Exposing the hypocrisy behind the breast

TUCSON, Ariz. (U-WIRE) — Apparently, the people of San Francisco do not like naked women. While this might not be a surprise to many, it was certainly disappointing to the organizers of a breast-cancer awareness campaign who’ve had their public-service ads yanked.
Why did this happen? Their ads depicting modelesque-type women with mastectomy scars offended the advertisement firm that donated their space for public-service announcements. The reasoning behind the yank was, simply stated, how the display of the naked female torso was inappropriate. This smacks of incredible hypocrisy, considering that the advertising dollar is almost entirely based on the exploitation of the female torso.
Breasts sell. Look at any magazine stand and you’ll see the image of the female form on thousands of covers. From Details to Playboy, Hustler to Maxim, Cosmo to Elle, the bodies of women are being used to sell. Even political magazines like George are not above slapping Jenny McCarthy and her dynamic duo on the cover to sell. While it’s true that an occasional scantily clad male will grace the cover of a magazine, the majority of magazines and other media use the female body as the focus of their visual message.
What the message is, nearly 80 years after the 19th Amendment, is that our culture still panders to the desires of men. The female torso is such a common sight in our culture that hardly anyone bats an eye when it is displayed in media. The male form and its shapes do create an uproar and are rarely ever seen. The penis is not seen in advertising; it rules it.
The breast, in contrast, is considered community property. It is on display for the enjoyment and tantalization of others. What is missing from our cultural context is that the breast is functional. Breasts were created to nurture infant children. What advertisers are afraid of is that the objectification of women in advertising will be less effective if the breast is connected with its utility and its diseases. Breasts should not be seen as things that are capable of being lumpy and diseased, but as objects forever perky and smooth.
Each year in America, around 20,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer. Breast cancer is the leading cause of death for women between the ages of 15 and 54. Breast cancer is an issue that is of the utmost importance for American women.
But because our culture is so breast-obsessed, many American women fear losing their breasts more than dying from breast cancer. It is little wonder that these women fear losing their partners and their self-respect when they lose their breasts, because femininity in our culture is directly linked to breasts. Our culture literally assaults us with the message that without breasts, women are not whole.
Many women who have survived the breast-cancer experience have come forward to say they actually delayed getting mammograms and doctor examinations because they were terrified of losing their breasts. Many women who do have mastectomies go through the painful and extremely expensive process of reconstructing their breasts.
The message about breasts in advertising and culture is so powerful that even women are hooked on it now. Anyone who has seen a Cosmo lately knows this is the truth. Cleavage is essential for any magazine, and it only reinforces the ideal that women’s breasts should serve a function other than that which nature intended.
What’s so scary about this issue is how acceptable it is for men to use breasts to sell things, but how it is inappropriate for women to use their breasts to promote their own health. If anyone still doubts that little has changed in society’s attitudes toward women, this would be proof positive that advertising is still in the realm of the Neanderthal.
Breast cancer is a very real and frightening threat for all American women. The San Francisco ad agency that yanked these ads for doing nothing more than depicting the breast accurately should be ashamed of its behavior in this whole affair. But its attitude is not unique in American culture. Advertisers who thrive on the breast owe it to American women to have at least a more healthy attitude toward the tools that drive their industry.
Lora J. Mackel’s column originally appeared in Friday’s University of Arizona paper, the Arizona Daily Wildcat.