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Should we be asking young women to “get your tits out for the girls”?

This week I’m bringing you another great guest post by Enlighten Education’s program manager for New Zealand, Rachel Hansen. For some time now I’ve been growing tired of what Rachel calls the “prettifying” and “sexifying” of breast cancer in fundraising and awareness campaigns, and this week I was as outraged as Rachel by a campaign in NZ that is encouraging girls and young women to post pictures of their breasts on the internet. Rachel’s blog post clearly struck a chord with a lot of people, because she received 1,000 hits in 24 hours! It has been picked up by numerous bloggers and by MSN news.

There was widespread discussion about the “I like . . .” Facebook craze last month. While I felt that this campaign sexualised breast cancer in a weird kinda way, NZGirl’s latest campaign has left me (nearly) speechless. Viewers are invited to “get your tits out for the girls . . . and don’t forget to check out the other lovely pairs, beautiful boobs and pretty titties already uploaded.”

For every 50 pairs of “titties” uploaded by viewers, NZGirl will donate $1000 to breast cancer awareness. This campaign began yesterday [30 November] and already there is a gallery of over 49 pairs of breasts to peruse, rank and comment on.

Hmm, a gallery of “titties” ranked according to popularity and the ability for me to leave comments about them. How exactly is this different to a crude pornography site?

NZGirl is exploiting women and girls in order to drive traffic to their website. It is making light of a horrific disease in order to gain popularity. It is belittling the experience of breast cancer sufferers, many of whom are left scarred or have had to have their breasts removed. But in marketing terms, this campaign has been a resounding success — over 25,000 people visited the site this morning, crashing it.

Boganette has written a great post on why NZGirl’s campaign is oh-so-wrong:

Celebrate breasts, of course. But don’t do it in the name of breast cancer. Breast cancer isn’t about breasts. It’s not something you should have a laugh about on Twitter. It’s not something you should joke about on Facebook. It shouldn’t be a reason for posting photos of your breasts or flashing them or “getting them out” . . . Breast cancer is a horrible, miserable, horrifying disease — that’s it. It’s cancer — it’s not motivation for you to be happy with your body.

I hate the prettifying of breast cancer. The sexifying of breast cancer. Breast cancer is not sexy images of pert wee breasts. If you want to see the realities of breast cancer, check out The Scar Project. It’s raw and it’s real. There is nothing funny about it.

According to Stuff:

NZgirl editor and general manager Tee Twyford said the campaign wasn’t about driving traffic to their site, but about raising awareness. “The reason for it was twofold. There was a desire to have readers feel really good about their breasts and we wanted to align it with a breast cancer cause to get greater awareness and funding,” Twyford said.

So, according to Tee Twyford, women need to share photos of their breasts with the world in order to feel good about themselves. We all need to seek external validation to make sure that our breasts are up to scratch, that they’re OK. Dear Tee, please explain how being in the lower half of the rankings is going to help 50% of those women feel good about their breasts? Because Tee, in a rankings system, there is always a loser. And are the “winners” in the top half of the rankings supposed to feel great about themselves because a whole bunch of strangers have critiqued their breasts and given them a thumbs-up?

Tee Twyford, I am not going to send your website a photo of my breasts. They are beautiful and I love them. But I don’t need NZGirl to rank them and I don’t need strangers to give me their comments about them. Because those strangers don’t know that my breasts and I have been through lots together. Those strangers don’t know or care that my breasts fed my baby and that I love them in all their uneven, stretch-marky, increasingly-less-pert glory. Or that it took me quite some time to learn to love them.

Disturbingly, but not surprisingly, many of the breast photos that have been uploaded seem to be of teenagers. Through Enlighten Education I work with teen girls throughout New Zealand. I often have tears of sadness when talking with them about the immense pressures they face with regards to their bodies. New Zealand’s rates of eating disorders and depression amongst teenagers are skyrocketing. Just yesterday I spent a morning with 150 gorgeous year 10 girls who all told me that they felt that they were not beautiful enough, not skinny enough and not perfect enough. It is campaigns such as this one that add to the overwhelming pressure and sense for girls that they are just not enough. As soon as I have posted this I am going to email Tee Twyford to invite her to sit in on one of these sessions. Perhaps then she would realise the effects that such media campaigns have on our girls.

Once photos are uploaded onto the internet, the owners cease to have any control over how they are used. To assume that these photos will not be used for pornographic purposes is naive. We teach girls to never upload sexual photos of themselves — why is a (previously) respected organisation encouraging them to do exactly this?

