As you probably know if you're on the Internet today, Angelina Jolie wrote a piece in this morning's New York Times explaining her decision to have a preventive double mastectomy after learning that she carries a rare gene and had an estimated 87 percent risk of developing breast cancer, the same disease that killed her mother at age 56.
Plenty has been written about Jolie's decision to go public with her choice, so I'll add only that I personally found her piece not just moving but brave—particularly for a woman whose body is already considered public property (Jolie has already been subjected to incredible hostility and blowback from male "fans")—and nuanced; Jolie, unlike more oblivious celebrities, is well aware that the cost of testing for genes that predict cancer is as prohibitively expensive for many as breast cancer treatment itself—and shouldn't be.
Mastectomies are a major, life-disrupting experience. They also save many lives. Jolie's choice isn't the right choice for everyone, but it's one option among many for women fighting the disease that kills 458,000 people every year.
Which brings me to Komen, the pink-beribboned, anti-birth-control, breast cancer "awareness" foundation.
Just this morning, before hearing about Jolie's NYT piece, I happened to snap this blurry shot of the bus ad for Komen's annual "Race for the Cure" in Seattle:
That's right: "Save the Boobs." Not the human beings those boobs are attached to—women who, like Jolie, could benefit from potentially life-saving mastectomies—but the boobs that give those women value. Boobies: Save 'em! Ladies: not so much.
There's a lot not to like about Komen: The fact that they deny the link between BPA in plastics and cancer. The fact that they've pinkified a serious disease in an annual "awareness" orgy that largely benefits large corporations, not breast cancer research. The fact that they've promoted the idea that even cancer must be cute and sexy. The fact that their pink-ribboned products are often linked to cancer themselves. And, of course, the fact that their conservative leaders oppose funding for birth control.
But there's a larger, more insidious implication to a movement that reduces an often deadly disease to "save the ta-tas." (Or, in the case of Komen's KFC promotion, "Eat a breast to save a breast.") In American politics, to phrase the New Yorker's Jill Lepore, women's bodies are just collections of parts, some of them more important than others. "Save the boobies" and similar campaigns by Komen only reaffirm that dehumanizing message.