Coppafeel or Coppafail: What’s the Problem with Sewing Breast Cancer Awareness Into Bras?

coppafeel bra label

Elisabeth Dale is changing the world, one boob at a time. As a breast expert and author, she has been featured in The New York Times, Glamour, and on Good Morning America. Elisabeth’s book, bOObs: A Guide to your Girls, is a humorous and informative guide to women’s breasts. To learn more, please visit her at TheBreastLife.com.

Are you ready for breast cancer awareness in your bra? If one charitable group has its way, a breast health message will soon be found in every woman’s lingerie drawer. Coppafeel.org, has launched the #brahijack campaign, encouraging lingerie brands to sew a unique label into their bras. Two lingerie companies, including the youthful full-bust brand Curvy Kate, have agreed to add these tags in early 2014. Starting next year, your bra may be reminding you that “checking your boobs could save your life.”

Like many breast cancer charities, Coppafeel was born out of the experience of a young woman diagnosed with breast cancer. When she found a suspicious lump at age 23, her doctor didn’t take it seriously. Although rare in young women, breast cancer if often more aggressive (striking 1 in 250 under 30 years of age versus 1 in 8 over a woman’s lifetime). But it is women in their early 60s that make up the majority of those diagnosed with this disease. As a member of this older, more mature generation, I don’t think of my bra as a resource for breast health advice.

breast_self_exam

Plus experts disagree about the value of teaching women to perform breast self-exams. Most major organizations no longer recommend women go through the monthly ritual because there is no evidence that they “save lives.”

Many women are also angered and offended by breast cancer awareness campaigns that rely on sexual innuendo to get their message across (think Save the Tat-Tas, Boobies, or Second Base). Gayle Sulik, author and founder of the Breast Cancer Consortium, explains it this way:

“The Coppafeel campaign is problematic in the way it sexually objectifies women. To cop a feel is to touch a woman’s breasts or buttocks when she is not expecting it. This is quite literally the opposite of sexual empowerment and undermines women’s control of their own bodies.”

Using catchy hash tags and sexy slogans distracts from the ugly realities of breast cancer: it’s not about the boobs. (They’re the first to go.) It’s about women’s lives, not their bras. The energy used in creating, attaching, and displaying this label doesn’t multiply research dollars, aid in coordinating research efforts, or lead to treatments that extend the lives of women living or dying with the deadliest of cancers. It might make a bra company look as if they’re doing something positive and meaningful for women’s health, but it’s just another way of “pinkwashing” the disease.

When I emailed a Curvy Kate representative about their involvement in the #brahijack campaign, they responded: “The campaign isn’t about promoting breast self-exams, it’s about encouraging women to know their breasts and to check them regularly so they can then seek medical help if they find something unusual or if things don’t feel normal.” But is this really a problem? Turns out that 80% of women, or their partners, are the ones reporting breast health problems to physicians. Women aren’t as unaware of the changes to their breasts as some might think.

It’s hard to imagine a man being asked to check his prostate via his boxers or briefs. He’s cautioned to visit his doctor, undergo tests, and treated with dignity when faced with the embarrassing possibility of erectile dysfunction. There’s no reason that women with breast cancer (a disease that also strikes men) shouldn’t be treated with the same respect.

So please, keep your messaging out of my bra. I put one on to feel supported, uplifted, and beautiful underneath my clothes. The perfect fit even lets me forget about my breasts for a bit. Don’t #brahijack mine unless it fails to do its job.

What do you think? Should bra companies add breast cancer awareness labels to their bras?

Holly

Holly

The Full Figured Chest provides creative and elegant copywriting for the high end lingerie industry.

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49 Comments

  1. anon
    21/11/13 at 9:15

    Totally agree.

  2. 21/11/13 at 15:35

    Thank you! The sexualization of breast cancer irritates me to no end.

  3. Oliver
    21/11/13 at 19:15

    Ew! Not buying from Curvy Kate anymore.

  4. Deb
    22/11/13 at 4:13

    I think that you have totally missed the point. If this campaign saves even one life then it is worth it. Just because you don’t want to check your breasts, doesn’t mean that it might encourage someone else. And if you don’t want to check…..just ignore the label. I’m sorry but I find your article ignorant and ridiculous. I am presuming that you have never suffered from cancer? Once you have (and my cancer is not breast cancer), you want to do all you can to help make others aware and to encourage every opportunity for them to keep an eye out for any signs. Because people like Coppafeel and me don’t want others to have to go through chemo if they don’t have to, to have their lives turned upside down, or to have to live with the reality that they may not get to have children, or see those children leave school. Your article is shocking….and the fact that you may influence others is so so sad.

