Pink bondage

2014-10-21 13:45

As much as we try to hide them, prettify them or subdue them, breasts won’t play ball, as Joonji Mdyogolo discovered while interrogating breast cancer awareness

When feminists burnt their bras (well, some say it didn’t happen like that exactly) in the 1960s, this act became iconic of the women’s liberation movement.

And yet, we’re far from free of the politics of breasts.

As #nobraday quickly degenerated from faux activism to borderline smut, it became clear once again that breasts are unruly.

Tatas, to use that cringeworthy infantilising word I see flying around on Twitter, just refuse to stay in their place.

That’s because for Western culture, breasts, borne of a corseted sexuality, are the ultimate symbol of the Madonna-whore complex.

It has, I’m sure, everything to do with those images of an overgrown baby Jesus suckling at his virgin mother’s breast as he creepily stares back at the voyeur.

Since then, we’ve been fumbling with grasping the concept of breasts like a prepubescent boy working to unclasp his first bra.

It happened in apartheid South Africa, when nudie magazine Scope placed stars on breasts to hide the nipples of its models in an attempt to preserve white women’s “purity” for its readers or to placate the state, I’m guessing.

It happens in the baffling Western world’s outrage against public breast-feeding.

The politics also play out during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. A lot has now been written about the “pinkification of Breast Cancer Awareness Month” – the billion-dollar industry that has commodified breast cancer awareness by selling pink things, anything from ribbons and lipsticks to teddy bears, caps and T-shirts.

Critics are calling out the hypocrisy of an awareness campaign that’s being funded by companies that sell products that are carcinogenic, for example.

The industry is so bizarre, Pornhub (I know you know what that is) pledged a share of its October profit on breast-related content.

What’s also interesting to me is the prettification of breast cancer.

Having worked in women’s magazines, I was always intrigued by the beauty industry’s strong tie-in to the month. How breast cancer stories always seem to boil down to a series of cancer survivors made over. Or displayed on those calendars where they bare their intimate scars so they can feel beautiful again.

A documentary called Pink Ribbons Inc says it’s because breast cancer awareness has become part of the bottom line for beauty houses.

It also seems to be a contradiction – cancer and pretty – seeing as the reality is that it’s an ugly disease, its treatment is corrosive to the body and tough on the mind, and it is deadly.

I know this because my father had cancer and I can’t really remember a positive moment of his illness.

But we can’t look at breast cancer squarely. We have to prettify it, spruce it up, slap it back into place – “bad breast”.

Compare this to HIV/Aids, an equally hard disease. Not many are fighting to save its image, to feminise it, make pretty with it, yet its effects are also most devastating to women.

There’s no glamorous female celebrity who stands as the face of the disease wearing a slinky red dress, like Elizabeth Hurley did. That’s because vaginas and penises are naughty, as we all know, beyond redemption. They are red for danger.

But as demure as we make them, breasts won’t stay in their place. They are unpredictable. In their physical form, their varying sizes and shapes, with nipples that peak out unintentionally even when we cage them in bras. They just won’t be one thing at the expense of the other.

They are constantly busting out of this pink bondage even in something as seemingly well intentioned as breast cancer awareness. I salute their rebellious nature. But I doubt they’ll ever truly be free.

Talk to us: Does the pinkification of Breast Cancer Awareness Month really send a strong message about how dangerous the disease is?

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