Women, why are we doing this to each other? Are men rushing to upload photos of their penises to raise money for “cancer awareness”?

NZGirl, if your motivation really is to raise money for breast cancer research I can think of a million more positive ways to do this. Even simpler: if you really want to donate to a good cause, just get out your credit card and donate. Simple.

Updates: Since I wrote this blog post on Wednesday, many of the photos of breasts are now on porn sites such as xtube and others that you can see listed here. If NZgirl had a tick box on the website that said “If you upload this photo then we will donate $5 to ‘breast cancer awareness’ and your photo will probably appear on an unlimited number of porn sites, forever” how many women would have gone ahead and uploaded photos?

NZgirl has claimed that they are rotating the “favourites”. However, I have checked the site a number of times in the past 24 hours and the same breasts have been rated number one all day today: a perky youthful pair that are the result of a breast enlargement operation. The age of the person in the photo is indicated by her final comment: “As my Mum put it, ‘they were meant to be yours.’”

There is no way for the site to screen out girls under 18 from posting images of their breasts. NZGirl states in its terms and conditions: “If you are under 18 and you decide to post or send personal information to us or to other areas on the Internet, make sure you ask your parents if it’s okay.” Regardless of parental consent, sexual photos of children are never legal. Is NZGirl potentially breaking New Zealand law in terms of child pornography?

And a final word from Dannielle Miller: Awesome blog post, Rachel. I was so fired up about this ludicrous “campaign” that I went on Radio National New Zealand to say my piece on Afternoons with Jim Mora.  Things got rather interesting when a spokeswoman from NZGirl called in to offer her defence of the site’s actions. The arguments she offered were, unsurprisingly, pretty weak, but the heated debate certainly made for great radio: NZ radio This MP3 Audio file has been uploaded with Radio National NZ’s permission.

rachel hansenRachel Hansen is an experienced health and wellbeing educator who has a first-class honours degree in Psychology and a Masters degree in Criminology from Cambridge University (UK). Her research has focused on youth development, youth offending and women’s health.

Published inBody ImageEating DisordersEnlighten Education

10 Comments

  1. Francesca

    Oh how incredibly dissapointing to see NZgirl put such a ridiculous insane campaign out there. I’m sick and tired of women being treated as ‘bodies’ rather than ‘somebodies”and this campaign is all about the evaluating our breasts and their prettiness?! AAargh! I almost feel like NZgirl doesn’t recognise the immense struggles and challenges women with breast cancer face by promoting this campaign. To add, is it really a healthy competition for our teens…who seem to be involving themselves? I agree Rachel…our teens don’t need to see campaigns like this. There would be so many better ways to raise money for the cause. Good on you Rachel for putting your opposition to this out there and Danni too for generating discussion about this on the radio waves.

  2. Melinda L

    That is such a stupid idea to ‘raise awareness’ for breast cancer. I would like to know if that young girl is aware that her image now appears on p**n sites?

  3. Olivia

    WOW! I’m gobsmacked!!!! How ludicrous! And so upsetting they’ve ended up on p*rn sites. ew the whole thing is just erk. similar to PETA’s ‘I’d rather be naked than wear fur’ crap and if I see another naked ‘tasteful’ shot of a celeb on a mag, i’m going to hurl it.

  4. Anita

    I wonder if it was flash & rate to raise awareness of testicular cancer if it would provoke the same response from the general public.

  5. Nicole J

    So according to the NZgirl rep in the radio clip, if one life is saved then it’s all worth it? If only health economists had worked out earlier that objectification was such a cheap and easy solution to breast cancer diagnosis. We should have done away with all that expensive and uncomfortable screening right now in favour of the odd flashed ‘titty’ years ago!!

  6. Verina

    I cannot believe that women would fall for this ! I bet the blokes and pedophiles out there are rubbing there hand with Glee. All these free photos of “boobs” and “Tits”. I wonder how many of them are being shared around the world right now. It is another example of how women have to show how beautiful and sexy they are by getting their gear off.
    Amazing that people are falling for this crass and subtle exploitation. I hope someones ends it soon. How can showing all these beautiful breasts possible cheer up the woman who has just lost hers to Breast cancer?
    Lets hope wiser heads prevail soon.

  7. Jane Higgins

    After watching my mother die from breast cancer, I am appalled that NZgirl would ever consider this a campaign of integrity. They obviously have never listened to women compare themselves against each other nor seen the havoc that breast cancer actually brings to a woman. By all means NZgirl donate away – give your money to a good cause but not by encouraging women to flash their tits. What’s next …. flash your vagina for ovarian cancer??? Get real!!

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