    • Thanks, Deb, for your comment on my article. If there was any scientific proof that breast self-exams saved one life, than I would be all for such a campaign. But the Coppafeel label doesn’t teach anyone about breast self exams, a far more intricate and involved investigation of one’s body. Breast cancer isn’t one disease that presents itself the same way in each woman and it’s incorrect to assume that “finding it early” means a woman will avoid chemo or a mastectomy. For an additional perspective (from a writer who has been through breast cancer twice) on the impact of “awareness” campaigns in savings lives, please read: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/28/magazine/our-feel-good-war-on-breast-cancer.html?_r=0 While not relevant to my post, my mother did have breast cancer — back in the day when women weren’t given any say in their treatment, much less allowed to talk about the disease. She found her own lump. But that fact doesn’t give me any special knowledge about breast cancer, it’s causes, or my own personal risk.

  5. Helen
    22/11/13 at 4:17

    I have to say I totally disagree with what you are saying. Firstly Coppafeel target young women to get to know their breasts at a young age, because as research shows young women are ‘too scared’ to examine their breasts. Scared of what they might find, nervous that they wont know what to look for and its also simply not part of their daily routine. The whole point of Coppafeel is to bring a light hearted feel to an important message to encourage young girls not to be nervous to check their boobs! The better we know our boobs the more equipped we will be to notice a difference. Whether this is when we are 20 or 50! Its about installing life style changes earlier to help women detect breast cancer later on in life. If it wasn’t for Coppafeel I wouldn’t be checking my breasts on a regular basis nor would all my friends. I will certainly be buying a Coppafeel bra because it will remind me EVERY day how important it to COPPAFEEL!

    • There’s certainly nothing wrong with getting to know your own breasts (or any other part of your body for which you have a health concern). But there is a growing body of evidence that all the messaging involved in “awareness” campaigns doesn’t make women any more knowledgeable about breast cancer. A recent survey found that 90% of women either under or over-estimate their risk of the disease. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elisabeth-dale/breast-cancer-awareness-month_b_4174122.html I’m not sure how telling young women to touch their breasts lessens their anxiety or educates them about their risk of the disease.

      • VVE
        22/11/13 at 12:55

        I’d say “telling young women to touch their breasts” was pretty important to be honest, the more familiar you are, the more likely you are to notice any changes. It’s the simplest of things and takes 5 minutes.

  6. Kaye Affresco
    22/11/13 at 4:31

    I always struggle to understand why people so often give negative criticism without any suggestion of a better method. What exactly have you contributed in this article? You come across as a leech taking from your the proactive coppafeel campaign and contributing nothing for the sake of having fodder for your blog.

    • I’m sorry if my point didn’t seem clear to you. My proactive stance is that we need to do more than sew labels into bras if we want to eradicate breast cancer. Far too much energy has been put into making women aware of this disease, but that has not reduced the incidence of breast cancer or made much of a difference in the number of women dying from the disease. These breast cancer statistics make that clear: http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/breast.html

  7. Sarah
    22/11/13 at 4:44

    I completely disagree. I had breast cancer when I was 27. I had to have a mastectomy and go through chemo, radio – the full works! If someone had told me beforehand that I ought to be checking myself regularly I really believe that I could have found my lump much sooner and potentially saved my left boob.

    I think CoppaFeel! are just trying to make us more breast aware. Yesterday am OECD study showed that we have one of the lowest rates of cancer survival in Europe. A large part of this is because women aren’t checking or they’re missing their mammograms and therefore their breast cancer is discovered at a stage when treatment is less effective. If we could just get ourselves on par with the rest of Europe we’d save 10,000 lives a year.

    So CoppaFeel! are doing an incredible thing and if you don’t like #brahijack have you got any better ideas to her people checking? I’m
    sure they’d love to hear them

    • Hi Sarah. I’m very sorry to hear about your experience with breast cancer. My own daughter is 24 years old and I can’t imagine how difficult it would be for someone that age to go through chemo, mastectomy, and recovery. Although breast cancer is young women only accounts for 5% of all cases, not all breast cancers act in the same way. Younger women tend to get the far more aggressive and faster growing types. There’s no effective method, at present, of “finding” these types at earlier stages (mammography being even less effective in this population due to greater breast density). Even mammograms miss 10 to 15% of cancers. So the incidence of aggressive breast cancers in young women won’t decline if they are only given some vague directive to be “aware.” What’s needed is more science and research.

