Boobs to cure cancer?

The Booby Wall collects photos of women's bare breasts to raise breast cancer awareness.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

Published January 11, 2008 8:24PM (EST)

A new Web site is attempting to raise awareness about breast cancer by compiling a virtual trove of amateur photos of women's bare breasts. The site's welcome page features a flash animation of women -- one peeling her clothes off, another wielding her T-shirt above her head -- accompanied by pop-up messages: "This is not spring break," "This is not Maxim," "This is beautiful." This is ... the "Booby Wall."

Yes, the Booby Wall. It's a partnership between the nonprofit Rethink Breast Cancer and razor company Schick's Canadian division (which advises women to check for lumps when shaving under their armpits). Women are encouraged to upload a photo of their breasts -- fully clothed, bra-clad or bare -- "as a symbol of your commitment." There's also the Booby Booth, which is traveling around Canadian consumer shows and is just as it sounds: a photo booth where women can flash the camera and post their photo to the site. There are a couple of photos of women with mastectomies, which are powerful and arresting, but the vast majority are of apparently healthy breasts.

M.J. DeCoteau, executive director of Rethink, says there's a "fear factor" when it comes to self-exams: "Young women make excuses and we're saying there's no excuse, you can just touch your breasts, look at them and then check with your doctor if you notice anything different." That's a great message -- I'm just a little confused as to how adding to the online pictorial presence of breasts is awareness-raising (beyond, of course, the controversy it stirs up) or a way of expressing true "commitment" to the cause. The idea, according to Reuters, is that women give themselves a breast exam and then upload a "booby" pic. That concept isn't so clearly communicated on the Web site, though. The Booby Wall does cover the important "TLC" message ("Touch. Look. Check."), but the bare boobs are the celebrated stars of this show.

I get it, I do. They're trying to sex up breast cancer awareness, but there's just nothing sexy about cancer. You could argue that the site is simply an ode to breasts, except that it's not: Posting a photo of one's breasts is framed on the site as a show of commitment, an act of support for women with breast cancer. I'm all for original and subversive attempts at raising awareness about the disease -- but if the online availability of amateur photos of women's breasts were the cure to breast cancer, the disease would have been wiped out some time ago.

There's a real disconnection here. It reads to me as rah-rah exhibitionist fluffy feminism without real purpose. Count me out.

Tracy Clark-Flory

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