No more “Save the Tatas,” please

by Jessica Luther

Luther can be found on Twitter at @scATX.

Too many in my life have had breast cancer. Most have lost one or both of their breasts. One lost her breasts and then her life. She was 33.

I used to think that looking for a “cure” was the answer to the cancer problem and was a worthy focus of attention. Now I wish that much more effort was put into awareness and prevention than the pipe dream of a cure. While a cure is a nice idea and I, of course, want there to be a cure — today if possible — the reality is that there won’t be one today. Or tomorrow. Or even next year. And in the meantime, there are women (and some men) fighting for their health and their lives, most of them with no family history of breast cancer. There are carriers of the BRCA gene that must make decisions about treatment before the cancer has even shown itself (and that is only if they made the decision to get their DNA tested for the gene).

I also used to think campaigns that focused on breasts were cute and fine. “Save the Tatas” made me giggle. They don’t make me giggle anymore.

There are survivors living with conditions and scars (both physically and emotionally) that remind them daily of the cancer that haunted their bodies and minds, that continue to haunt them with every check-up at the oncologist’s office or every daily morning prevention pill. Focusing on breasts and breasts alone obscures the reality and the faces of the people who are at the center of the fight against breast cancer. It reminds the survivors who either don’t have their breasts or have scars across the breasts they do have that they are now not as wholly feminine as they once were (and they never will be). They may have beaten the cancer but they lost their breasts, the things everyone seems to actually care about.

And for those who don’t survive their cancer, well, I think they, more than any other group, show how silly a focus on breasts/titties/tatas/jugs is.

[Plus, this bothers me also for the simple reason that since this is a cancer that mainly strikes women, it has to be about the body part, a body part that is so hyper-sexualized in our society that breastfeeding a child is a salacious public act. Oh, what would the menz do without the boobies to look at, fondle, and drool over? Save those tatas, ladies!]

So, this October, this month of Breast Cancer Awareness, PLEASE remember that we are focused on this because we want to SAVE THE WOMEN. We want to SAVE PEOPLE. We want to SAVE LIVES.  Tatas – those would be nice to save if it’s possible. But forget saving the tatas if you lose the woman.

On that note, I want to point to something I found out about today. The SCAR Project [Possibly NSFW]. From their website:

The SCAR Project is a series of large-scale portraits of young breast cancer survivors shot by fashion photographer David Jay. Primarily an awareness raising campaign, The SCAR Project puts a raw, unflinching face on early onset breast cancer while paying tribute to the courage and spirit of so many brave young women.

Dedicated to the more than 10,000 women under the age of 40 who will be diagnosed this year alone The SCAR Project is an exercise in awareness, hope, reflection and healing. The mission is three-fold: Raise public consciousness of early-onset breast cancer, raise funds for breast cancer research/outreach programs and help young survivors see their scars, faces, figures and experiences through a new, honest and ultimately empowering lens.

Clicking on this link will take you to the SCAR project website where the images of these women with their breasts exposed immediately begin playing on a slideshow. Be prepared because you will witness what surviving breast cancer looks like for actual survivors. I love this project and I hope that it does bring more awareness to life after breast cancer.  More than anything, I hope that it reminds people of the faces and the people who are affected by this cancer.  That it brings our gaze upward from the chests to the eyes of the people looking back at us from these photos.

Those afflicted with breast cancer aren’t tatas. They are people. Most are women. All are fighters. And hopefully, they are survivors.

If you are looking for a place to donate money to help in the fight against breast cancer, I suggest looking into the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and the American Cancer Society. If you have other suggestions for where one should donate, please leave them in comments.

There is also a follow-up to the original post that shows why focusing on breasts instead of people leaves open a huge amount of cultural space for someone to co-opt the cause and exploit it to the fullest under the guise of “helping” or “awareness.”

[Originally posted at Speaker’s Corner in the ATX (scATX), cross-posted here with author’s permission.]

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7 Responses to “No more “Save the Tatas,” please”

  1. Melly Testa

    I am a flat chested woman. I don’t have ta-tas anymore. I don’t wear breast forms and I am getting used to being perceived as different, a freak, a gender bender. I suppose when my hair grows, it might become easier to be experienced as female. But part of me does not care. I want a new category, one like Really Strong Woman Who Confront Societal Expectations that are Imposed on Her Body. Thanks for writing on this topic.

  2. Emma

    I love this article. I too think it is sad that women’s bodies are sold even when this cause may create good outcomes. I would like to tell you about the Breast Cancer Fund- an organization that i support throughout the year. Their mission is: “In response to the public health crisis of breast cancer, the Breast Cancer Fund identifies – and advocates for elimination of – the environmental and other preventable causes of the disease.”

    They don’t use women’s bodies to drum up donations and they are fully focused on prevention vs. cure– admirable and worthy, in my opinion.

    Thanks for this article!!

  3. charise isis

    For Melly Testa, and other brave women who have had to live the daily struggle of what it is to live with Breast Cancer and feel like they are no longer feminine or beautiful. I’d like to direct you to a photography project that I have been working on called “Grace”. Grace is also a series of portraits of women who have had mastectomy surgery…it focuses on women of all ages and is about their courage and beauty and grace. The portraits are based on Hellenic sculpture with the concept that objects such as the Venus Di Milo and NIKe of Samathrace survive the trauma of history and in the process lose body parts and yet we still value them as the most ultimately precious and beautiful objects within our culture. The subjects I have photographed have survived the trauma of Breast Cancer and in the process have lost body parts. In photographing them with this in mind it creates a doorway for both the subject and viewer to see a Breast Cancer body in a different light.

    Beauty is perspective. I hope with this project to change that perspective… -thanks, isis

  4. Zuzana

    Thank-you. I heard you on CBC Radio this morning and am so thrilled to hear people speaking out against these campaigns. I am a two year breast cancer survivor and cringe everytime breast cancer awareness month comes along. It’s an ugly pink tsunami. I feel like such a spoil sport when I don’t don my pink boa and start dancing around at events. Cancer was not pretty. It’s never been about just about my boobies, but about a horrible disease that has changed my life forever. You are correct in pointing out that it sexualizes women. Do we dance around and have “I love nut” balls to raise awareness of testicular cancer… hmmm.. seems disrespectful..

  5. RedSonja

    Thank you so much for this! A group at my college just put on a “Boobies on the Bridge” breast cancer “awareness” event. Mostly it seemed to be an excuse to giggle about boobies, including dressing a man as “Captain Boobies” wearing a pink cape, a pink stuffed bra over a tshirt, and pink pajama pants. I’m currently composing an email to the group (and its advisers) and am absolutely including a link to this piece.

  6. Two Peas in a Pod

    […] my friend and colleague Jessica Luther (aka scatx) wrote a great piece for Flyover Feminism, “No More ‘Save the Ta-Tas’ Please,” which addressed some of those reasons. Like, for example, the fact that partially or wholly […]


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