  8. Thursday
    22/11/13 at 5:06

    I’ve been reading it over and I’m still really confused by the response from the Curvy Kate rep: “The campaign isn’t about promoting breast self-exams, it’s about encouraging women to know their breasts and to check them regularly so they can then seek medical help if they find something unusual or if things don’t feel normal.”

    I thought that breast self-exams WERE about checking your breasts regularly and seeking medical help if something is amiss? The response seems to be saying that self exams are something different. Really confused.

    • You’d have to ask Curvy Kate or Coppafeel about the specifics of this campaign. You are right, though. Breast self-exams (like clinical breast exams) are about feeling your breasts in a certain prescribed way, at regular intervals each month.

  9. Sophie
    22/11/13 at 5:54

    Why wouldn’t you want to potentially save someone else’s life?

  10. 22/11/13 at 6:15

    Whilst I can understand personal experience affecting people’s perspective on cancer, the reality is that the stats don’t back up some of the passionate comments here.
    And assuming that someone writing hasn’t had any brushes with any form of cancer in our social or family circles is similarly oblivious – who amongst us could really say that?
    Health behaviours are almost always a matter of probabilities; yes, some women get breast cancer very young. Yes, some women might have survived longer if they found it earlier. But you know what’s more statistically probable to happen to you as a young woman? Sexual assault. So why link a campaign to improve breast cancer identification with a marketing angle that feeds into sexual objectification? And how does objectification help people feel comfortable in their own bodies?
    This article doesn’t seem to be saying we shouldn’t promote breast health or body awareness – it’s saying that the way this particular campaign is pitched has some major problems. No matter how personal the urge to save lives, should we really ignore both the data on what would help – and the data on what doesn’t? Sexual objectification and focussing on age groups that are the primary risk group are not behaviours that come without a cost. You could impact positively on one persons health and wellbeing but contribute to poor outcomes to thousands of others.

    • 22/11/13 at 6:39

      Sorry, my last paragraph should say, focussing on age groups that are NOT at highest risk isn’t a cost free exercise. Pretty crucial negative I inexplicably failed to type.

  11. Barnaby Cook
    22/11/13 at 6:27

    Irresponsible, self serving, and quite frankly dangerous rhetoric from Elisabeth Dale here (unfortunately the formatting in the comments section doesn’t give me the benefit Elisabeth had of being able to BOLD certain words to emphasise my point, but use your imagination).

    I’d question some of the facts here. Elisabeth quotes a figure of 1 in 250 under 30. These stats from Breast Cancer Care – “Risk up to and including age 29: 1 in 2000. Granted that risk comes down (risk up to and including age 39 – 1 in 215), but when it comes to a life threatening disease such as cancer let’s at least be specific.

    Elisabeth says that “Most major organizations no longer recommend women go through the monthly ritual because there is no evidence that they “save lives.””

    A quick check of the first three websites that came to mind reveal:

    Breakthrough Breast Cancer – “Breakthrough encourages all women to be breast aware through our Touch Look Check campaign”

    Macmillan – “By checking your breasts regularly for lumps and other changes, you can improve your chances of finding breast cancer at an early, curable stage”

    Breast Cancer Care – “Being breast aware is part of caring for your body. It means getting to know how your breasts look and feel so you know what is normal for you”

    Can Elisabeth expand on some of her sources?

    The only reason my girlfriend found a lump in her breast was that we moved house and she lost the sponge she usually washes with. If she had had little triggers like the BraHijack campaign to remind her to examine herself regularly, she would have caught her cancer before it had reached Grade 3, Stage 3 and had spread to her lymph nodes, aged 31.

    What’s your suggestion for people like her? I’d like to know what you are doing to help stamp out late detection beyond criticising people who are trying?

    Anyway, furious rant over. To me this is one, big, #ElisabethDaleFail

    • 22/11/13 at 6:42

      I’m unclear as to how anything you’ve written here actually tackles the objections to the coppafeel campaign, which are largely around the yet again pinkwashing and sexual objectifcation of a breast cancer campaign. Your loved one notwithstanding, breast cancer, like most cancers, is significantly more of a risk as you get older. There is a huge difference between what would have helped one person and what will help the population overall, and it is just not as simple as if a campaign makes one woman examine her breasts and catch a lump earlier then that makes it all ok.

