RONZONE: Sexuality of ‘Save the Boobs’ hurts message

Raquel Ronzone

It’s an old marketing scheme, one completely dependent on the supposed carnal inclinations of a Westernized audience. Advertisers have used sexuality to sell entertainment, food, alcohol, fashion and news. With the release of a new video campaign, health can rightfully be added to that non-exhaustive list.

“Save the Boobs” is a breast cancer awareness ad written by and starring Canadian MTV host Aliya Jasmine Sovani, whose cousin recently lost a breast to the disease. The ad hits the airwaves just in time for October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Sovani took part in the project in order to promote a local charity, Boobyball, which serves to raise awareness of breast cancer and to garner support among young people.

The minute-long clip features the bikini-clad Sovani, strutting around the guests of a crowded pool party. Cameras pan across the spellbound gazes of fellow partygoers, men and women alike, as the text cheekily states, “You know you like them.” Cameras then zoom in on Sovani’s breasts, moving in suggestive slow motion. Then, “Now it’s time to save the boobs.” The final frame reads, “Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in young women ages 20-49.”

That closing statistic explains the thought process that led to the production of the video in the first place. While talking with ABC News, M.J. DeCoteau, founder of Boobyball, voiced her desire to use the video as a means to capture the attention of a young demographic and remind it of the severity and prevalence of breast cancer among people of all ages.

The video itself has certainly succeeded in capturing the attention of the masses, gaining airtime on ABC’s Good Morning America and The View, as well as CNN’s American Morning, and publicity through the LA Times, YouTube.com, Break.com and Maxim.com.

Those who back the video’s approach to raising awareness of breast cancer insist that it targets the intended viewers, young people, by using an advertising strategy familiar to them – candid images of sexuality.

For a generation largely unfazed by sexting and celebrity sex tapes, such familiarity, advocates say, could help and not hinder an emphasis on the importance of breast health.

Supporters also argue that this message, regardless of the saucy manner in which that it is communicated, is a positive contribution to public conversations about health, so long as it heightens awareness and saves lives.

No reasonable person would challenge the idea that increasing public knowledge of the disease is a disadvantage for society. A deeper look at the campaign, its implications and its reception, however, illustrate that it is not without its negative aspects.

The gratuitous use of sexuality in the video diminishes the integrity of the campaign. Interestingly enough, the video so concerned with informing young people of the disease that claimed over 40,000 lives in the United States in 2009 is featured in the comedy section of Maxim’s Web site. The poignancy of the message was apparently lost on the staff at Maxim, who saw the ad as nothing more than lowbrow humor.

But the phrasing of the message itself proves just as ineffective as the provocative presentation. Note that the text reads, “It’s time to save the boobs,”-not time to save lives-as if the human owners were relevant insofar as two of their body parts were intact. Reducing the issue to a set of anatomical features removes the element of personal care that should always accompany discussions of the disease.

By presenting the woman as only an object of sexuality, the makers of the video disregard the fact that she has personal opinions about her own body, that her body is more than just a sexual attraction and has potential for motherhood and that she has individual concerns about getting, having or treating breast cancer.

The unapologetically racy tone of the video also assumes that young men and women of this generation not only maintain a Pavlovian response to sexual imagery but also lack the intelligence to pay attention to an issue unless their libidinous interests are piqued. In other words, simply reiterating an awareness of breast cancer is not enough; adding a provocative component is the only way the media figures it can get our attention and support about preventing and treating a life-threatening disease.

The idea that this generation can be concerned with health only when we are tantalized by sexual content is downright offensive.

Nonetheless, the campaign will persist, whether it induces more juvenile giggles, draws more criticism and negative public feedback or accomplishes its initial goal: raising awareness of breast cancer. For our health, let’s keep that goal in mind.

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Raquel Ronzone is a junior communication major from Philadelphia. She can be reached at [email protected]