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The Boob Tube: The problematic new ad from Rethink Breast Cancer

A frame from the new Rethink Breast Cancer commercial
A frame from the new Rethink Breast Cancer commercial (full video is on the jump)

Rethink Breast Cancer has released a new ad that they hope will catch the attention of heterosexual men and increase awareness of breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer death in young women ages 20 to 59. But though they may have the best of intentions, this ad is liable to do more harm than good.

We’ve all seen the “pinkified” ads for breast cancer awareness and research. They usually focus on women as mothers and daughters and frequently feature emotional music, pastel colors, and a plea for support. It’s no doubt time for a new approach, but the ad recently created by Rethink Breast Cancer is a big step in the wrong direction.

The video opens with a shot of a pool party, with a crowd of women and men enjoying themselves in the water. Then, to the amazement of all the men, Aliya-Jasmine Sovani (a host for MTV News Canada) walks onto the scene, wearing a small white bikini. The video is slowed down and cropped to showcase Sovani’s breasts, and reveal the motion of her breasts with every step she takes. The men at the party are excited, while the smaller-breasted women surrounding them look on in envy and disapproval. The caption reads, “You know you like them. Now it’s time to save the boobs.”

Apparently, to the makers of this advertisement, the ability to look at breasts is the only reason men care about women. It would be impossible to appeal to them as lovers, fathers, sons of women who are affected by breast cancer. No, best to keep it simple for the dudes: “If they lose their boobs, we can’t ogle them anymore!” (And that’s not even taking into account the other women in the ad; clearly, women with smaller breasts aren’t worth saving.)

This ad not only reinforces the objectification and valuing of women based solely on bodily perfection, but it degrades men as well, portraying them as incapable of seeing beyond their own desires to the concerns of women they care about. Real men care about the women in their lives as full people: minds and spirits, as well as bodies. When a husband loses a wife to breast cancer, it’s not the loss of the breasts that he is mourning, but the loss of a woman.

While getting men concerned about the dangers posed by breast cancer is an important goal, ads like this will only serve to remind women that their value in the eyes of men is determined by the perceived perfection of their bodies.

Contact Rethink Breast Cancer and let them know that advertisements like this are not the way forward for women.


18 thoughts on “The Boob Tube: The problematic new ad from Rethink Breast Cancer

  1. I see the same problems that you all are, the male gaze is objectifying her body; however, this is where I think they get out: she herself, is proud of her body and the other women aren’t looking in disapproval, they are looking in envy. That means that this ad doesn’t perpetuate man’s domination over a woman’s body, it displays a mutual appreciation for aesthetic beauty.

  2. Can’t say I agree with your synopsis, Zoey. I think it’s great the young woman is proud of her body…who wouldn’t be, she has a great figure. But to have the smaller breasted woman look on “in envy”, doesn’t do much for women who are not well endowed. Why shouldn’t they be just as proud to have small breasts? It’s stupid. It pits woman against woman. Big vs. litte. Better vs. Not quite adequate. This ad is ridiculous and once again, objectifies women…just as much as stupid fashion magazines and Hollywood. I agree 100% with the author.

  3. Whether the women are looking at her with envy or disapproval or (as one appears to be) lust is not really the issue. The problem is the concept: “save the breasts” rather than save the life. Besides the fact that this is generally objectifying, what does this say to women who have to choose between saving their breasts and saving their lives??

  4. This just plays to the lowest common denominator. Do men like breasts? Sure. Is that all there is to them? Thank God, no. Ads like this give men an out to be one-dimensional and give women an out to not expect more from them.

  5. As a middle-aged mother who breastfed every one of my 6 babies (for 1+ yr each) with my small breasts, I am saddened to see young women buying into the ‘bigger is better’ mindset today! We are our own worst enemies if that is what we have come to, after past years of struggling for voting rights & fighting to be taken seriously!! I hear that even teen girls are asking for (AND getting) breast implants!?! I am here to say that my loving husband did not focus upon my somewhat flat chest, and WHO would want some man who ONLY looked for the perfect body & large breasts? Life ain’t spent in bed, nor in front of a mirror.

  6. I thought the whole way they went about this campagin was just rediculous. Save the boobs? Sounds like it was written by a total ninny. ^_~

    In a step in the right direction, though, my local newspaper is running a series about men who have had experiences with breast cancer, either through a daughter, mother, sister, wife, etc., and how to relate to women who are going through treatment.

    Some of the stories have made me cry, but it really shows some progress, even if it is just a small local paper.