      • Barnaby
        22/11/13 at 9:17

        Hi Catherine, ok fair enough – it was a bit of an emotional outburst and didn’t address the issue of sexual objectification. But I’d be interested to know what would make you/others feel ok about the BraHijack campaign? Or are you suggesting that they should pull it? Surely this isn’t descending into a competition about what’s worse – cancer or sexual objectification? A race to the bottom I fear. Also I think it’s more than a little unfair to present it as an issue of one vs many when this campaign has the potential to change the behaviour of thousands of people, not just that it might have helped one person I happen to know. So in the interests of keeping this positive and about what people can do to help others I would be interested to hear from people what they think would work?

        • 22/11/13 at 15:34

          Actually I do think they should pull it. There are already numerous relevant charities and campaigns and it’s not clear to me what this adds to their established work, and I suspect many of them base it far more on research about what’s actually effective to change health behaviours than coming up with catchy marketing ideas. (I have a friend who is a health psychologist and there seriously is a whole slew of studies on how to change behaviours effectively. It’s not my speciality but I have yet to hear sex it up and use sexual objectifying language as something anyone thought would do any good; but I might check with her, just in case she knows. I’m thinking no-one involved in this project has actually asked doctors what needs to happen to reduce mortality is and health psychologist how to get people to engage in whatever that might be is. Plus you might find the answer from the doctor was a bit more complicated than more self examination).
          If I was going to put business money into breast cancer awareness for girls and young women, I’d go for these people in the UK:
          http://www.breastcancercare.org.uk/
          Or Cancer Research for more general cancer work.
          Race to the bottom wise, I see it more as health issues being complex; there are always costs and benefits, payoffs to be made in decisions, both as individuals and as a society. If you can’t evidence base good outcomes from your work, and there are clearly some extremely poor implications – to me, that’s not a sensible pay off for a campaign.
          And I don’t limit this to breast cancer or even physical health campaigns, I have significant issues with some of the “awareness” campaigns for mental health issues too (and that IS my area!).
          Scuse the rambliness, it’s Friday evening here :)

    • Hi Barnaby. The bolded words in my blog post link to my resources (except for the bolded words in Gayle Sulik’s quote). I’ve also linked to other sources and additional information and statistics in my replies to others, above. Even the American Cancer Society no longer recommends that women perform monthly breast self-exams (instead listing it as an option) and specifically point out its limitations. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/detailedguide/breast-cancer-detection I’m not advocating that women not be aware of or report any breast changes to their doctors. That is what they do now. But I do think it is more harmful to teach young women that a breast self-exam finds cancers before advanced treatments (such a chemo and mastectomy) are necessary. That’s simply not true. What’s known about breast cancer is that it’s not one disease and is more deadly in certain populations (including men). What experts used to assume about breast cancer (that it starts slow and progresses the same way in all cases) is no longer accurate.

  12. AE3nn
    22/11/13 at 8:06

    I do not want it. We are quite saturated in terms of ‘awareness’, except, perhaps, when it comes to awareness of the recent study on the lack of medical benefits of the monthly self-exam. The name of the campaign is offensive and sexualized, and I loathe the word ‘boob’ instead of ‘breast’ in what is meant to be a medical context.

    Stop shoving your pink stuff down my throat and focus on actually doing something useful if it matters that much to you. Become a cancer researcher, someone who fits bras on women post-mastectomy, or volunteer for an organization which brings meals/gives rides/offers other forms of support for cancer patients. ‘Awareness’ is no longer helpful.

    I hope you’ll point out some of these negative views to the companies who have decided to take part in what can only be considered pinkwashing for public relations. There is absolutely nothing about this campaign which will help any person, unless it is to help someone feel better about herself instead of doing something to really benefit those with breast cancer.

  13. Becks
    22/11/13 at 11:42

    I think the biggest thing to remember is that, whilst this campaign is largely aimed at younger women and men, they will at some stage, if they are lucky, get to grow older and good health habits learnt will continue, so that surely will only help increase cancer survival rates in later generations? This campaign and others like it, is not just about the here and now, it can have far reaching consequences that we have yet to see. I for one applaud any campaign that encourages people to talk, discuss and do something about cancer.

