“Prince William” and “breast reconstruction”: those are words I never thought I’d type in the same sentence.
Something about this grosses me out. I imagine the woman getting reconstruction gave her permission for it to be witnessed. I’m sure Prince William took it seriously. But if you’re going to have royalty visit a hospital and witness a surgery, why have it be a breast reconstruction? It’s voyeuristic and it’s not going to help women with breast cancer.
Two women named Michelle Jaret and Michelle Lamont “invented” “mamming” to raise “awareness” about mammograms. The breasty equivalent of bygone internet memes like planking, “mamming” is supposed to be a fun, G-rated way to encourage women to get screened for breast cancer. You can see more examples at http://www.thisismamming.com, but why would you want to?
I’m feeling increasingly suspicious of mammograms these days, particularly the way they are touted as preventative care. A quote from one of the mammo-Michelles illustrates this point well: Michelle Lamont (who works for an advertising agency, of course) says “When I was sick, I asked my doctors about a cure – one actually told me that the best cure we have is prevention. […] Prevention is screening like mammograms and self-exams and they are the best tool we have to catch cancer early, and catching it early is how we beat it.” For the record, mammograms do not prevent cancer. Period. Full stop. If categorizing mammograms as preventative care for insurances purposes makes them more affordable and more widely available, then I’m for it, but let’s not pretend that it cures anything. Survival rates for breast cancer have more to do with the biological makeup of a woman’s particular tumors than with catching cancer early: you can catch cancer at stage one and still die from it. Happens all the time. Mammograms are a good tool, women need them, and BRCA+ women need them more than most, but they are not magic bullets for breast cancer prevention or treatment.
As for “mamming” (you don’t actually think I’m going to use that term without scare quotes, do you?), let me count the ways that I hate it:
1. OMG BOOBS! On top of the things! BOOBS ON THINGS are so interesting!
2. It’s important to Raise Awareness. Because people aren’t already aware of breast cancer. Most people have never heard of it. I heard it happened to a woman in Idaho who is a friend of my cousin’s boyfriend’s boss’s ex-wife, but I can’t be sure.
3. Humor is a totally appropriate way to deal with a deadly, gory, disfiguring disease that destroys people’s lives. It’s hilarious, don’t be so uptight. I wish that I could see the funny, but I can’t because I threw away my sense of humor when I became a card carrying feminist.
4. It claims to try to make fun of the awkwardness of mammograms, so that more women will get them. But is awkwardness keeping women from getting mammograms? I doubt it.
6. It claims to be G rated, but at the end of the day it sexualizes breast cancer. Again.
7. Almost all the women in these photos are in their 20s. Should women that young be encouraged to get mammograms? No. Not unless they have a BRCA+ mutation or a very, very strong family history of breast cancer, in which case they probably don’t need to be told to get screening.
8. Putting aside the issue of how overhyped mammograms are, this lame meme is not going to inspire anyone to get a mammogram.
On the one hand, younger BRCA+ women face some different challenges than older BRCA+ women, especially when it comes to preserving fertility, navigating dating/marriage/relationships, and timing surgeries. I appreciate the fact that there is a nonprofit dedicated to helping young BRCA+ women navigate these hurtles. I especially like that their website has really handy downloadable, printable patient guides full of excellent questions that BRCA+ women should ask their many doctors. Their Pink Pal program, which pairs up a newly tested BRCA+ woman with a BRCA+ women who has already been through the surgeries, has the potential to be really great.
On the other hand, the organization is called “Bright Pink” and they really seem to embrace pinkwashing and what Gayle Sulik calls the “she-ro” breast cancer warrior rhetoric. And now, with it being October and all, the website is covered with nods to their corporate sponsors: ebay, tressame, aerie, etc.
And then there’s this picture. Yoga for BRCA+ women is a great idea: it helps you connect to your emotions and your body, it helps you deal with stress and has physical benefits. I’m all about it. But this is not my idea of therapeutic yoga for the BRCA+ masses. There’s no diversity here in color, class, or body type. Most young BRCA+ women are not conventionally beautiful, skinny, white, tanned, affluent, and straight with carefully plucked eyebrows and no body hair. Many BRCA+ women do not look good in skimpy tank tops and snug yoga pants. Where are the BRCA+ women who are disabled, chubby, brown, transgendered, out of shape, tattooed, flat chested, unconventional, or just plain unphotogenic? This picture makes it seem as though Bright Pink wants to make BRCA+ women healthy and happy by transforming them all into SEC conference sorority girls: it looks like rush week at the University of Alabama.