The Cutesy FaceBook Breast Cancer Awareness Meme

Last week at some point I noticed that my female FB friends were posting colors as their status updates.

Blue. Black. Pink.

I saw only single colors. None of the “orange with lacey trim” updates. If I’d seen the latter, I would have realized what they were talking about despite the fact that I have donned undergarments only a handful of times in the last two years.

Puzzled and on the verge of finding it really annoying, I posted a query in my own status update bar and received several private messages informing me that it was a trick that we women were playing on the men.

Psst … post your bra color and they won’t know what we are on about … tee hee hee. Pass it on.

Only one of the messages I received informed me of the “raising awareness for breast cancer” aspect of the meme. Just one. So much for raising awareness because I think quite a few women playing along had no idea why they were supposed to be doing this. They thought it was a neat in-joke on the men who followed their feeds because as anyone who ever played the game “telephone” knows, passed along messages drop parts of or garble context as they travel.

Once I knew the purpose, I spent a whole 5 seconds contemplating it before going back to updating about me. I had no bra color to update, that’s true, but I am not kindly disposed towards awareness campaigns that are never ending, as breast cancer is, and I still have issues with the whole “raising awareness” for certain diseases and not others.

For example, my late husband died because of a genetic metabolic disorder. There are about a half dozen metabolic disorders and nearly all of them are life-limiting in gruesome, family destroying ways. They are rare. Which is their bad. And no famous people have been afflicted by them that I am aware of, which means no one can start a campaign that will touch the hearts of the masses. No fun little “remember the genetically afflicted” FB meme’s for the victims of metabolic syndromes, alas.

I have noticed, perhaps you have to, that diseases afflicting the famous in some way are the ones that most people hear the most about. Or diseases that are noticeable and inflict hardship. On men. Losing breasts is hard to cover up, so to speak and it strikes at the “heart” of how women are judged on the attractiveness/desirability scale – by men. If women were being afflicted with a cancer no one could see, or that wasn’t connected to men’s sexual needs in some way that doesn’t make them squeamish, we wouldn’t hear a thing about it. It wouldn’t matter. Breasts matter to men. So breast cancer is a big deal. Cervical cancer and ovarian cancer are inside and icky, and men don’t want to know about anything below the navel save that there is a hole they can stick themselves in, ergo no walks, ribbons or year round assaulting awareness campaigns for cancers of the naughty bits or plumbing.

Rob’s late wife had melanoma. Do you know what color the ribbon is? Black. Nothing frou-frou or girly or uplifting about that color or even the tiniest bit hopeful for melanoma victims. Do you hear much about melanoma except for the yearly half-assed media censure against tanning salons that usually come out around the time that little high school girls are getting ready for spring prom?

No. You don’t.

Heart disease actually kills the most women every year while we are being encouraged to believe that very moderate exercise is okay and that fat should be a beauty standard.

Lung cancer is slowly moving up on the killer of women scale. Did you know that either?  Probably not. Lungs, unfortunately for them, are hidden underneath the most important of female assets and therefore, don’t count.

Someone on my FB friend’s list was upset by the “backlash” against the campaign. She thought we were heartless people not fit to be good friends and play along because you never know who might someday be stricken. That’s her opinion. I can see why she might feel that way. I offered my experience with the meme and was basically told to “fuck off” by some of her friends, and so I did. In the yoga sutras, Patanjali advises use of the fourth key in some instances and this was one of them. But pretending that something was a good idea or properly executed when it clearly wasn’t is not the way to go about promoting anything but discord and does more to turn people away from awareness efforts than not.

I didn’t post my lack of bra status. It was dumb regardless of the true reason though probably not as dumb as Farmville.

Coy outreach programs = advertising fails, but that’s just my opinion, as always.

13 thoughts on “The Cutesy FaceBook Breast Cancer Awareness Meme

  1. I’m sure you know how I feel about this. I don’t have FB, but my husband does and I wondered what all the colors were for.

    While I’m all for educating women on the importance of self-exams and annual doctor’s exams, I absolutely 100% loathe the cutesy breast cancer awareness crap that floats around.

    Pink is so cute!

    Cancer isn’t sexy, no matter where it is. Or cute. Or funny.

    I hope that each woman who posted their color took a minute when they took that bra off to give their breasts a once over.
    I hope that half the women who posted their color took a minute when they took that bra off to give their breasts a once over

    Sadly, I saw a few of the women who posted, and there were jokes about it in the thread below their status. They ended up looking like whores. Not activists.

  2. Thought-provoking post, with plenty to ponder there.

    You seem to be partly in tune with Barbara Ehrenreich in her new book Smile or Die. The book is primarily about the overbearing pressure of positive thinking in relation to cancer.

    Interestingly, Ehrenreich also takes some issue with the pink ribbon culture which is now so strongly associated with breast cancer, and which she argues is distinctly unhelpful since it focuses our minds on the perceived threat to feminity brought by the disease rather than on its medical treatment.

    I’m in two minds here. The ‘pink’ campaign certainly does a great job in promoting awareness, and I support all the breast cancer causes I can. Yet there’s nothing remotely ‘cutesy’ about breast cancer. It shouldn’t be seen as a ‘fluffy, girly’ cause. It’s one of the biggest killers out there.