    • I, too, applaud any campaign that educates the general public. My mother was diagnosed back in the day when you couldn’t even say the word “breast” when talking about cancer. So we have come a long way and made significant progress is speaking up about the disease. My point is that catchy hashtags or short phrases don’t accurately reflect the most recent scientific discoveries. That is one reason why many major cancer organizations no longer push women to perform breast self-exams. We’ve been making women more “aware” (at least here in the US) for over two decades, but cancer rates haven’t dropped significantly and very few of the dollars raised in the name of awareness are directed at finding a way to save the lives of those diagnosed with the most aggressive forms of the disease.

  14. Charlotte
    22/11/13 at 13:28

    I’m a female aged 30 who has not been personally affected by breast cancer before. Before I heard about Coppafeel, I thought of breast cancer as something that only older women get. The playful Coppafeel name & stand-out branding is supposed to grab the attention of younger people so they stop and pay attention. It’s deliberately stand out. For a reason. If you feel this charity is sexually focused or inappropriate, it’s probably not aimed at you, you’re probably just not the target audience.

    Coppafeel empower young women who are concerned there may be something wrong but have been fobbed off by doctors telling them ‘MOST women get breast cancer in their 60s’. Most is not the same as all. And for that reason alone it’s worthwhile that younger women get into the habit of checking their breasts and generally being aware of their own bodies. To disregard & disrespect a charity like this is quite a shame really. Just because its not aimed at your specific age group, doesn’t mean it’s not doing fantastic work and helping people.

    • Hi Charlotte. Many breast cancer patients are angry and feel disrespected by this and other sexualized breast cancer awareness campaigns. Should they not feel that way because the message isn’t targeted to them? (There are plenty of younger women tired and frustrated with such awareness campaigns, too.) Why is it okay to objectify and sexualize women in the name of a disease? It might be more useful to target a campaign to doctors regarding breast cancer in younger patients; noting that it may be rare, but a patient’s concerns should be taken seriously.

  15. Jeri
    22/11/13 at 15:14

    Also disagree. Did you write this Holly or Elisabeth?

  16. Erica
    22/11/13 at 16:17

    In 2008, I had breast cancer at the age of 27. I thought it was only women over 50 who got this disease so I never felt the need to check myself. That is, until the day I finally used the pink filofax my friend had bought me a year before; there was a little tear-sheet about how to check your breasts, so that evening I did just that and found something in my right breast. I had stage 2 breast cancer. I would never have checked myself had it not been for that tear-sheet and I almost didn’t go to the GP because I wasn’t sure if the lump was abnormal or had always been there. The treatment was effective because my cancer was caught early (Because I found the lump early). So, if this little tag in a bra will encourage other females to check their breasts, then I don’t see what the problem is. If you’re going to criticise a breast cancer charity (aimed at making young women breast aware), then at least be constructive about it – what should they do instead? What should they do to remind other young women to get to know their breasts so that they know when something is not right and get it checked out? EVERYTHING! If that means that even one woman is treated early as a result of a tag in bra reminding them to check themselves, why the hell not. I was so annoyed when I read your article; it is inaccurate and uninformative.

  17. erica
    22/11/13 at 16:19

    In 2008, I had breast cancer at the age of 27. I thought it was only women over 50 who got this disease so I never felt the need to check myself. That is, until the day I finally used the pink filofax my friend had bought me a year before; there was a little tear-sheet about how to check your breasts, so that evening I did just that and found something in my right breast. I had stage 2 breast cancer. I would never have checked myself had it not been for that tear-sheet and I almost didn’t go to the GP because I wasn’t sure if the lump was abnormal or had always been there. The treatment was effective because my cancer was caught early (Because I found the lump early). So, if this little tag in a bra will encourage other females to check their breasts, then I don’t see what the problem is. If you’re going to criticise a breast cancer charity (aimed at making young women breast aware), then at least be constructive about it – what should they do instead? What should they do to remind other young women to get to know their breasts so that they know when something is not right and get it checked out. EVERYTHING! If that means that even one woman is treated early as a result of a tag in bra reminding them to check themselves, why the hell not. I was so annoyed when I read your article; it is inaccurate and uninformative.

  18. Niall McLean
    22/11/13 at 17:35

    Elizabeth, surley a message inside a bra cannot cause too much offence (how many people will see it in your bra?). I have seen the impact of breast cancer on a young life and I am absolutely perplexed by your stance on this campaign. What makes you think you could do a better job? Just criticising
    is easy. This campaign was not aimed at you, it was aimed at the yonger generation. I cannot beleve your responce to Sarah and your use of cancer to spice up your blog. For the record there is a very sucsefull underwear campaign to raise awareness of testiclar cancer – “BawBags”, check it out, you could maybe get your man a pair for Christmas!!

