The Cancerous Campaign

By: Kaitlin Schluter

Freshman finance major Danny Beckwith loves boobies. But really, he does. It says so on the bracelet he’s worn since this summer. He vows to never take it off, unless it breaks. So, why the passion about this issue?

Beckwith laughed, blushing slightly as he exposed the blue and white bracelet from under his sleeve. He flipped over the plastic to reveal some faded words printed on the back: “Keep A Breast Foundation.” That’s why.

The Keep A Breast Foundation is a campaign that uses edgy mottos, like “I Love Boobies,” to promote breast cancer awareness. They’re not the only ones. Other campaigns have sprouted up, jumping on the laugh-out-loud bandwagon with mantras like “Walkers for Knockers,” “Taking Care of Your ‘Girls’” and “Save 2nd Base.”

These operations seek to replace the fear of battling breast cancer with a touch of humor. But at what costs? Opponents say the sexy slogans are too risky, devaluing the seriousness of the disease and using sensation to sell. The implications of each message have spurred both positive and negative responses.

For supporters, like Beckwith, it comes down to the intention of the wearer.

“When I first saw it, I was like, ‘I’m not going to wear it,’” said Beckwith, a recent graduate from Maranatha High School in Pasadena, Calif. “There was one kid at our school who wore it and it wasn’t until one of the teachers asked him about it that he explained it all and it really made sense. I didn’t realize it had the inside of it that says the website and all that stuff.”

Beckwith purchased the bracelet to support the cause, shortly after a couple friends had family members get diagnosed with breast cancer. He wears it for them and for others battling the life-threatening disease.

He still gets odd looks, especially from his grandparents’ friends, but he said people are less hostile once he explains.

Starla Anderson, assistant professor in the communication studies department, isn’t that understanding. Her 11-year-old son approached her last week asking to wear an “I love boobies” bracelet. He’s in middle school.

Anderson is not a stranger to the disease. Her sister had breast cancer, undergoing radiation and several reconstruction surgeries. She even had a double mastectomy where both breasts were removed. Although her son wanted to wear the bracelet for his aunt, he also said everyone at his school wore them.

“Our concern was not his heart on the issue. Our concern was that many kids would be looking at his bracelet and they would draw conclusions from what they read as to what kind of boy he is,” Anderson said. “I told him if he wants to support breast cancer, we will find a way to give him money [for] that cause and to support it in a way that won’t undermine his witness as a Christian to non-Christians.”

Anderson was not able to find any products without the “I Love Boobies” slogan on their website. She argued that the term “boobies” was derogatory towards women. Her sister frowns upon the slogan too, even though her 19-year-old daughter has the bracelet.

“Even though their hearts might be right, they’re still pushing the envelope on the way that they’re communicating it,” Anderson said.

REPLACING FEAR WITH FUN

Kimmy McAtee, spokesperson for Keep A Breast Foundation, sees pushing the envelope as a good thing.

“We wanted to wear something that could cause a conversation,” McAtee said. “Wearing a pink ribbon can get a smile from an older woman, but people barely get to engage in conversation with group peers and all walks of life, male and female, young and old.”

Keep A Breast Foundation, which caters to a young, hipster audience, typically sells bracelets at concerts or surf and skateboard competitions. They want to reach a demographic not frequently targeted by other breast cancer campaigns. These include young adults interested in music and art. In order to do so, they had to speak on the same level.

“Boobies is a word that anyone uses and you hear it from when you’re a baby,” McAtee said. “We’re not trying to be vulgar. We’re talking in the people’s own language.”

The organization has been around for nearly a decade, but the company came up with the slogan five years ago, evolving from a T-shirt design that simply stated “Boobies.” Before that, Keep A Breast Foundation made papier-mâche casts of women’s torsos that were painted by local artists. These works were then exhibited to portray the emotional struggle for breast cancer combatants. The project called Treasured Chest program continues today.

Unlike most breast cancer campaigns, Keep A Breast focuses their attention on spreading awareness for environmental causes. They also perform educational programs. This includes a breast pillow instruction that allows the individual to recognize tumors or “lumps.” By October 2001, they plan to launch a community center for recently diagnosed women.

