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. 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 vs 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 newspaper 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.
PS Update 16/09/2014
(No, sadly this isn't an update to say I have had a response!) My incredible friend Rebecca who was diagnosed with breast cancer on the same day as me has also written to The Sun about this. Please read and share Rebecca's letter too.