Last year I drove past the local mall and was surprised to see what appeared to be a giant tapestry hanging between two construction cranes. I’m talking several stories high. Curious, I took a closer look and was appalled to realize it was actually ladies underwear. Hundreds and hundreds of bras, hooked together and strung across one of the busiest intersections in town.
Well that’s awkward
I was embarrassed. While it wasn’t my underwear strung up in plain sight, I felt awkward looking at a wall of bras. Call me old-fashioned, but I consider underwear to serve a more functional purpose than decorating the intersection of Martin Luther King Boulevard and 23rd street.
Driving away I realized that it was October — a month dedicated to Breast Cancer Awareness—and this wall of underwear had probably been constructed by well-meaning folks with the intention of raising awareness for this issue.
This month many schools, sports teams, volunteer clubs, fraternities and sororities and families will take up the very important cause of raising awareness, fundraising for research and supporting survivors of breast cancer.
This is noble.
However, as we prepare for a month of awareness, It’s fine to pause and ask ourselves if we’re being respectful in the way we’re getting the message across – and what the message is in the first place.
What are we saying?
You’ve probably seen some of the slogans employed to get the message across: “Save the ta-tas”, “keep abreast” and “I heart boobies”. For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why although I am very much opposed to cancer, the tone of these messages made me uncomfortable. Then my aunt was diagnosed and it hit me — I wasn’t praying for her breasts — I was praying for her.
In his September 17, 1980 “Theology of the Body” address, Blessed Pope John Paul II stated,
“It is one thing to be conscious that the value of sex is a part of all the rich storehouse of values with which the female appears to the man. It is another ‘to reduce’ all the personal riches of femininity to that single value, that is, of sex… ”
I realized that the reason I was embarrassed by the wall of bras and awkward slogans was that while these tactics might be raising awareness, they were doing it in a way that didn’t draw your attention to the health and happiness of women. They only drew your attention to one of a woman’s body parts.
So what do we do?
Promoting the health of women is good. Supporting those battling cancer is also very good. However, we should be sure that our actions and language are supporting the whole person — body and soul — not just a part.
If you’re in a group, club, team, or class that’s seeking to raise awareness and support those battling cancer this month, that’s a great cause. If the plan of action leaves you feeling embarrassed or uncomfortable (like I felt looking at the wall of underwear on 23rd street), consider speaking up. Ask your crew if it’s serving your mission of supporting women or just shocking your audience?
Some clarification on what is authentic support: fundraising for organizations that support the health of women, offering babysitting or housekeeping to women battling cancer, donating your hair to Locks of Love and most importantly, praying for the health of all.
Going bra-less or wearing a sequined bra over your clothes, posting crass pictures or phrases on social media or a t-shirt, or stringing bras across an intersection is not supportive – just shocking and in poor taste.
Don’t turn October into an excuse to reduce anyone – healthy or suffering – to one part of their body. Authentic awareness for the sufferings of others means recognizing that their dignity comes from God and respecting their personhood – not pointing out a part.