The XX Factor

No Bra Day Is the Latest Way to Do Nothing About Breast Cancer

In China, women do nothing for breast cancer by throwing bras in the air. 

Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images

If your social media feeds are currently full of topless women, don’t blame Playboy. Some charitable soul has decided that, to raise public awareness of breast cancer on Tuesday, women should withhold support from their breasts in honor of National No Bra Day.

“Your breasts might be colossal, adorable, miniature, full, jiggly, fancy, sensitive, glistening, bouncy, smooth, tender, still blossoming, rosy, plump, fun, silky, Jello-like, fierce, jolly, nice, naughty, cuddly,” reads a breathless celebration of the day that could function as an erotica thesaurus. “But the most used word to describe your breasts … should be FREE! … P.S. Ladies. … Wearing a white t-shirt on this day is not only acceptable, but encouraged!”

The logic here, it seems, is that horny horndogs who like to look at breasts will see some extra nipple or wobbling flesh, ask a braless woman what her deal is or read a sexy photo’s caption, and gain some magical sense of awareness about a disease that everyone already knows about. Accordingly, most observances of National No Bra Day have leaned pornographic. A self-improvement feed called Marston 24 posted a photo of a young woman pushing her naked breasts together, an image almost certainly taken from a barely legal site. FM radio stations have served their earthly purpose, posting pictures of a headless woman wearing a sheer blouse and a headless woman with abundant cleavage. Type “National No Bra Day” into Facebook, and it’ll suggest you complete your search by adding the word photos.

This fauxliday follows in a proud tradition of breast cancer slogans and awareness campaigns that emphasize the breasts at the expense of the cancer and the person who’s fighting it. Save the Ta-tas, an organization that makes its money by selling branded merchandise, is one of the most notorious proponents of the “boobs are sexy” school of breast cancer thought. Its T-shirts and stickers are printed with jokes fit for Spencer’s Gifts: “Save a life! Grope your wife!” “Surfer girl ta-tas seeking longboard.” Someone should tell them that “pee-pee” is more on-brand.

“Laughter heals,” Save the Ta-tas’ website reads in defense of its suggestive tactics, though the audience of people who might laugh at the word ta-tas seems likely limited to adolescent boys. Actually, it seems like every viral effort for breast cancer awareness was invented by the grabby kid you baby-sat in high school: In 2010, one campaign had women posting their current bra colors to social media; another, where they kept their purses. “I like it in the car,” or “I like it on my desk at work,” they wrote, explaining the conceit—sorry, spreading awareness—in the comments when a curious acquaintance took the bait.

It seems like these campaigns want us to care about breast cancer because it deprives the world of body parts that can offer sexual gratification to others—maybe that’s why breast cancer gets National No Bra Day and Save the Ta-tas and breast-shaped stress balls, but prostate cancer gets nonsequitur moustaches instead of Go Commando Day or Save Anal Sex T-shirts or branded butt plugs. Encouraging women to show off their braless chests in the name of awareness won’t save anyone, but its message to breast cancer patients and survivors is clear: Your disease is about your secondary sex characteristics, not about you.