  19. Hi Erica. I’m sorry to hear about your breast cancer diagnosis. A card showing you how to perform a detailed breast exam is far different than a label in a bra that claims it “saves lives.” (http://www.breastcancerdeadline2020.org/breast-cancer-information/myths-and-truths/myth-1-monthly-bse-save-lives.html). Finding a lump “early” assumes that all breast cancers progress in the same way in every woman (or man). The latest research shows that there are multiple types of breast cancer that all act differently, with some being far less aggressive than others. I wish breast cancer awareness campaigns made a significant difference. But two decades of telling women to check their breasts hasn’t lowered incidence, or reduced mortality for those diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. That makes me, and many others, both angry and frustrated. For more on this issue, please see this recent article from the NYTimes : http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/28/magazine/our-feel-good-war-on-breast-cancer.html?_r=0

  20. Niall Mclean
    23/11/13 at 4:33

    Elisabeth, you are digging a hole. Just stop. When you are faced with experts and people with far more experience than you with a different view point at least consider you may be wrong. There is nothing wrong with being wrong. Think about it, if it saves one life it’s worth it. I am sorry you have had the inconvenience of having a tag in your bra.

    • Ni Niall. I’m a little confused by your comment. I did include many links to research backing up my points (including links to articles written by others who object to sexualized breast caner awareness campaigns). If you have any research backing up the effectiveness of such campaigns, please share it. As I’ve said in numerous responses to comments, I’d be all for such an effort if it made a difference in lowering breast cancer incidence or mortality. But there’s no proof that it does.

  21. Joanne Murray
    23/11/13 at 5:00

    Elizabeth – Can you please explain what the difference is between a label in a bra and a piece of card? To me the label in a bra acts as a reminder every time I put the bra on to check my boobs. A piece of card, which lets face it is more likely to be put in the bin, to me serves no purpose. However the label in the bra will encourage me to check my boobs then head to the Coppafeel website for all the information I need. A website which is constantly updated with best practice is surely a no brainier compared to an outdated piece of card(still a good tool), which is likely to be used once then put in the bin. I can’t believe we are even having this discussion. From reading previous comments, campaigns like these save lives!! I’m very much looking forward to seeing your campaign, for young people.
    Joanne Murray, senior account exec, Marketing Medical Solutions.

  22. 23/11/13 at 6:49

    I don’t understand the point of this article. There’s a charity committed to expanding the chances of pre-detection of a potentially fatal disease, and bra companies who are insightful enough to see that it is a positive message. This is a win win. How do you turn this into a sexual objectification argument? How can you turn finding cancer early into a negative? Please please please use your power as a journalist to move things forward, rather than complain about other people who are working hard to make a difference, however small. If you don’t like it, don’t buy the bra, or cut the label out. Don’t spend time trying to break the will of a charity that HAVE saved lives.

    And lastly, I’m a bloke. When I heard about CoppaFeel! I didn’t think ‘Wahey, what a great excuse to look at/touch boobs!’ I thought, ‘that’s inventive, and brave, and good on them.’

    Perhaps interview and meet the subject of your distaste before making judgements from a distance, you never know what you might learn.

  23. Jon
    24/11/13 at 13:02

    So for all those who believe the ends mean the campaign should be exempt from criticism let me ask you the following: is it okay to raise the awareness of the dangers of drinking by running a campaign that blames women who are sexually assaulted while intoxicated for those sexual assaults? The state of Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board ran two such ads this year. One showing a woman’s legs with her underwear around her ankles on the bathroom floor with the following caption: “She didn’t want to do it, but she couldn’t say no.” The language here is clear, she could have said no if she wasn’t drunk–ergo she is responsible. But hey why is this a problem right? If it stops one woman from being sexually assaulted it is good right? We should tell women to control their drinking to ensure that they can say no–right? Wrong, blame the victim discourse is dehumanizing and perpetuates deep-seated gender inequalities where men are absolved of responsibility because women could not keep their bodies under control.

    And the PLCB’s response to the criticism of this blame the victim discourse? “It was important to bring the most difficult conversations about over-consumption of alcohol to the forefront and all of the dangers associated with it—date rape being one of these things.” Sounds oddly similar, doesn’t it? See the problem is not with the motive of the organization, it the means by which the PLCB chose to bring those conversations to the forefront–placing the responsibility for date-rape solely on the actions of women. And I guess all those that were appalled by this campaign should have stayed silent, because they had no alternative? No! This campaign was pulled because of the thoughtful objections to the way in which it served to perpetuate a discourse that contributes to the under reporting of sexual assaults. And they were right to object.

