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Facebook and the Amazing Technicolor Bra Update


Jan 12 2010
Does the bra-color meme—meant to raise cancer awareness—end up hurting women more than it helps them?

If you logged on to Facebook last weekend, you might have noticed a barrage of updates naming colors: Blue. Black. Leopard print. None. (Cue sound effects: "Eww, gross!")

The barrage of colors was part of an effort to "spread the wings of cancer awareness" and "see how long it takes before the men will wonder why all the girls have a color in their status," according to the chain message passed around Facebook.

The color posts also elicited a blogosphere debate about whether the campaign is appropriate or even raises breast cancer awareness in the first place.

Mary Carmichael at Newsweek's Human Condition blog wrote, "In the age of exposed bra straps and outerwear as underwear, this campaign doesn't strike me as very risqufamp;copy;—typing in the word "beige" is a far cry from dirty talk. But ultimately, what's the point of it? Almost all the people who are updating their status boxes with bra colors are doing only that. They're not saying a word about cancer. This isn't awareness or education; it's titillation."

"Sall" over at Feministing.com went a step further, saying the trend "created a new platform to objectify millions of women and reduced them to their body parts."

One of my own (male) friends' updates on Friday read: "weirdest day ever on FB—beige, purple, leopard, polka dots, blue, black. TMI [too much information]." While I tend to agree with Carmichael that "typing in the word 'beige' is a far cry from dirty talk," the recent Facebook campaign has made some a little squeamish (including my friend, who mentioned his concern upon knowing his aunt was decked out in lavender).

The bra-color phenomenon reminds me of an annual event my school hosts, "Be My Bra." Student groups sign up to decorate bras in various designs and themes, ostensibly to raise breast-cancer awareness. And many of the students certainly have that goal in mind; several designers participated because their mothers had died of or struggled with breast cancer, and they wanted to do something to change the futures of those facing the disease.

But also in attendance were some fraternity members who seemed to have entered just so they could glue sequins and ribbon all over women's underwear and hold the finished products up in front of a crowd. Not to be unnecessarily prudish, but that seemed like an inappropriately sexualized way to "raise awareness" about a disease that took an estimated 40,170 lives in 2009, according to this study from the American Cancer Society.

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