Breast cancer awareness: Why are people posting inches and minutes on Facebook?

ssorich@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 11, 2012 

Oh joy. Another breast cancer awareness meme on Facebook.

Maybe your female friends have posted Facebook status updates like "9 inches, 30 minutes." If you're out of the loop, it's a reference to shoe size, followed by how long it takes to do your hair. Somehow, the sexual innuendo is supposed to promote breast cancer awareness. Confused? Me too.

I should be used to the feeling by now.

As a journalist who used to specialize in health coverage, I'm slightly cynical when it comes to the giant pink haze that surfaces every October. Make no mistake: I'm fully invested in the fight to cure all kinds of cancer. It's an awful disease with potential to consume not only the lives of its patients, but also their caregivers, families and friends.

But whenever Breast Cancer Awareness Month hits, I worry we've replaced science and research with pink pandemonium and inside jokes.

I get the message: I'm aware. At the same time, that dubious goal -- "awareness" -- can potentially make October a blurry mess of misguided missions. Consider this excerpt from a recent report from the National Breast Cancer Coalition:

"Given the attention and resources directed to breast cancer, the public understandably believes that we have made significant progress. As shown in the Baseline Report and this year's Progress Report, that is not the case. We know little about how to prevent breast cancer or how to prevent deaths from the disease."

Enter the aforementioned Facebook meme, which joins a long legacy of digital sexual innuendo tied to breast cancer awareness.

Remember when women posted their bra color? How about the place where they put their purse?

"I like it on the floor." That sounds dirty, but it totally isn't because this is all about Breast Cancer Awareness Month!

One writer wisely notes, "Cancer is not sexy. Try depressing. Try scary. Try lethal."

Furthermore, by promoting these Facebook statuses as a "let's fool the boys" project, women reinforce the gender divisions that have previously hindered awareness efforts.

Yes, breast cancer affects women. But men get it, too. And when a women has breast cancer, her care often rests in a male partner's hands.

Are we really furthering our cause by participating in a cryptic Facebook campaign designed to keep men guessing?

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