    As to this campaign, placing aside the question of whether self-exams “save lives,” the concern about the sexual nature of the campaign is not trivial. Whatever the organizations intent–the phrase cop a feel carries a history–a history of men freely engaging in the sexual assault of women. Look up any definition of the term; it is a physical act where a male puts his hands on a female without her consent. Whatever this organization’s intention, that history does not go away simply because they are trying to come up with a clever way to reach a particular audience. Indeed given the claims of those who believe strongly in the effectiveness of self-exams in saving lives, I find it a bit surprising that you do not react more negatively to describing that practice as copping a feel.

    See based on what I have read of your passionate defenses of the practice, “copping a feel” would be the last the way I would try to describe that practice to anyone — particularly young women whose first sexual encounter may have been with young men who see copping feels as a part of dating rituals. At least the way I have seen them described–they require women to more than “cop a feel.” It is not particularly inventive or clever. It is simple and reflects little attention to the history of the phrase. There are other ways to reach this audience without relying on a phrase that associates breast exams with a practice of sexual assault.

    And that those that object to this campaign don’t have an alternative to propose does not make raising an objection to objectification of women through this campaign is not irresponsible. There are other ways to raise awareness of breast cancer. How that awareness is raise matters.

  24. Aimee
    24/11/13 at 13:34

    The irony of it all is that its mainly large cup brands (Panache, Curvy Kate etc) that are suggesting this when really the message of breast health needs to be drummed into the ladies buying the small cups. In general larger cup brands have qualified fitters helping clients into the right sizes: its smaller cup brands who sell 38B cups to 30G cup ladies creating breast pain, fluid filled cysts etc and thus slowing down the whole diagnosis process with ladies suffering from breast issues due to wrong bra size rather than serious health issues: the message of most breast cancer charities is early detection equals survival: so as ladies we should wear the right bra size and stop filling up our radiography departments with bra-fit caused problems.

  25. Nat
    24/11/13 at 16:54

    I just don’t get this article. Of all the things in the world that are tragic, distressing and unjust, you choose to attack a charity that raises awareness of cancer in young people. To suggest that Coppafeel use strategies that “objectify” women is to fundamentally misunderstand the charity. I just don’t understand where that notion comes from. In fact it is worse than misunderstanding, it’s ignorant and puritanical. You’ve made the point repeatedly that some evidence suggests that checking the breast area for abnormalities is not as effective as some think. That doesn’t sound remotely logical to me but as someone who isn’t a medical expert with more rigorous evidence than you’ve bothered to go in to, I’d be open to that possibly being the case. But, even still, there’s nothing wrong with people knowing their bodies and talking to a doctor if they are worried about something. I just don’t see what harm you think there is in encouraging women to be aware of a cancer that is common and potentially life threatening. Charities like Coppafeel and Movember don’t use sex to sell their message. That’s beyond ridiculous. They take a more engaging way of getting young people to be more aware of parts of their bodies that some in society deem as embarrassing, naughty or dirty. We need to move away from this not compound it by objecting to a label in a bra.
    I’m equally perplexed about your issue with the colour pink being associated with women’s cancer. So are you next going to write a damning article about Race for Life because they happen to use the colour pink in their merchandise.
    This is such a pointless article. You must live in a bubble of privilege if you can get so upset by a bra.

  26. Michelle
    24/11/13 at 17:07
  27. Jennifer Alhasa (@JenniferAlhasa)
    24/11/13 at 22:30

    As a young breast cancer survivor, I personally have no desire to see a label in my bra “warning” me that my life may need saving again. I choose to focus on self-love not fear and for me that means thinking about cancer as little as possible. This might be a radical approach but 9 years later, it’s working for me! There was lots of awareness about the disease when I was diagnosed but little information about prevention which I think is far more important. I’d like to see young (and older women for that matter) getting more informed about the psycho-spiritual causes of dis-ease in our lives and bodies. What about, “Have you loved yourself today?” Now that’s a bra I’d buy!

  28. Rowena
    25/11/13 at 5:09

    As someone who discovered my own breast cancer through self examination at the age of 24, i find this article not only deeply offensive but dangerous. You don’t think that there’s value in examining your boobs? Tell that to the millions of women who’ve beaten cancer by catching it early through doing just that. Early detection is key to survival, FACT. Go and bore someone else with your pointless article while charities like Coppafeel are out there saving lives.