  7. I totally agree with the author 100%. When you’ve got cancer (or a woman you care about has cancer), when it’s life or death, boobs are the freakin last thing you should be worried about. Screw the boobs, save the life! The ad states it’s the leading CAUSE OF DEATH. Where do the actual boobs come into play where death is concerned? They should show attractive woman with NO breasts (Christina Applegate) who are still confident and happy and glad to be alive, and the men who love them who don’t give a hoot whether she has boobs or not – because that’s not what really matters!

  8. this makes me just as sick as a lot of PETA ads. to me, this almost makes a mockery of what women with breast cancer are going through. they are fighting for their lives and some are having to make the decision to have their breasts removed in order to live, and this ad tells us that it’s the boobs that are sooo important. by reducing it down to the boobs, the humanity of the women to which they are attached is lost. and it’s just mindblowing to me that these people are supposedly so concerned about women’s health, but then turn to sexist tactics to bring attention to a women’s issue. why oh why must everything revolve around men’s sexual gratifications???? probably any guy who needs this kind of advertisement to bring his attention to a women’s health issue is probably not the type who cares about women as human beings in the first place!

  9. Really, I don’t see any problems. First off, I don’t think any of the other women looked envious or anything of the sort–many of them, to me, seemed impressed and appreciative. I saw at least one smiling! (And frankly I’m happy to see a woman who’s a little more shapely getting a spotlight for once.)

    This is all about demographics. Clearly the ad is targeted towards men who could normally care less about breast cancer. Not respectable fathers and husbands and sons! This is probably the best way we can reach out to them and it will benefit us all in the long run. I get the whole “saving the breasts instead of the life is bad” thing, but this is a great attention-getter for those guys who, I say again, are aware of breast cancer but don’t care because it supposedly doesn’t affect them. Sure it’s shallow, but it’s also a genius marketing strategy for an issue like this. After all, there are plenty of other serious breast cancer ads that deal with the real issues women are facing.

    So, seriously… problem? Where?

  10. Great marketing scheme. Yeah it is kind of making women out to be object, but its for a good cause right? Great attention grabber, but I think the point is lost at the end, and just made it into a censored porn flick.

  11. I agree with you, even though I can appreciate the tongue-in-cheek “boobs are fun and dudes are silly” attitude that went into it.

    A couple things are bothering me, though. 1. If this woman were heavier or had fat jiggling on other parts of her body, would her big boobs be portrayed in the same light in the frat-boy mentality of the ad? Or would her breast and her be portrayed in a montrous light? 2. While the other women in the ad could be looking at her boobs with attraction and approval, those women also have perfectly fine breasts that are seen as less ogle-worthy, hence not worth worrying about saving? 3. The camera focuses on her breasts so much, that regardless of her being happy and confident with her body, she becomes disembodied, a faceless walking pair of boobs.

    My fear about a campaign like this is that it makes an organization like this seem a little like an exclusive frat party (with hints of ‘Girls Gone Wild’?), where only the young, beautiful, perky, and well-endowed are allowed in and someone will ogle you (a la Howard Stern) to determine whether you breasts are worth saving. Meanwhile, women who have smaller, saggier or less-perfect breasts (or heavier women with large breasts) who could as easily get breast cancer would be regarded as less of a concern.

    I think this group COULD avoid the whole “soft, pink” sentimentality and go for the “boobs are sexy” angle and also come up with a way of celebrating the diversity of breasts and the beauty of all sizes large and small.

    If this ad, instead, replaced “boobs” with a name-brand beer, and then was reshot, frame by frame, with her holding a beer in front of her jiggling breasts, it would just be another corporate ad selling product through objectification.

  12. I agree with Lisa too. But is there room here to simply laugh at this ad, as well? I’m usually the FIRST to call “objectification” in advertising, and to take it all seriously. But with this one, I sort of let it go and felt simple amusement. The music, the sailor-boys, it all just struck me as mockery and silliness for its own sake. What is the tone in which this was intended? I’m just not sure they meant to completely dismiss the seriousness of breast cancer, or to state that the “boobs” are all that matter — but to put a new, *funny* twist on it.

  13. Jennifer: I think that may have been the intent of the makers of the ad. I seriously doubt that they intended to demean women, or continue promoting harmful ideas.

    But intent just doesn’t count for that much, when most people will simply see the ad with no caveats. The fact remains that the ad plays into stereotypical concepts of men and women. Does it ever ask men to consider women’s breasts in a different light? No, it simply flashes the images on the screen without even asking men to take any action.

    I think Lisa’s on the right track–something that celebrated the diversity of breast size would have been more fun. I don’t want to say that the topic can never be approached with humor–it should be! I just don’t think this particular ad was a success in that regard.

  14. Oh yeah, genius marketing strategy.. I’m sure all the men were rapt at attention over breast cancer thanks to this one commercial.. Yeah, right. They forgot all about it the second it was over and went on surfing for more boobs.

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