    1. Thanks for your views. I am always worried when I spout off on topics that have deeply affected those I know.

      So much about women’s health is ignored or down-graded in proportion to the amount of interest that is placed on breasts and breast health. Although in an ironic twist – breastfeeding, one of the best things a woman can do is seen as perverted, weird and even disgusting which I think harkens back to my point, that if breasts weren’t the sex related symbol that they are, cancer of them wouldn’t get anything near the attention.

  3. Side note: This, “But pretending that something was a good idea or properly executed when it clearly wasn’t is not the way to go about promoting anything but discord and does more to turn people away from awareness efforts than not.”

    Is the exact concept I posted to that post you linked to…and so beautifully sums up my sense of this.

  4. Well you know cancer is my deal, so to speak. It’s one of my main volunteer things. I was the one who refused to play along with the “shh it’s a secret” more than five seconds. I’m the one who was buzzing all over saying “it’s to check your bra color to remember to check your breasts — do self exams every month, do clinical exams and mammograms annually!” But I’m also the one who posted a color and who indulged in a bit of welcome silliness about it. I’m also the one who piggy-backed on it for my own ends — to do real information about cancer.

    I disagreed with the “you’re a jerk if you did this, you hurtful insensitive creep” allegations about it, but I DID agree with the questions about the efficacy of this particular little meme (which had, to my knowledge, no affiliation with any cancer group, certainly not mine at ACS), the coyness of it, and how it excluded not just so many people but so many other diseases, including other cancers.

    Someone said “what if guys posted boxer or brief to raise awareness for prostate cancer? or testicular cancer?” And to tell the truth? I thought, you know what? If done well, sure.

    But how much better to instead to a meme that is broader and real as well as sincere and well-intended?

    How about status such as BRAIN, LUNG, LEG, PITUITARY, OVARY, BREAST. Why are people naming body parts? These are parts of their bodies or their cared for or loved ones bodies that were affected by cancer. Use the comment section to share links, fundraise, share information, etc.

    Or, you know…something…

  5. I had a good many laughs at some of my male friends, who saw the colour updates and played along, not knowing why. In my corner of FB it turned into post the colour of your jocks (supposedly to promote awareness of testicular cancer) – or plain revenge on the girls. I’m sure 90% or more of those playing along had no idea why they were being asked to do so. Silly, trite – like most of Facebook. I wouldn’t take it to much to heart. (I do agree with the points you’ve raised in your post though – it did more for cancer ‘awareness’ than the colour of my bra ..) x

  6. I have some of the same thought about the high profile given breast cancer awareness. And my husband researches in the areas of heart disease and I agree it’s sometimes shameful how little attention (and funding) that can get.

    However, I did post my bra colour (though I thought about it) and did so in the name of breast cancer.

    As I read your piece I noted that I had not annoyed been by the publishing of bra colours but am highly annoyed at overly personal status updates like “My life sucks” which beg a comment asking why. Or as you point out the endless Farmville and Zoo requests.

    So in the scheme of FB annoyances, it didn’t register for me.

    1. It was annoying because it was everywhere on my feed and it was the kind of thing that screams “pay attention to us b/c we are involved in something cool that is exclusive and excluding you”. Not the best tool for an awareness campaign, imo.

      The apps are annoying. The game apps are the worst. But status updates that beg for attention, unless it is someone who uses them endlessly, just seem to me to be someone who needs to talk but is afraid to ask someone to listen/respond.

      Thinking about this while replying to you, it occurs to me that social media can be as isolating as it is an outreach.

  7. I’m with you on this one, Ann. As I mentioned earlier, my paternal grandmother had breast cancer and a complete mastectomy when I was child. But she had heart disease, too, and that’s what killed her — and killed her sister and my dad, and countless others in my family. As you note, heart disease is the number one killer among women, but heart disease isn’t about breasts, so it’s not as “sexy” and people just don’t talk about it as much. At their peril.

  8. lots to think about in this. i did the meme, purely as a silly/flirtatious distraction. the message(s) i got mentioned ‘breast cancer awareness’, but honestly? i was just farting around and enjoyed watching it spread around the globe through the status updates of friends.

    i’ve been equally fascinated by the ensuing discussions – the ‘backlash’, ‘backlash backlash’, and i’m sure there will be ‘backlash backlash backlash’, encouraging women to ‘just get along’.

    you bring up great observations. the “cancer awareness” BS does seem to target breast cancer in an inordinately high-profile manner. seriously, if there is a woman in north america who HASN’T been touched by a friend/family member with it, then i’d like to meet her. we are aware. as the author from your link states: do something. is it due to the sexualization of womens breasts as objects of cultural worship? hadn’t thought of that…

    the point of view from the author of the article also opened my eyes. i lost 100 grams of flesh and a single lymph node to stage I breast cancer. for me it was a blip, due to early detection. but to the women who have had single/double mastectomies? to claim that the bra-color meme was to raise awareness for cancer could have been insulting and painful…

    thanks for calling it out. but looking for meaning and substance in the realm of Facebook may be tilting at an ether-based windmill.

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