Your Fun 'No Bra Day' Photos Are Overshadowing Terminal Breast Cancer Patients

No Bra Day is supposed to be a day for "raising awareness" about breast cancer. Many survivors say it's trivializing the disease.

by Callie Beusman
Oct 13 2015, 9:30pm

Image by Jovana Rikalko / Stocksy

Today, as you may have seen on the multiple social media platforms you trended across, is "No Bra Day," which, like so many pink ribbons, kitchen appliances, and promotional fried chicken buckets, is meant to raise awareness for breast cancer.

No Bra Day's Facebook event insists the occasion is meant to celebrate breasts; it doesn't mention breast cancer until the final paragraph: "Breast Cancer is something you should take seriously and be checked for." According to ABC News, the holiday was created in 2011 as a means to "raise awareness about the disease, raise money for research, and to support survivors."

Answer me one simple question: What does taking that bra off do? Does it bring research? Does it bring awareness or education?

Like countless well-meaning breasts today, many breast cancers survivors feel rather unsupported—the social media campaign has drawn ire from critics. According to Ann Marie Giannino-Otis, who runs the blog Stupid Dumb Breast Cancer, No Bra Day is trivializing and insulting to women who have suffered from the disease. "Answer me one simple question: What does taking that bra off do? Does it bring research? Does it bring awareness or education? Is it showing support in any form other than taking your bra off?" she asked Broadly in a phone interview. "It does none of those things. It sexualizes breast cancer, and breast cancer is not by any means sexy."

Giannino-Otis notes that many women suffer from body image issues after breast cancer. For her, personally, the idea of removing a bra in solidarity is particularly infuriating. "My breasts don't even look anything like what they used to. They're completely different. We look in the mirror after breast cancer: Our nipples are gone; we have scars that go across our chests; we have either gained a lot of weight or lost weight. We've changed completely. We're not accepting of this body, and now you're telling us to take off a bra?" she said. "What breast cancer is is taking off our breasts, having a lumpectomy, making them completely unerotic. So you're sexualizing something that's not sexy. It's disgusting."

"It really can be offensive to a lot of women who have gone through and not had the optimal outcome from their surgeries, from their treatments," Gayle Sulik, author of Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women's Health, told Broadly. "There's so much involved in [having breast cancer], and that just gets erased by the perky, happy, fun, I'm gonna wear my tight ta-tas T-shirt and throw my bra over the bridge and say this is awareness. That's the opposite of the reality for many people."

Image via Wikimedia Commons

It may seem patently ridiculous to post a nipple photo on Twitter as a method of combating a disease that kills over 40,000 people a year, but the idea behind No Bra Day is fairly commonplace. In the past few years, we've seen the Save the Ta-Tas Foundation, which aims to "fight breast cancer using laughter and fun"; the "I love boobies!" campaign, which was launched to "remove the shame associated with breasts and breast health" and mostly sells I LOVE BOOBIES–branded bracelets; and Coppafeel!, a breast cancer charity that uses dancing breast flash mobs to encourage women to "check their boobs" regularly.

And even the idea of non-sexualized "awareness raising" has come under increased fire, with multiple outlets noting that companies profit hugely off their pink "awareness" merchandise. However, the proliferation of pink consumer goods continues each October, while less uplifting cancer-related causes have difficulty gaining traction. Case in point: Today, October 13, "National No Bra Day," has been officially designated Metastatic Cancer Awareness Day—which is, of course, not trending anywhere.

"All anyone talks about is National No Bra Day: Let's take our bras off!" said Giannino-Otis. "Those with metastatic disease, the ones who are stage 4—it's their chance to talk about their disease, the struggles, the trials, new clinics that are out there, research, anything we can get out there, all of it. But it's overshadowed." (The Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance rolled out a hashtag campaign today, and it has received a fraction of the attention National No Bra Day has.)

It's literally doing this sensationalizing publicity stuff on the one day of the month that's actually focused on stage 4 breast cancer, which is terminal.

Thirty percent of breast cancer cases become metastatic; 100 percent of people diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer will die from the disease. But only two percent of breast cancer donations go to metastatic cancer research. "The irony of the whole thing makes it even more infuriating than the other typical stuff that's out there, because it's literally doing this sensationalizing publicity stuff on the one day of the month that's actually focused on stage 4 breast cancer, which is terminal," said Sulik. "The prognosis is one to three years. The breasts are the farthest thing from those women's—and occasionally men's—minds."

Sulik noted that awareness is easy, whereas trying to wrap one's mind around breast cancer—which is both terrifying and complex—is difficult. "The big message for people is that awareness is superficial. It's surface," she said, noting that the Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium website has a list of organizations and resources for anyone interested in actually taking action. "If people want to support the cause, they have to dig deeper to do that."

Giannino-Otis agreed with that sentiment. "We should be talking about the real issues, not taking our bras off," she said. "The thing that kills us, in the community, is that's what people are talking about: Taking their bras off."