By Yelena Gaufman, Strategy Partner.
With Breast Cancer Awareness month behind us for another year, it feels like a good time to look at one of the major obstacles preventing early diagnosis.
According to behavioral research conducted by U.K.-based breast cancer charity Coppafeel and creative agency Common Collective, the No. 1 barrier to breast self-exams is body shame. Here we are, six years after the “Beach Body Ready” horror, wondering if we’ve moved on at all.
How do we raise body positivity to the top of the agenda? Perhaps we start with the fact that this isn’t a “wouldn’t it be nice if…” scenario. It’s a life or death one.
Reversing body shame
Body shame is rife among young adults. You’re still getting to know your body and yourself, all the while being bombarded with images of what “normal” looks like—and it’s anything but normal.
Culture, peer influence, language and the media play such a big and obvious role in shaping our perceptions. It’s no surprise people feel uncomfortable about parts of their bodies. Of course they want to hide or cover-up.
That’s awful in and of itself, but when it comes to breast cancer it’s devastating. Early diagnosis is vital, yet we live in a world where people can’t bring themselves to touch their own bodies because they don’t measure up. Body positivity would literally save lives.
The challenge to reverse the negativity is so daunting that “body neutrality” started being preached. As an eternal optimist I say, screw that.
Let’s aim higher. Why should we ignore what our bodies look and feel like? They are beautiful. Period. We should love them because they are amazing and deserve our love, and especially our touch.
We need more than a Dove campaign and a hashtag to undo decades of sexism. The idealized body is being challenged, particularly by people like Jameela Jamil, campaigning against unrealistic body images, but we need more. We need everyone to take responsibility, starting with ourselves in the ad industry.
The recent campaign we created for Coppafeel asked people to get to know themselves. No, it wasn’t about checking their breasts for lumps. To get more people checking, we had to start way before that. Loving yourself is the first and most important step.
This is a big, gnarly, complex issue, but we must start somewhere. So here are some thoughts on how we can do a little better.
Do away with ‘normal‘
Think about the language we use about breasts. Comparative words like small and big tell us that we’re literally measuring ourselves against some notion of normal.
There is no such thing as a normal body. It’s on us to show a true representation of body shapes and sizes in communication.
Reframe what’s healthy
Obesity is a problem. But so is being underweight. We have a warped view of what healthy looks like that needs to be undone.
Healthy looks like someone who is proud of the body they’re in. Healthy is full of energy and vitality. It’s not a defined shape but a defined mindset.
Touching yourself isn’t taboo
Bizarrely, body exploration is still a subject that makes people uncomfortable. It’s not just about masturbation but being aware of and intimate with your body. The responsibility of healthcare is shifting toward the individual, and the AI making that a reality is incredible. But it’s not a substitute for knowing your body, which needs to be taught, promoted and encouraged.
Britain’s impending High Fat Salt and Sugar restrictions have made me wonder if we need body representation guidelines, particularly when it comes to marketing to young adults.
We need to hold ourselves accountable in terms of the images and language we put out into the world. But we also need to find opportunities to reframe perceptions and encourage more people to be masters of their beautiful, unique bodies.