Monday marked yet another effort to raise awareness as a part of October's National Breast Cancer Awareness Month: "National No Bra Day." The event encouraged women to ditch their bras throughout the day and "set the tatas free" in order to raise awareness for what has become the second leading cause of death among U.S. women. My first thought was that it's a cute idea, and as someone who lost a father to mesothelioma (a rare form of cancer), I am always in support of fundraising efforts that promote cancer awareness. But after reading up on the topic, however, I have a few issues with this fundraising campaign in particular — though the reasons may not be what you would expect.
National No Bra Day isn't without some controversy. Some people took to Twitter to point out that walking around without a bra does little in the way of actually contributing to cancer research, while others went so far as to argue that this day meant for awareness overly sexualizes women's bodies. I'd like to point out that National No Bra Day doesn't necessarily mean that you have to post a picture of your unadorned boobs in a see-through shirt — it just requires a little less padded support for a day. The bigger problem I have with this campaign is that it seems insensitive to breast cancer patients and survivors — which kind of defeats the point.
I find it strange that, in brainstorming this campaign, no one thought about what drawing attention to women's breasts might feel like to women who have lost their breasts to cancer. The writer behind the site "Cancer In My Thirties" puts it best in one particularly powerful blog post she wrote expressing her concerns with National No Bra Day:
The thought of seeing bra-less women flaunting two body parts that I have lost to cancer — more than I already see this on a regular day — does not feel all that supportive. In fact, it feels quite the opposite.
What's more, this campaign in particular seems to reduce the disease to a mere consideration of women's breasts rather than the painful, laborious process of enduring chemotherapy and all the other trials and tribulations that accompany it. As "Cancer In My Thirties" continues:
We live in a society that makes a huge hoopla about breast cancer while at the very same time trivializing the seriousness of the disease.
The fact is, an estimated 40,000 women will die of breast cancer this year. National No Bra Day certainly succeeds at starting conversation about an important cause, but I can't help but feel as though it goes about doing so in the wrong way, especially when there are so many other inspiring campaigns out there that feature brave breast cancer survivors bearing their post-mastectomy scars to promote awareness. Projects like SCAR, Under the Red Dress, and the Grace Project all manage to convey the severity of breast cancer, while also sending a powerful message about the realities of the disease.
But while National No Bra Day may have its flaws, it's still spreading awareness — and that is something that deserves recognition. Since early detection is such a key component of preventing and treating breast cancer, hopefully the campaign will remind women to get their yearly mammogram, or conduct more frequent self-exams, if nothing else.
Because that's really what Breast Cancer Awareness Month — and the wave of pink that comes with it — is about. It's about education. It's about generating conversation. It's about rallying support. There are numerous ways to donate time and money, and if you aren't totally comfortable taking your bra off, there are many other reliable organizations such as standup2cancer.org that are more intimately connected with research centers. Not to mention these organizations also offer a way for men to rally behind breast cancer awareness, since this type of cancer affects them as well.
I think it's a good thing that women are working together to promote breast cancer awareness, but I think it's important that we do so in a way that leaves no one out. Because while not everybody may identify with National No Bra Day, everybody can work to create a world that will one day be cancer free.