A Funny Thing Happened . . .

I was working on a post about male breast cancer.  I wanted to create a graphic with statistics and thought to myself, “Self, hit The Google and get a picture of some pecs.”  Now, just in case you forgot I do have breast cancer.  I know how serious it is.  Indeed, unless I get hit by a bus or fall out of a plane without a parachute, breast cancer will kill me.  I rail against the pink.  I bitch about the feminization of the disease.  I cry foul over sexualization of the disease.

And I wanted no less than a hot guy’s chest for my graphic.

As you might imagine, there is no shortage of images for male chests.  But not all chests are created equal (some are even fake).  As I was perusing images I was consciously trying to find something “normal,” but I kept going for the hot guy.  I wanted my graphic to look nice.  I didn’t want some middle aged guy with man boobage as part of my artistic creation.  I could’ve gone truthy–ulcerations, blackened pits. No.  Too many people read The Boob with their morning coffee.  I couldn’t have them spitting out their breakfast.

No, I’m going to go with the hot guy.  The guy with the perfectly sculpted arms, the nipples painted by Michelangelo, the chest I could imagine myself . . . okay.   Whew, it’s warm in here.  Here’s my point.

I was trying to do a public service.  I went into it with all the best intentions.  And I caught myself sexualizing male breast cancer.  I tried to pick the least suggestive of photographs (I even considered a cropped shot of Michaelangelo’s David).  But I kept veering toward the guy to whom I was attracted.

And I got to thinking about all of those photo shoots of women with their perfect breasts, peeks at boobage, pink ribbons or neckties in the cleavage.  I wonder how many of these photographs and photo shoots were pulled together with the best of intentions, the desire to create that perfect composition in answer to the assignment.  But the end product of idealized beauty just got in the way.  And when we, the observers, looked upon the finished product we assigned to it our criticisms completely out of context of the original creation either as 1) our reaction to the image itself, or 2) our reaction to the way in which the image was used.

So, a funny thing happened on the way to the male breast cancer awareness graphic.  I chose exceptional over average.  Sexy over unsexy.  Appealing over ugly.  I do want to save the man, not merely the man boob.  However, I am wondering if my message to men was diluted because I went in this direction.

Gentlemen?  Gentlewomen?  You tell me.

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14 Responses to A Funny Thing Happened . . .

  1. Scorchy, your self-awareness is such a powerful tool as always. Thanks for sharing it with us! I agree that the sexualization of breast cancer is harmful for both men and women. Being a man with breast cancer must be so isolating. I’m so glad Oliver Bogler is writing such an excellent blog and thank you for posting it on your FaceBook page!

    I read that 50% of male breast cancer is diagnosed at stages 3 and 4. I know that part of that is because men don’t get routine mammograms and that because it is rare for men, it is not going to be at the forefront of physician’s minds when a man complains of a lump. But I do believe that the fact that it’s seen as a “woman’s disease” and the fact that it is still stigmatizing for men to be “girly”, is leading to later diagnosis.

    It reminds me of something I’ve seen with my psychology practice. I do psychotherapy as part of my practice with both boys and girls. But I notice that when boys turn about 10, there’s a significant proportion of them who resist coming to therapy. My impression is that they associate talking about thoughts and feelings with “being a girl.” And calling a boy “a girl” is still a playground slur that hurts everyone. I often find myself referring the boys to a male psychologist because that seems to work better for them.

  2. Scott MacKenzie says:

    It’s just advertising 101. There’s a lot of noise in the marketplace and you need to capture the target audience’s attention. You do that with the most eye-catching photo. No harm, no foul. The message is what’s important. It’s a shocking statistic.

  3. I’ve been contemplating a post about male breast cancer too. You make some thought-provoking points here. And I love the comment above. What a wise guy! Made me laugh too. In answer to your question, yes, your message was definitely diluted when you went this direction. Thanks for post/commentary.

  4. Acacia says:

    Scorchy, I love that you wrote this! I’ve often wondered about the aesthetic choices made by the BCRF and others for bc awareness adverts and such. I wonder, though, if the images used about male bc aren’t a little more fraught with difficulty. How do you acknowledge bc in men without making it a challenge or flaw of masculinity? How do you show “everyone” without ridiculing the aging man, the hefty man or the young man? We have instutionalized the ridicule of the flabby male body to the level of the “no fat chicks” t-shirts. While women argue that every body is beautiful, we don’t give that same consideration to men. Finally, bc is for them the same as it is for us…a matter of life and death. It’s not about the breasts.

    • Scorchy says:

      To be sure, there is blatant sexual exploitation on BC adverts: that whole Tao second base stuff is repugnant. And every photograph or ad campaign can be deconstructed into its cultural, economic, sexual elements. I really love the Scottish ad I featured in my post Euphemisms . Real boobs, a real woman, and god forbid anyone sees it. There is a page on the web about non-sexualized breasts. I mean, how many times was George Costanza from Seinfeld shown without a shirt, yet every woman on that show (short of the caricatured mothers) were young, thin, shapely? I’d love to see a BC ad with real women and real men. We’ll never eradicate the sexualized ad, but it would be nice to see a nod toward something different.

  5. It’s such a tricky point. I’m positive ‘normal’ can also be shown as beautiful – particularly by a strong documenter (think of the scar project, eh, all normal women – yet all the pictures we are so engaging). The thing about attraction is that it attracts us . . . so it attracts us to read the article, attracts us to look at the ad, attracts us to pay attention rather then quickly move away if we don’t like what we see. I reckon this habit is hard wired in our brains dating back to cave-people days, so it doesn’t surprised me that you picked the hot guy. That being said, you realized it and now we’re having this conversation.

    Personally, I’m a fan of the normal celebrated and shown in its beauty. If everyone could have a professional photograph of their chest, I bet you’d have a lot more options to choose from, and no one would want to spit out their coffee. 😉 ~Catherine

  6. Linda says:

    Thanks for focussing on the topic of male breast cancer. Wanted to highlight the link with BRCA mutations, particularly BRCA2, as BRCA2+ men have a substantially elevated risk as compared to the general male population. Conversely, families with male breast cancer are also more likely to have BRCA mutations and anytime a man is diagnosed with breast cancer they might consider talking with a genetic counselor to learn more and possibly get tested. I am BRCA2 positive as is my mom (ovarian cancer and breast cancer) as well as at least one (others have not yet been tested) of my young adult sons. My son doesn’t look too much like your model 🙂

  7. Marie says:

    My thought is – so what? Humans like sex. Humans like sexy. Some of that “sexualization” thing that we, as feminists, complain about is just because people like it. Not sexualization, but sex. We should all loosen up a bit.

  8. Katie says:

    It’s a shame to think that using sex in marketing even applies to raising awareness about breast cancer. I guess our pursuit of being visually attracted to advertising–any advertising–is so engrained in our culture we really can’t get away from it.

  9. Knot Telling says:

    Synchronicity strikes again! I’ve started working on a post about breast cancer in men, too.

    Very interesting observations, Scorchy. Thank you for posting them.

  10. I’m just wondering where you found that picture of me.

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