Coppafeel’s Naked Breasts Ad Campaign Is Supposed To Raise Awareness Of Breast Cancer. Unsurprisingly, It’s Proving Controversial

Will a massive billboard featuring a real women's boobs really remind people to stop sexualising breasts?


by Rebecca Holman |
Published on

Take a casual stroll through, say Westfield shopping centre in White City, or the Cavern Quarter in Liverpool next month, and you might come across a billboard advert featuring a massive pair of boobs. (Massive as in they’re on a billboard. Anything on a billboard’s massive).

They’re not wedged into a Wonderbra like that (in)famous 90s campaign featuring Eva Herzigova; and they’re not accompanied by a pouting face making what our grandmothers still call ‘come hither’ eyes – they’re just boobs, and they’re coming to a billboard near you as part of Coppafeel’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month campaign #whatnormalfeelslike to remind us to get to know our breasts and check them regularly for lumps.

For the uninitiated, Coppafeel was launched five years ago by Kris Hallenga, who was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer aged 23, after fighting to get a diagnosis from doctors who refused to believe the lump in her breast was anything more sinister than ‘hormones’.

The charity is on a mission to stamp out late detection of breast cancer by encouraging women of all ages to get to know their breasts, and become confident enough to detect any changes early. And their latest move? The massive boob pics.

‘We wanted to make these striking images, and have these real women showcasing what real boobs look like – and to have them on billboards as it’s never been done before,’ explains Kris to The Debrief. ‘And you have to ask yourself, why this is the first time anyone’s done this? They’re just boobs.’

READ MORE: Things You Only Know If Your Mum’s Had Breast Cancer

Not quite just boobs. Each pair (there are seven in total and each model volunteered to take part in the campaign on condition of anonymity) also has a word written over it – the adjective that model would use to describe her boobs, from doughy and squidgy to firm and peachy.

‘One thing we’ve noticed over the last five years is the terminology that women use to describe their boobs. They’d only ever talk about the size of them – whether they were big or small – instead of what they felt like,’ Kris explains. ‘And being able to describe them is one way to get to know them better, which will help diagnose more breast cancer early.’

This is all fair enough, but there’s no denying the shock value of the campaign – a pair of boobs on a giant billboard is going to grab attention and not necessarily for all the right reasons. Oh, and they were shot by Rankin.

Isn’t Kris worried that rather than spreading an important message around breast awareness, the images will only serve as titillation?

‘If men want to feel that way, then fine, but this is for women. If anything, we want people to feel empowered by it. People will take what they want from it, but at the core is us sharing a very important message and creating a conversation that no-one had had before,’ she argues.

Coppafeel claim the images are an antidote to the sexualised images of boobs we see all around us, but where does the line between what’s sexualised and what isn’t get drawn? And who gets to decide that? The images caused much debate at The Debrief office this morning, and the general consensus was that no matter how they were shot, the conventionally ‘perfect’ breasts in the campaign still looked pretty sexy.

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We suggest that the images could serve the same purpose if they only featured in female-dominated environments – such as women’s changing rooms. Kris admits that this is the ideal environment to get women to actually check their breasts – and the images will indeed feature in changing rooms, and in the print media. But in terms of raising awareness on a far grander scale, that’s where the aforementioned billboards come in.

And maybe we’re splitting hairs and ignoring Kris’s biggest achievement with this campaign, which was convincing retailers and media owners to display an advert of a woman’s breasts, nipples and all, without selling a single product.

‘It was part an experiment to see how media landlords would take the message, and one in particular went for it because they understood what we were trying to do,’ she says.

So did she get a negative response? ‘Not so much negative, but it is a daring move for a media owner to make.’

For Kris, the idea that boobs still get sexualised this much is a complete anathema. ‘We didn’t pick out people we thought would have perfect boobs, we just did it on a first come first served basis,’ she says, insisting that no, they didn’t hold a boob casting before deciding who to use.

‘Personally, I have become so desensitised to boobs [as sexual objects] because all it’s all I ever talk about.’

*The campaign pop-up shop opens tomorrow in Shoreditch until Sunday, featuring a gallery of the Rankin images and a boob photo booth, where visitors can have a picture of their boobs taken anoymously, if they wish. The #whatnormalfeelslikecampaign will run for six weeks, and throughout Breast Cancer Awareness Month. *

Follow Rebecca on Twitter @rebecca_hol

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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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