Cleavage for a cause?

#Mamming, pinkwashing, and the cancer industry

By Sharon Miki, Columnist

Cancer is an asshole.

The Canadian Cancer Society estimates that 200 Canadians die from cancer every day. Every day! As we transition from October’s breast cancer awareness month and into November’s prostate cancer and men’s health awareness month (i.e. Movember), we’re undeniably inundated with pink ribbons, moustaches, and other awareness campaigns to the point of awareness gluttony. With one particularly faddy new initiative, #Mamming, going viral, the question must be raised: are these so-called awareness campaigns actually doing any good?

#Mamming is a breast cancer awareness campaign cooked up by a team of New York-based ad executives to coincide with October’s breast cancer awareness month. According to the initiative’s website, #Mamming is the act of laying your (clothed) boobs on a flat surface—like a counter, or a bench—or the body of a person who is “planking,” to mimic the action of getting a mammogram. The idea is cute and smart in that it pretty much guarantees widespread exposure: who doesn’t enjoy pictures of breasts? In a selfie-obsessed world, encouraging people to take cleavage-licious pictures of themselves and post them on Instagram is a slam dunk—if exposure is your goal. But what good does posting a picture of your boobs do to actually prevent or combat the disease?

This is the issue with cancer marketing programs: campaigns like #Mamming, Movember, and pinkwashing (i.e. slapping a pink colour or ribbon on a product and branding it as a cancer-awareness product) are indeed great opportunities to remind the public of cancer’s pervasiveness, but they can also create a false and dangerous sense of accomplishment.

Sure, if these campaigns inform and remind individuals of the need to be vigilant in their own preventative health with screenings and check-ups, then they do serve a purpose. However, wrapping a complicated cause like cancer up in a pink bow can make people feel like they’ve checked “worry about cancer” off their to-do list… without actually having really done anything.

Posting a picture of my breasts online may make me feel like I’ve done something to prevent or help treat cancer, but all I’ve really done is reminded my friends and followers of my cup size. #Mamming doesn’t even guarantee that I’ve done anything to help myself. I could see myself posting a picture of #Mamming on something hilarious (say, a Ronald McDonald statue), laughing at my own ingenuity, and then forgetting completely about actually getting a mammogram. Similarly, I’m sure I’ll see 100 guys growing moustaches for the cause this month, and all of them will feel they’ve done something—but how many will actually raise money for men’s health research and treatment? How many will actually walk their moustachioed faces to the doctor for a prostate exam?

Cancer creeps up out of nowhere, it destroys its prey from the inside out, and it leaves its victims and the people who love them feeling helpless. It’s this feeling of helplessness and the innate human urge to do something to stop cancer that has spurred countless cancer-based campaigns to raise awareness and money for research in the name of doing something. If participating in cancer awareness campaigns makes you feel like you’re spreading the word, great; but be aware that the fight doesn’t end with your tits on the dinner table.