Sarah Perry, a woman with breast cancer, has written a powerful letter to The Sun harshly criticising its Page 3 breast-cancer awareness campaign Check 'em Tuesday.
This is what the campaign looked like.
Breast cancer charities and campaigners such as No More Page 3 slammed the six-month campaign, arguing that the use of sexualised images of topless women to promote breast-cancer awareness could trivialise the disease.
Perry gave BuzzFeed permission to republish her letter. You can read it below:
Dear The Sun,
I've been meaning to write to you for a while. My name is Sarah, I live in Leicester, I'm 33 years old, and a few weeks ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
This is me (photo above). I tried to smile for the picture, but as you can see I'm looking pretty uncomfortable. That's because the photo was taken outside the Osborne Building of the Leicester Royal Infirmary today just before I went in for my introductory information session about chemotherapy.
I'm writing to you because "Page 3 v Breast Cancer – Check 'em Tuesday" upsets me.
I know that many women, especially younger women, don't check their breasts regularly, or don't know all of the symptoms of breast cancer to look out for. (As an example, my own symptom wasn't a lump, it was a slight dent at the side of my nipple.) And younger women in particular often don't check because they really don't think for a second they could be diagnosed with breast cancer – or at least not until they are much older. So obviously I'm all for raising awareness about breast cancer and encouraging women to be breast aware! I'm only 33, and it was as a result of my own vigilance that my cancer has, hopefully, been diagnosed early enough to get rid of. Awareness raising is a good thing.
The reason I am upset is because I don't believe for a second that Check 'em Tuesday is in any way a genuine attempt to encourage more women to be breast aware because of a concern for their health. It is obvious to me that it is a response to the powerful No More Page 3 campaign (whose petition asking David Dinsmore to take the bare boobs out of The Sun has just exceeded 200,000 signatures). Breast cancer is being used by you as a gimmick to try and justify the existence of Page 3. Not only do I not think it is genuine, I also don't think it is an appropriate approach to raising awareness.
Like any other 33-year-old woman in the UK, I have a lifelong personal history with Page 3 (despite the fact that I have never bought a copy of The Sun in my life). When I was in primary school, I was Art Monitor. This involved putting newspapers on all the desks before messy art classes. Me and my friend used to take great pleasure in hunting out all the Page 3s and putting them on our other friends' desks. At primary school age it was just funny. Naked was funny. Big boobs were definitely very funny. I hadn't really clocked the fact that it was only women that ever appeared on Page 3.
By the time I was a teenager I was well aware of the fact that Page 3 was only ever photos of topless women, because I was regularly embarrassed and made to feel uncomfortable as a result of them. When you're a teenage girl on the bus on the way to or from school, and the man sat next to you is ogling Page 3, what is the best response? I never knew. I'd look away, trying to pretend I hadn't noticed, feeling at best embarrassed, and at worst, unsafe.
In my twenties I became aware of the fact that the images like those on Page 3 of The Sun, along with all of the other sexualised images of women in the media, were making me feel inadequate and ugly on a daily basis. I hated my body. Small boobs, thunder thighs, wobbly arse, pasty pale skin etc etc. I wished I was beautiful and had a better body. I would be so much happier if I did, I knew it.
I'm now in my thirties. I've still got the small boobs (although they'll be going very soon because of the cancer), I've still got the thunder thighs, the wobbly arse, the pasty pale skin and so on. But I feel something now which is much more powerful than the self-hatred that can result just from looking in the mirror. I'm angry. I'm angry at the sexist portrayal of women everywhere in the media, and as far as I'm concerned, Page 3 is the worst example of it. Page 3 presents women as objects. The women featured on Page 3 are there for no other reason than to have their bodies leered at by men. The message Page 3 sends out is that beauty is young, slim, usually white, and with big boobs. That message is loud and clear, and personally, even if I had not been diagnosed with breast cancer and actually read The Sun, would drown out any messages about breast awareness on Check 'em Tuesday.
If The Sun genuinely cared about women, and raising awareness of breast cancer, you would do so without Page 3. Instead of linking breast cancer awareness with something that tells women that their bodies are nothing more than objects that exist for the pleasure of men (and that if yours isn't like the one on Page 3 then it's not really good enough) how about focusing on real women who have survived breast cancer? Because there are many inspirational, strong, funny women out there with incredible stories to tell, that could really help other women, promote breast awareness, and not only save lives, but give hope to those who have been diagnosed and who are struggling to come to terms with it or to cope. This includes young women in their twenties, thirties, and forties, who can speak honestly and openly about breast cancer and everything that happens, from the first moment that you think something might not be right, through to diagnosis and treatment, and life "after" cancer... Including what it is like to be scarred or lose one or both breasts as a result of cancer. Women who have been through it could give the message that you can still be beautiful after a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. That someone will still love you. That you'll still be good enough.
I've written this as an open letter because I want to encourage anyone else who reads it, if you haven't already, to sign the No More Page 3 petition and then encourage your friends and family to do the same. I'm not a prude. I have no problem with boobs. But featuring them in a family newspaper (and it is a family newspaper, with regular promotions aimed at children) is not right, and now using breast cancer as a gimmick to try and justify the objectification of women on Page 3 is completely out of order.
Kris Hallenga, founder of the Coppafeel! campaign, wrote a response to Perry's letter. Below is a shortened version of that letter:
I am now almost 29. For the last 6 years I have had Stage 4 incurable breast cancer. There is no Stage 5.
Finding out made me a very scared young lady – but it also made me determined to spend every minute of my life fighting to raise awareness of breast cancer – particularly among young people. I did not know the signs of breast cancer and I did not know it could happen to me at such a young age. That is why my charity, CoppaFeel! teamed up with the Sun newspaper to launch the Check 'em Tuesday campaign on Page 3. The purpose of the campaign is to encourage all women – and men – to regularly check their breasts and to educate them how to spot the signs of breast cancer.
The results so far have been remarkable. In the five months since the Check 'em Tuesday campaign launched we have been inundated with positive messages, particularly from women saying that without the Sun's coverage they would have missed vital signs. These were Sun readers – without the paper they would have missed this vital advice. Three women have to date had their stories published telling how the campaign helped diagnose their breast cancer, all of whom caught it early enough to start treatment and are now in recovery. I urge you to read their accounts - I can't see how anyone could genuinely say this campaign is 'trivial' after seeing what impact this campaign has had on their lives. We know we are helping people - sign ups to our free text message reminder service have rocketed into the thousands.
I understand not everyone will like Page 3 or the association with breast cancer; but I have made it clear all along that this campaign is not targeted at people who have breast cancer. It is targeted at men and women who have never thought it could happen to them in the way it happened to me.
This partnership with the Sun has given us the opportunity to raise awareness of breast cancer among a huge new audience. As a small charity that is a big deal. We will use every avenue at our disposal to get the message across. Personally, I am proud to be doing whatever I can to prevent other women going through what I have been through and intend to spend every minute of my life fighting to raise awareness.
Rossalyn Warren is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Rossalyn Warren at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.