Bras, Femininity, and the Hypocricy of Marketing Breast Cancer Awareness Campaigns

It must have been almost two months ago now when a friend of mine asked me to look into a bra company’s campaign to raise money for breast cancer awareness. She’s rather saucy, I love her to pieces, and she works for a lingerie company so she was particularly familiar with this campaign. She was referring to the Wacoal Fit for the Cure campaign that, low and behold, is partnered with the Komen Foundation (I swear I’m not even trying to target Komen in this post, this just keeps happening to me 😂).

OK, so this campaign seems legitimate in that the money from Fit for the Cure is going towards breast cancer awareness related causes. Komen rates Wacoal as one of their champion partners, having donated an estimated $4.7 million since 1999. The Fit for the Cure campaign is pretty simple — local Wacoal stores nationwide have a fitting day in October where if you just have a bra fitted, you don’t need to buy it, Wacoal donates two dollars to Komen, and if you buy one of their bras an additional two dollars is donated. Wacoal claims the donations have been used for “breast cancer research and other community [outreach] programs.” I’m confident that if you go to a Wacoal a Fit for the Cure event, money will actually be donated to Komen. How effective that donation is could be open for interpretation, but that’s not the purpose of this week’s post. This post for that reason is not a pink ribbon investigation.

However, when I was looking into the Fit for the Cure campaign, I just felt uncomfortable and I couldn’t quite put my finger onto why that was the case. I might just be a judgmental asshole, that’s fine whatever, but I’m willing to bet my discomfort goes a little deeper than that.

To make it clear, there’s rumors floating around the Internet that wearing bras causes breast cancer. Those rumors are not proven to be true at this time and should be disregarded. So my discomfort for this campaign is not due to some scientific controversy.

It’s easy to say that I’m frustrated with how sexy the promotional campaign photos are. But damn it, Wacoal is a lingerie company, and I can’t get particularly frustrated with the sex appeal of their photos. I’m not that much of a fundamentalist prude after all.

So what has me so frustrated then? It’s on the tip of my tongue, and I struggle to put it into words, but bear with me. The issue I have with the Wacoal Fit for the Cure campaign isn’t it’s blatant sex appeal, but rather its disconnect with the breast cancer survivor community. It’s obvious that the campaign tries to broaden its potential consumer base to as many women as possible. But the campaign is isolating the very people it’s supposed to be championing and supporting.

So how is it isolating them? Well for starters, there’s an emerging market niche in the bra and lingerie industry that caters to breast cancer survivors precisely because standard lingerie companies were not making products that fit their needs. Companies like AnaOno Intimatesfor example are thriving because they not only create bras and lingerie that are suitable for breast cancer survivors, but their advertising uses actual breast cancer survivors. Wacoal does not represent the voice of the breast cancer survivor community; Wacoal represents a corporate voice that’s trying to make the average adult female consumer care about breast cancer awareness through cause related marketing.

Going a step further, breast cancer awareness campaigns such as Fit for the Cure do not exist in a vacuum. They touch on the fundamental hypocritical messages women receive from society about femininity. These campaigns proport that women need to helped, saved even. Women are dying. But then they also promote that for everyone else, women should still have fully intact breasts to fit masculine-set societal standards. It’s the beauty myth that women can’t ever seem to escape — it’s a vicious cycle.

In the 21st century digital age, I’m finding that an increasing amount of women are coming out of the shadows online and through their courage, they’re revolutionizing the way we view breast cancer survivorship. They are actively fighting this hypocrisy. Here are a few great examples:

Trending within the breast cancer community on Instagram this week, breast cancer survivor Caitlin Marcoux beautifully exposes herself in a raw photo shoot with photographer Robert Sturman. She writes, “But this is all to say that breast cancer is horrifyingly common now, and it’s time we redefined beauty, so that millions of women who live without breast[s], without nipples, without milk ducts, or nipple-stimulated orgasms, can feel beautiful again.” Check out the photo @robertsturman or on Robertsturmanstudio.com. Photo not my own.
Photographer David Jay unveiled a ground breaking collection in 2011 called the SCAR Project. Young breast cancer survivors in their twenties from all over the world participated. He writes, “Ultimately the SCAR Project is not about breast cancer, but the human condition itself; the images transcend the disease, illuminating the scars that unite us all.” For more, visit davidjayphotography.com. Photo not my own.
Photographer Isis Cherise launched in 2014 the “Grace” Project, which “is a series of portraits of women who have experienced Mastectomy Surgery in order to survive breast cancer.” Ellen Ruddick from Bust Magazine writes, “Like sculptural relics that have survived the aged, the women are seen with the utmost reverence; the bodily marks of their strife become signs of their timeless courage.” Visit her website the-grace-project.org. Photo not my own.

After seeing these photos, go back to the Fit for the Cure homepage, try it. Suddenly the campaign looks different, right? It seems so far removed from the advances that breast cancer survivors have made about body image and femininity. The traditional idea of feminine beauty portrayed by lingerie companies just is totally opposite to beauty trends in the breast cancer space that not only accept, but embrace nudity, scars, and imperfections. Body acceptance and the breaking of the beauty myth is the future of breast cancer awareness, and it would be wise for lingerie companies like Wacoal to jump on board.

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