, the whole "Save the Tatas" thing is rampant and people seem ok with that.

I just don't care. I've lost too many women to breast cancer to have one iota of a problem with something like this bringing awareness. Bring it on.


Carol and Fawn Amber, while agree that simply showing boobs does not necessarily sexualize the disease, I cannot agree that any and all tactics are okay as long as they make money for research, especially those tactics that culturally work against us and put us in the position to argue their necessity. There are other ways.

Fairly Odd Mother

What I don't like about the sexualization of breast cancer awareness is that it seems like the underlying message is "Save your boobs b/c we (men) like them". And, "as long as you're hot."

The whole "save the tatas" or "boo-bees" tee shirt thing are funny in a wink-wink kind of way. I don't find this pouting, come-hither model funny. I think it's sad that we have to become sex objects in order to get people to pay attention to a terrible disease.

And, can you imagine the uproar if there was a campaign to "save the breasts" that showed a baby nursing? I'm sure there would be many saying how "disgusting" that is.


Beyond just the boobs thing, which is undoubtedly a part of the phenomenon, breast cancer is also just so very, very female. It's lady cancer. Even though men do get it (like that dude from KISS), it's just seen as quintessentially female. Of course, women get many kinds of cancer (my wife has esophageal cancer. we're still trying to find a t-shirt or bumper sticker for that one.) but the breast cancer "awareness" thing is, as I see it, just a part of the larger "woman" marketing machine. Real breast cancer awareness is a very good thing, but I think breast cancer is one of those few diseases whose victims are probably disenfranchised/misrepresented a bit by the culture that has grown up around it.

Hello, Schmutzie.


I like your post. The other thing I don't like, is that Breast cancer is the "sexy" cancer period. In reality Heart disease will take way more women, yet we are not nearly promoting the same level of awareness.

I am not saying Breast Cancer is not worthy of attention. My 5 yr old nephew is motherless because of it. I just think that as women we should be demanding the same research dollars and public attention to the biggest killer of women, not the most fashionable.


I wrote a post about it, and I'm right there with you



I'm with Fairly Odd Mother. My mother in law just endured a year of surgery, chemotherapy that, frankly, kicked her butt six ways to Sunday, radiation, and more surgery. She is a dignifed, devoutly Catholic 75 year old woman. She would be mortified by this ad campaign. She didn't save her "tatas" because she was worried about the reaction from her husband of 50-plus years. She fought the cancer because she wanted to frakkin' live. Because she wanted to see her newest grandbaby. Because she likes LIFE.

Just because cancer happens to be in a body part that is also linked to our sex lives, do we have to sexualize the cancer? I had a nephew who died of testicular cancer. Why don't we see hardbodied teenage models campaigning to raise funds for testicular cancer? Hmm.


THANK YOU, for finally pointing out that the whole breast cancer awareness = sexy thing is not quite right. Also, breast cancer sufferers/survivors/previvors (i.e. the whole female side of my family) may find it a bit off to have all these perfect, non-cancerous (excepting Kylie), non mastectomied boobs paraded in front in them in the name of 'the cause'. Just my two cents.


I think that it is pathetic that in order to raise the needed research money to find a cure for a disease that kills women, and if it doesn't kill them, may wrack them with psychological pain equal to the physical - much like cervical cancer marketers the world over have to "sexify" the disease. I wonder though - how much market research was done to prove out that this is the sort of campaign that actually WILL increase donations - or is it simply a case of someone's fancy on public display disguised as an attempt to do good?

Carol (@kaseandannasmom)

I agree that I don't like the sexualization of breast cancer -- but I do like the funny, tongue-in-cheek adverts & ideas about save the Bewbies etc. I do not enjoy the sexy sex of this ad as related to Breast Cancer, though.


Thank you.

I really do not like the sexualization of breast cancer at all. I feel like it just brings down the fight of the women I've known. And honestly, it's a big part of why I don't find the Walks fun. I don't want to have to feel I need to sexualize myself to raise money for cancer. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but we don't do "save the balls!" campaigns for other cancers, so why do we do "save the breasts!" campaigns when, honestly, cutting the damn things off can help some patients. Should the woman who gets a mastectomy feel ashamed that she didn't fight hard enough to "save her ta-tas"? It's not my bag. I'd rather draw attention in other ways. If you need to sexify it, do so in a classy way (like the Red Dress campaign for heart disease--which, frankly, deserves way more attention because it kills way more women and doesn't have giant foundations with giant pr machines behind it)


Yes. Thank you. I feel enough pressure to be sexy as it. Now I have to feel like I'm not measuring up as sexy enough with my Frankenboob that is caving in on itself. If they absolutely must have a campaign with half-naked women, show a woman who had a lumpectomy or a mastectomy looking absolutely freaking gorgeous and radiant because she kicked cancer's ass.


I personally feel that this campaign does not "sexify" breast cancer because of the media's liking and obsession with women living up to a sexual stereotype which fits with every males fantasy. While I see how it can be interpreted this way, in the case of Kylie Minogue, it is celebrating her survival and it demonstrates how having breast cancer does not destroy your power as a beautiful and sexy woman. The campaign surely should be seen as inspiration for women who have been touched by breast cancer and even those who haven't. These women are comfortable and confident in their own skin. It isn't about being stick thin or the typical idea of "beautiful". It's about women using their confidence, power and love for who they are and the body they are in to raise awareness and money for a fantastic cause. There is nothing to say that women could not do the same type of campaign for colon cancer. The message is the same. Strong, beautiful and confident - cancer won't beat us

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