Tuesday, 28 October 2014

A letter to Dylan Sharpe, Head of PR at The Sun, about Page 3 and breast cancer awareness

Dear Dylan Sharpe, Head of PR at the Sun newspaper,

Two things caught my attention on Twitter this morning. The first was this tweet from The Sun:

The second was a notification that you yourself, The Sun's Head of PR, had tweeted me:

As a reminder, I just want to  quickly go over the background. In August I wrote an Open Letter to The Sun about why their Page 3 Check 'em Tuesday Campaign upset me. A few weeks later I wrote on my blog again, asking you some questions about The Sun's recent call out for young-ish women to pose topless and talk about checking their breasts (Why can't The Sun raise awareness of breast cancer without Page 3 and topless models?). Needless to say, I didn't get a response.

Anyway, the two tweets above from this morning have prompted me to return to this debate here today.

First of all I just want to respond to what Kris Hallenga wrote about in her article in The Telegraph. Thank you for sending me a link. Kris describes how, at the time of the launch of Check 'em Tuesday, she received vicious comments online from women saying they hoped that she won’t recover from breast cancer and will go to an early grave. "One even accused me of “whacking a glamour magazine on the grave of every woman who has died from breast cancer”."

This is one of those situations where I would hope it goes without saying that I think comments like this are indeed vile and completely out of order. There's no place for hateful, vicious, personal attacks in debates about things like breast cancer awareness. But as you have pointedly tweeted the link to this article to me and asked me to consider it, I want to make sure I'm absolutely explicit in my views. After the attention my open letter got, I did write a quick follow up post because there were a couple of things I wanted to make clear. One was that I was not against awareness raising or Coppafeel, just against the use of Page 3 models for awareness raising about breast cancer.

I will say it again now. I am 33 years old, and I have breast cancer. I absolutely, wholeheartedly think awareness raising about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer is incredibly important - of course I do. And I know that Kris and Coppafeel have done a lot of important work to raise awareness of breast cancer signs and symptoms. That's a fantastic thing! My issue has been specifically with the use of Page 3 and topless models to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. However, while I completely disagree with the approach of the Check 'em Tuesday campaign, I still respect Kris and her motivation, dedication, energy and strength.

Moving on to The Sun's article today "We beat cancer thanks to The Sun"... I still simply don't understand why this whole campaign could not have been done without the use of topless Page 3 models. I've read today's Sun article from top to bottom, and at no point does it mention how sexualised images of women have helped anyone to beat cancer. All of the women's stories featured specify that they became aware that they had cancer as a result of reading about the signs of breast cancer. Some quotes as examples:
  • "Sarah was reading The Sun’s Page 3 self-check guide..."
  • "...noticed a rash on her left breast – and only knew it was a sign of breast cancer thanks to reading about it in The Sun."
  • "Seven weeks after I first read about the signs and breast cancer in The Sun, I was told I had breast cancer"
  • "I never checked my breasts — until I read about the importance of it in The Sun."
  • "...had I not read about checking my breasts in The Sun, I wouldn’t have even known it was there."
  • "wasn’t in the habit of checking her breasts until she read about it in The Sun."
  • "...read about signs of breast cancer in The Sun".
Dylan, this is why charities like Breakthrough Breast Cancer, Breast Cancer Care, Cancer Research UK and MacMillan don't use sexualised images of topless women as part of their own breast cancer awareness information and campaigns. Sexualised images of topless women DO NOTHING TO RAISE AWARENESS OF THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF BREAST CANCER! What women need is information about signs and symptoms of breast cancer, alongside information about how to check for these, and what to do if they have any concerns.

So, really, I want to refer back to my original key questions to you, and wonder if you would take the time to write back to me answering them.

What specifically is being gained in terms of raising breast cancer awareness by using topless models?

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?

Exactly why won't The Sun try and raise breast cancer awareness without the use of topless models?

I hope to hear back from you soon,

Yours sincerely,
Sarah Perry

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