October has been declared as Breast Cancer Awareness Month and with that comes the shocking preponderance of pink products in the shops. The campaign for raising funds towards breast cancer awareness has included the hawking of pink dresses, cosmetics and teddy bears, as well as major charity events such as the online extravaganza "Boobie-Thon 2006".
The Boobie-Thon that has been running annually for five years now, features over a thousand female (and a few male) bloggers sending photographs of their disembodied breasts on a dedicated website. These images accessible to any and all for a sundry sum of $50 fee is supposed to have its proceeds going to a breast cancer charity.
The question that comes to mind is anything acceptable so long as it is for charity? Certainly Boobie-Thon is not the only one. Over the past few years, using female nudity as a fundraising tactic has become extremely popular.
For instance mainstream pioneers of this field the animal-rights charity Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) with its famous campaign "I'd rather go naked than wear fur" has featured several celebrities such as Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Sadie Frost, all smoldering sexily before the camera. In June, the Hollywood actress and long time supporter Pamela Anderson, posed naked in the window of Stella McCartney's London shop. Critics have accused Peta ,self declared enemy of meat products, of using women as pieces of meat.
Peta in its defense argued that its organization is mainly staffed by 'feminist women' and that it has run "naked" advertisements using men, too. Several other of Peta's campaigns has also given the lie to its "pro-women" stance.
Fundraising for breast cancer awareness has crossed all barriers of norms and decencies with many campaigns right from China to South Africa to the United States using young models, celebrities or actresses going topless. This year, a charity distributed a mouse mat featuring a photograph of a pair of perfect breasts to all internet cafés in Hong Kong.
While the importance of fundraising for breast cancer causes cannot be taken lightly with around 41,700 women in Britain being afflicted with the disease each year, and killing about 12,400. However the question arises as to whether getting women to expose their breasts really the best approach to fundraising, or to raising awareness?
American commentator Barbara Ehrenreich, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, has come down heavily over the infantilization and feminization of the disease - the pink products, the teddy bears. According to her the sexualization of the disease is also pernicious.
Of course to its advantage it attracts many celebrity supporters. However, research has shown that comprehension of the disease among the most severely affected group, older women, is much lower than it should be. This situation can be mostly attributed to most of the "faces" of the disease being in their twenties and thirties.
According to Robyn Pollman, the Florida-based founder of the Boobie-Thon, "sending a message that 'if our breasts are worth looking at, they're worth saving' is very empowering". Somehow inadvertently, she gets to the crux of the matter that part of the reason why breast cancer attracts more attention than other causes is that our culture does value women's breasts apparently more than the value it places on women in general.
Although raising money for breast cancer research is hugely important, surely more interesting, more inventive and less harmful ways can be found to raise a buck.