Breasts are at the centre of our society. From day dot, they provide our only source of sustenance. They are what nurtures and strengthens us. Breast milk fed babies are deemed to be smarter and fitter and quicker. As soon as children are born, their mothers are forcibly informed that 'BREAST IS BEST!' and societally judged if they go any other route, by choice or not. (Though woe betide any woman seen feeding her baby in public; apparently breast is mostly best in the comfort of your own home.)
Post suckling, they seamlessly transition into objects of desire, to be sliced open, abnormally enlarged and fetishised, not just in top-shelf magazines and porn, but in newspapers, too. Let us not forget that our once great nation's print press now almost entirely financially depends upon whichever pair of breasts it has immortalised that morning. Members of our government go so far as to herald Page 3 as a national treasure. Really Britain - your two greatest treasures are the titty pages of a red top and Bruce Forsyth? Must try harder.
I digress. I've said it before and will doubtless say it again - it is within our society's best interest to protect its breasts. Not because society cares about women - we're still taxed on tampons, for Christ's sake - but because breasts no longer really belong to women at all. They're society's issue. They provide our future generations with food, our men with stimulation, and our country with a 'democratic' press (well, as democratic as an arm of News Corp can be). To put it bluntly: regardless of whether you're an A cup, or they spilleth over, your breasts are so much bigger than you.
As a disease with an incidence rate that has risen 70% since the 1970s, breast cancer has long needed serious medical investigation, and thanks to intense pressure from feminist groups in the 1980s and 90s, it finally received the right kind of attention. But it didn't stop there, and breast cancer awareness is big business nowadays. You, too, can care about women, it says. You don't have to worry about the pay gap or rape culture - just buy this small pink brooch/ t-shirt/ bumper sticker. Maybe you could just lay down 40p for the Sun on a 'Check 'em Tuesday'. That's right. The Sun, that great bastion of all that is breasts. Buy it. Check your girlfriend's. Cop a feel. Look at you, supporting women. You really care.
The past decade's proliferation of the breast cancer brand, then, is why it's weird that over the last few days, women on my Facebook have been nominating each other to take a makeup free photo in order to raise breast cancer awareness. Here it is ladies: 'our' equivalent of the NekNomination. Your boyfriends have spent the last few months daring each other to drink their own sick, and now it's your turn! I nominate you to grab a baby wipe, scrape off the greasepaint, and start taking selfies to #raisebreastcancerawareness!
But excuse me what though? Just... what?
Is nobody else seeing this fundamental problem?
A makeup free selfie doesn't raise awareness like reading Cancer Research UK's latest statistics would, and hashtagging #nakedface doesn't exactly provide a crash course in checking for lumps. I do think it's great that young women want to involve themselves in fighting cancer, but in 'stripping bare' to be 'aware', we seem to be likening going makeup free to breast cancer. A 'we're all in this together' shtick. But... there's a big a difference between breast cancer and a makeup free face. Why is nobody picking up on that?
Maybe because, just like breasts, makeup is deemed an important part of a woman's code. She must be thin, but not thin thin, which would be too thin, so just like... curvy, but definitely not fat. Her breasts can be most sizes, as long as her nipples point to the ceiling. And her face; if there is a hair it must be plucked and if there is a pimple it must be covered. If her eyelashes are not thick enough, she can wear plastic ones, and if her lips are not big enough, she can draw around them. And if she doesn't do any of those things, there is probably something wrong with her. Unless the reason she reveals her real face is for charity. That might just be acceptable.
I'm not going full blown Beauty Myth on you all. I understand the sheer joy that makeup can bring and I'm not telling everyone to stop wearing it. Listen, I know only too well the intense pride that accompanies perfecting a liquid eyeliner flick. I will readily admit that Illamasqua Skin Base foundation changed my life. I just wonder how we got to this point, where the only thing a woman can do to show solidarity with cancer victims is take off her makeup, as if showing the world her untouched face is on a par with undergoing chemotherapy or a mastectomy.
On Facebook, there is instant gratification; distant cousins and primary schoolfriends liking your makeup free photo reinforces the decision to take and upload it, and propagates the idea that you're doing the right thing, 'supporting' cancer victims in this way. Nominating someone to do the same, and witnessing a viral phenomenon take flight is also rewarding. Instant gratification in the name of breast cancer awareness sort of defies the point, though; for the 136 women diagnosed every day in the UK, it's an irrevocable shock and a long fight. So what happened to campaigning and fundraising and donating £5 a month?
The patriarchy happened. (Maybe I am going a bit full blown Beauty Myth. It's a great book, so what.) It told you that you needed makeup and breasts in order to matter. So when someone loses one, you lose the other, and you've done your bit to support the sisterhood; you don't need to skydive, or stick a quid in the charity pot next time you pass it, because womanhood is not a given thing; it can be retracted at any time, and you relinquished your own for a selfie in the name of solidarity. Ah, curse you patriarchy. Talk about a cancer.
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