Promoting a worthy cause – but at what cost?

Singapore’s Breast Cancer Foundation has released a new ad campaign that urges women to prioritize preventing and curing breast cancer over more trivial concerns. The campaign, which uses the naked female body as the canvas for cartoons about bad hair days and pimples, raises important questions about what is permissible in the name of an undeniably good cause. The ads, which ask, “are you obsessed with the right things?” are NSFW, and therefore below the jump.

Not long ago, I wrote about my concern that the phrase “it’s for a good cause” can be used to cover all manner of sins. Specifically, I noted that there’s a tendency, when we raise awareness or funds for breast cancer research, to focus more on the breasts than on the cancer. There’s a tendency to come up with “sexy” campaigns that are all about helping women, but that look very much like the ubiquitous demeaning media depictions that harm them. The recent Twin Titties contest is a prime example of how the phrase “it’s for breast cancer research” can be used to justify objectifying women’s bodies.

So, they’re breasts. Bodypainted ones. And they’re encouraging people to care less having too big a butt or getting a pimple and more about preventing or finding a cure for breast cancer. That’s an idea I can get behind. Breasts cancer research is an incredibly important cause and one that I have good reason to care about personally.

But this ad campaign is really bugging me.

For one thing, do we really want women to be obsessed with breast cancer? As Hortense said over at Jezebel, “there’s a bit of a scare-mongering feel to it, in terms of asking women to be ‘obsessed’ with cancer prevention as opposed to being aware of the risks and actively taking the necessary steps to protect themselves.”

Also, it’s a tad hypocritical to urge women to stop worrying about their bodies – their complexion or the size of their butts – using a naked, idealized female body as the canvas for that message. It’s ads that use women’s bodies like this, ads that make them feel insecure and imperfect, that in part make us worry about those seemingly trivial things in the first place.

Finally, and most importantly, this ad capitalizes on our cultural obsession with breasts, albeit to send an important message. Breast cancer kills women. But objectifying us harms us, too. We need campaigns that raise awareness and funds for this worthy cause that don’t, in the process, diminish our own self-worth.

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