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