A Reflection on Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and it seems everyone has a different way of observing it– neighborhoods turn fountain water pink, the Stampede is selling pink gear in preparation for the Nov. 1 football game against Blue Valley Northwest, and, unfortunately, the “I Heart Boobies” bracelets are reappearing.

  At first glance, these bracelets appear to be a good thing. Their sale raises money and awareness for breast cancer and wearing them unites people against a common enemy. And yet, when I see students going around school wearing these bracelets, I feel annoyed. I know they mean well, and most probably don’t consider the deeper implications of the bracelets beyond the fact that they aid in the fight against breast cancer. But while the “I Heart Boobies” slogan helps fight one problem, it ignores another problem that’s just as significant: the conflation of sexuality with breast cancer, and the systematic reduction of women to merely the sum of their parts.

  The purpose of the bracelets is to help raise awareness and money for breast cancer research. So why isn’t the slogan on the bracelets “I Heart Women” or “I Heart Survivors?” Because American culture sexualizes breasts to the extreme, and the makers of the bracelets capitalize on this by creating a slogan with a sexualized image that will make support for breast cancer survivors seem socially acceptable– cool, even. After all, women are worthless without their breasts, so we have to do everything we can to keep them healthy, right?

  If it seems like I’m over-reacting to the campaign, consider this: when Angelina Jolie underwent a double mastectomy earlier this year after learning she had an abnormally high risk of developing breast cancer, Twitter exploded with tweets that, rather than applauding Jolie’s proactive approach to health, mourned the loss of her breasts. When did we start valuing lumps of fat on a woman’s chest more than the life of the woman?

  If you want to support breast cancer awareness and research, that’s fantastic. And if you want to do that by wearing “I Heart Boobies” bracelets, that’s your choice. But I would encourage anyone who owns one of these bracelets, before wearing it, to consider why you wear it– for the boobies, or for the woman behind them.