  29. 25/11/13 at 12:36

    There are many sexually objectifying techniques commonly used in breast cancer awareness campaigns: See: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/pink-ribbon-blues/201211/do-sexy-breast-cancer-campaigns-demean-women. That “sex sells” just about anything doesn’t negate its negative and unintended effects. Sexual objectification is tied to eating disorders, habitual body monitoring, and body shame. It is linked to poor self-esteem, lack of self-confidence, limited self-worth, diminished life satisfaction, and depression. It is associated with declines in cognitive and physical functioning and contributes to sexual dysfunction. Sexual objectification also contributes to negatives attitudes about women that may lead to assumptions that only young healthy women have social value, or that women are stupid or incompetent, therefore incapable of leadership and political efficacy. Objectification that is sexual in nature fosters a cultural environment in which sexism, harassment, and violence against women are more easily accepted. Do we NEED to sexually objectify women to encourage them care about breast cancer?? And if breast self exam hasn’t been found to find tumors early or reduce mortality (as studies show), then shouldn’t it be acknowledged as more of a last resort to detection than an ideal? Sometimes good intentions and branding efforts muddy the bigger picture. — Gayle Sulik

  30. Tru
    25/11/13 at 18:41

    I am stunned that despite all the facts she has behind what she says and the polite ways she has both expressed and reiterated her points, Elisabeth Dale is still being so harshly criticized for expressing a negative opinion of this campaign. As a person who has had breast cancer, I back her opinion 100%. The “if it saves even one life then it’s worth it” standard just doesn’t fly as a practical consideration in the world. Would banning automobiles save just one life that would otherwise be lost in a traffic accident? Sure, probably many more than just one. How about banning planes? Absolutely. Nobody would die in a plane crash ever again. But is it practical to ban motor vehicles and planes because doing so will save lives? This is about more than not wanting to check one’s breasts, it’s about the real utility of doing so, vs. the propaganda we’ve heard for years and years. It’s about the REAL likelihood that young women will even get breast cancer, or (sadly) that if they do, there’s really a whole lot they could have done to save their lives. It’s about the very valid and very real objection many women have to sexualizing and objectifying breast cancer in a way people would not dare to sexualize or objectfy any other disease, or even any other kind of cancer. When you’ve had breast cancer, you know nothing about it is lighthearted, sexy or fun. Why should it take a lighthearted, sexy and fun message to get people to care about it? And why is it so important to terrify young women into fearing they’ll get breast cancer and constantly checking themselves for lumps, when the likelihood of their getting it is so small and the likelihood of them being able to save their lives is so small if they do? It’s NOT a “fact,” as some have stated here, that early detection makes all the difference. It IS a fact that the biology of the tumor makes the difference. You can find the tumor early and still die; you can find it late and still live. But this is a message I suspect many people don’t want to hear or believe, because it’s not very empowering. They’d rather hear that the power to save their own lives lies entirely within their own hands (I guess they can handle taking all the blame if they fail?)…and they’d rather shoot the messengers of truth than listen to it. Elisabeth, take heart. I don’t want any preachy labels in my bras either. To me they’re all about hype, not help.

  31. 26/11/13 at 9:09

    Personally, I don’t buy bras with tags of any kind in them. I find tags to be an irritant. And this particular tag would really drive me crazy. Frankly, I’m tired of the let’s “lighten up breast cancer awareness” for the younger crowd mentality. Young people deserve better. We all do. How we message information matters. I completely agree with Elisabeth and Gayle Sulik on this one. Their points are excellent and based on research – which many of the others are not.

  32. Michelle
    30/11/13 at 3:56

    Of course breast cancer rates haven’t dropped through awareness. It doesn’t matter whether you know it or not, if you have cancer then you have cancer. However what I’m sure has changed, through campaigns like these and others, is how early it is found, and how intense the treatment is and the survival rates. I agree that more money should be spent on trying to reduce the rates of breast cancer, but the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. It’s important to cover all fronts.

  33. Allison
    05/10/14 at 8:32

    Although I personally don’t find coppafeel offensive, I can understand why some women or men might. However I don’t understand why people are disregarding the campaign because there is no or a lack of evidence to prove that self examinations save lives. No matter how aggressive the cancer the sooner it is found the sooner treatment can be given meaning that it can help to save lives. Whether you agree with the way coppafeel promotes self checks or not I am astounded that people can disagree with the purpose of the campaign.

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