Last week artwork for breast cancer awareness ads in Mozambique began circulating the internet. Many sites, including this one, praised the campaign.

Then many thoughtful bloggers wrote wonderful posts about the campaign and their disagreement with it.

The main argument being that the images, in focusing on the breasts, boiled women down to their breasts.

It made me rethink things. Over the weekend I found myself often rereading posts about the images and simply staring at the images. I thought a lot about cancer and about superheroines and about women and about the role breasts have in our society. How breasts are linked to our sexuality and our femininity. How men want them, but women want to have them. How men will still look at a woman if she’s flat, but how a woman might feel crushed after a mastectomy or lumpectomy. How breasts are just about dudes but how we feel when we have them. I even made up a bevy of equivalency tests. Wondering where were the images of  Superman and Batman checking their prostate, or breasts, or testicles.

But in the end it comes down to this: are these images erotic?

They are. Those breasts have a great deal of cleavage and they glisten unnaturally like comic book/anime boobs. The very nature of a self exam is titillating to a lot of men because of the similarities between it and masturbation.

And removing the faces of the characters dehumanizes them, but their costumes make them recognizable–to the point that it rehumanizes them. I don’t need to see Wonder Woman’s face to know she’s Wonder Woman and she and Steve Trevor have a thing and she flies and invisible jet.

The emphasis is more on technique–how the hands change from image to image. While men may find it erotic, these images are boiled down to breasts to focus on the exam–not to titillate.

Where “Save the Boobies” sprung up around guys being clever and making breasts all about dudes, this campaign is about the exam and how vital it is no matter how demeaning or silly one might feel.

And yeah, doing a self exam can feel silly. There’s contorting and splaying and if someone walks in on it they’ll give you a funny look.

In the end, after a weekend of seriously considering this–probably more than I should have–I realized I still really did like the campaign because though it may objectify and it may give some especially dirty dudes wank material ultimately it does good. It works to remove stigma and empower women, and when we’re talking about breast cancer those are two things we desperately need.

And by the way, dudes? You’re self exams for testicular cancer and prostate cancer? Just as sexy looking what with the cupping of testicles and the fingering of prostates. And those exams? Just as important. So instead of being creepy and getting satisfaction from images that are essentially one step up from a Sears catalog maybe you should shut your pie hold and check you other hole for irregularities. And maybe, one day, we’ll have a whole series of images of Batman and Superman examining themselves without it being called porn.*

A woman can only hope.

Artwork by Halfy

*And now I’ve given myself the image of Superman with his legs in the air checking his prostate. That really puts into perspective how ridiculous all these breast self exam images are doesn’t it? Some artist needs to make that image happen. Stat.


  • Christie Mayer

    As an artist, one must consider the message they are trying
    to convey. If the image pulled back and showed the entire face of the woman,
    many viewers (especially women) would focus directly on the face and the poster’s
    meaning wouldn’t resonate. IMHO, it’s less about dehumanizing women and more about
    taking artistic license to effectively communicate a message. 

  • Anjasa .

    Madeline made a comment on the link you posted:

    “I have to say, I freakin’ love this campaign because it cleverly
    addresses the all-too-common idea of being “less than woman” if one has
    breast cancer.”

    This really resonates with me. I think that’s an excellent message to send. There’s a lot of really, really terrible ads out there for breast cancer – I think ‘Save the Boobies’ is just a terribly offensive piece of work for the dozens of stated reasons such as boiling a woman down to the status of her breasts and the borderline victim blaming of making it seem like all ‘boobies’ can be saved with regular self exams.

    Though my partner did wonder who it could be targetted to. Does Mozambique have a huge population of comic book fans?

  • Anonymous

    As a guy, I agree with your assessment. I thought it was an effective message about the importance of early detection of breast cancer through self exams. Honestly, I don’t find the images “titillating” or “erotic.” They look like a woman giving herself an exam. They don’t really look like masturbation at all, in my opinion. Besides, if guys want to get off on comic book porn, I’m sure they can find plenty of it on the Internet. They don’t need this. So overall, I still think it’s a good and effective public awareness campaign.

  • Kids all around my high school were wearing the Save the Boobies bands. It was a great idea to send the message home to younger girls about the seriousness of breast cancer but the message didn’t hit home. It became a cool, trendy fashion statement that was popular last year and is now dying off. Shame that something so powerful was turn trivial really quickly.