Although some high schools have banned the bracelets, according to McAtee, she encourages people to ask ‘why’ the person wears it.

“You’re most often going to find an amazing story behind the wearer,” McAtee said.

Employees at The Village Eatery in Glendora, Calif. have supported one member’s story by wearing “Save the Tatas” T-shirts during Breast Cancer Awareness month in October. Owner Don Nolan does not see a problem with the social campaign, whose products have also received critique from the community. They have supported the cause for the last two years although some customers complain.

“We do occasionally get some people that make comments saying they don’t need to see that when they’re eating,” Nolan said. “But for the most part, it’s been pretty positive.”

One of the members on his staff has a mother who overcame breast cancer. A portion of the tips received in October went back to the organization. The company currently supports two researchers and offers scholarships to college students fighting breast cancer.

Opponents to Save the Tatas criticize their risky slogans and products. They sell products like “Boob Lube Soothing Body Lotion” and T-shirts with the message “My Tatas Have Fallen and They Can’t Get Up!”

Julia Fiske, founder of Save the Tatas, said they’re just trying to have fun.

“There’s not a lot of humor in breast cancer slogans out there so I basically thought that’s really scary to me when you think about it,” Fiske said. “When I see a gigantic pink ribbon, there’s some guilt addressed to it.”

Fiske started implementing the “Tatas” terminology in response. She eventually was asked to put the pink ribbon on her products.

As for their goods, the fine line of fun is narrow. Although Fiske said the campaign does not market to those under 18-years-old, children’s clothing is still sold. A “kids” section is advertised, two tabs over on the website from the “Boob Lube” body lotion webpage.

The product encourages women to check their breasts routinely for lumps. The video advertisement, though, has some sexual innuendos and suggests women don’t have to exam themselves alone. The commercial shows a man’s hands grabbing some of the lotion while in the shower with a woman.

“The goal of that video is to turn the breast check around from being scary and have fun,” said Fiske, adding that her husband’s uncle originally discovered the cancerous tumor on his aunt.

Fiske emphasized a need to build healthy habits.  She realizes her products are not for everyone, including those not ready to laugh.

THE AFFECTED RESPOND

For students who have experienced breast cancer first-hand, the perceptions of these campaigns vary.

Freshman undeclared major Breeanna Rolison was only eight when her mom died from breast cancer. Her mom was diagnosed in 1998 and died two years later. She doesn’t remember much about that time, but recalled her mother’s boldness. Even when her hair began to fall out, she refused to wear a hat when going into stores. When Breeanna’s mom passed away, life became harder.

By the time she entered high school, she started to recognize students wearing the “I Love Boobies” bracelets. At first, she was offended.

“It made me kind of judge the person wearing it,” Rolison said. “Like, OK, that’s how you feel about girls?”

Once Rolison understood the message, she appreciated their support although she still perceived the message as inappropriate. She feels the organization needs to make their message clearer and is wary of those wearing the bracelets for the wrong intentions. As for Rolison, she’s not looking to purchase one anytime soon.

“If that was a last resort, but I don’t have to,” Rolison said.

Senior marketing major Brandon Wood saw a lot of his friends getting the bracelets for those negative reasons. He wears the bracelet instead to support those dealing with all types of cancer. Both Wood and his mother have experienced skin cancer.

“I wear it for a purpose. I don’t wear it just to be funny,” Wood said, although people will mainly approach him for the humor factor.

Wood said he has never been confronted by anyone who was offended. People are rather eager to hear his explanation.

Junior liberal studies major Megan Burkhalter’s little brother also wears the bracelet. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. After chemotherapy and radiation, the cancer disappeared.

Since then, her mother has supported a lot of campaigns to spread awareness for breast cancer. She also participates in an online community called ‘Caring Bridge’ that connects women struggling with the same types of cancer. Burkhalter supports the Save the Tatas campaign with her mother, seeing these types of campaigns as having positive and negative effects.

Although she sees some of these as offensive, she feels the cause is still important.

“You can’t judge people’s motives for why they’re wearing them because they could know someone who has breast cancer,” Burkhalter said. “But it is unfortunate that that can be taken out of context. The best thing, at least, is it is for a good cause. If they’re wearing it, whether it’s for good reasons or not, it’s still promoting awareness.”

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