Saturday, 13 September 2014

Why can't The Sun newspaper raise awareness of breast cancer without Page 3 and topless models?

A bit of background

A few weeks ago I wrote an open letter to The Sun newspaper explaining why their Page 3 vs Breast Cancer: Check 'em Tuesday campaign upset me. You can read it here if you want. That blog post has had over 9,000 hits, and led to follow up articles on The Debrief, Buzzfeed and The Stir. I was blown away by the response, it was completely unexpected. But it was clear that I was far from alone in feeling the way I did, and on that day (the day before my first chemotherapy blast) the No More Page 3 campaign got over 1,000 more signatures on their petition. It was amazing! It felt like writing that blog post was a really positive thing to have done. A little something good to come out of my own breast cancer diagnosis.

Then this:

3 weeks later, just after my second blast of chemotherapy, I see this pop up in my Twitter feed.
I followed the link and this is what I read:
"Some of you yesterday forwarded an email you received from The Sun, or via other means, that had rendered you sad/angry/gobsmacked. This is the email...

'I'm looking for women who are happy to pose tastefully topless and speak about how often they check their breasts for lumps and bumps. The shoot will be taking place in London on Saturday, all expenses paid. Ideally they will be young-ish and are happy to be interviewed about their breast checking habits (ideally looking for women who check their breasts regularly or have just started doing so). They may have had breast cancer in the past or have relatives who have, or they could be BRCA positive. They may also be perfectly healthy.
With you, can you please email me asap with
Name of nearest station:
Dress size:
Shoe size:
Bra size:
Email address:
Mob number they'll have with them on the day:
Along with a little head shot (not for publication, just for reference).
And do pass this on to any other contacts of yours.
Dylan Sharpe, Head of PR at The Sun newspaper responded to the No More Page 3 tweet above with:
Yes, Dylan, there is a problem.
Dylan's response left me speechless. But only temporarily. I have so many questions I would like him to answer about Check 'em Tuesday and about The Sun's approach to raising breast cancer awareness. I have put a few of my key questions below, and given my own answers, as I doubt I'll be getting a reply from Dylan. But obviously if Dylan does want to take the time to send me his own responses in writing, I'll be very keen to read and share.
1. What specifically is being gained in terms of raising breast cancer awareness by using topless models?
With regard to raising breast cancer awareness, nothing is gained by using topless models. Simple as that.
Breast Cancer Care don't need to use images of topless models to raise breast cancer awareness. Instead they provide the information women need to know to check their breasts and be aware of potential signs and what to do about them. The same applies to Cancer Research UK, Breast Cancer Campaign, Macmillan and the NHS (to name just a few). 
2. Is it appropriate to use sexualised images of women (as in Page 3 vs Breast Cancer - Check 'em Tuesday) as part of a campaign to raise breast cancer awareness?
No, it is not appropriate to use sexualised images of women as part of a campaign to raise breast cancer awareness. I am speaking here from first hand experience, as a 33 year old woman with breast cancer. Breast cancer awareness has nothing to do with sex, with being sexy, wanting to be sexy, being perceived as being sexy, having your boobs leered at by others etc. Breast cancer is a terrifying, life-threatening illness - which if caught early, can be very treatable. What women need is accessible information and guidance about how to check their breasts, what they should be looking out for, and what to do if they notice anything that  might be of concern. Sexualised images of topless women are inappropriate  (and completely pointless) in this context.
3. Was it appropriate to circulate that "journalistic call out" asking ideally "young-ish" women to "pose tastefully topless" for The Sun?
Nope. See answers to questions 1 and 2 above. And by the way, what is "young-ish" and why have you not asked for people's age and date of birth to ensure you are not following up on responses from girls who are under the age of 18?
4. How much thought has been put in to the content of the information that will accompany these "tastefully topless" images of ideally "young-ish women" to raise breast cancer awareness?
Judging by the call out, we could assume not a lot. Seems you're after any "young-ish" women that are prepared to pose "tastefully topless" - doesn't seem to really matter whether they are breast aware or not, have a family history or not, have had breast cancer previously or not, are perfectly healthy or not (!), have a BRCA mutation or not. As long as they are willing to pose topless and talk about whether or not they check for "lumps and bumps" - that's all that matters.

You do know there's more to raising awareness of breast cancer than discussion about checking for "lumps and bumps" right? You know there are other important signs that could present in the absence of any noticeable lumps or bumps, such as nipple changesOf course you do. The reality is that the respondents' knowledge and experiences of breast awareness and breast cancer are going to be much less relevant to your selection process than their head shot and bra size . It's obvious you just want some "real women" to pose topless for you in your increasingly desperate attempt to justify the existence of Page 3. See next question.
5. Exactly why won't The Sun try and raise breast cancer awareness without the use of topless models (Page 3 models or members of the general public)?
Because this is not about raising breast cancer awareness. This is about using breast cancer as a gimmick to try to justify the existence of Page 3. I'm sure I'm not the only one to be stunned by how low The Sun will go with this, so as with my original open letter to The Sun, I am going to end here by encouraging anyone who reads this who hasn't already to please sign the No More Page 3 petition, and share it with others. You'll be adding your name to over 200,000 others saying enough is enough.

PS. To any men reading this, take a few minutes to visit Breakthrough Breast Cancer and learn about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer in men. Breast cancer is much, much less common in men than in women, but does affect around 500 men in the UK every year. 


  1. As a current Breast Cancer sufferer I think its a great campaign, I know of two women who have followed the signs advice and found out they have got breast cancer, before they just thought it was about finding a lump.

    1. I have to wonder what rock these two women you "know" were living under. I've been inundated with materials for self-checks since I was 12 - none of which came from the sun.

  2. Thank you for your comment "Anonymous" (!)

  3. when i first saw/read this Friday lunch time on facebook i thought it was a bad joke? But no! the ignorant misogynists imbeciles at the sun believe it`s ok to take adantage of vulnerable young women under the misleading heading of health issues.