I’m writing this on what I presume to be the eve of The Sun’s second round of ‘Check ‘em Tuesday’ (unless the newspaper has come to its senses and dropped the campaign – I’m doubtful). If you haven’t heard of it by now, the coyly named ‘Check ‘em Tuesday’ is The Sun’s latest cynical attempt to rebrand its infamous page 3 as something other than a creepy 1970s hangover.
In this particular case it’s: ‘Page 3 Vs Breast Cancer’. Of course, this campaign (as good willed as it may initially appear) is as charitable as it is original – David Dinsmore is clearly unaware that the tragic sexualisation of cancer awareness campaigns is nothing new (‘Save Second Base’ t-shirts anyone?) Whilst I approach the criticism of a cancer detection charity with reluctance (The Sun’s partner, Coppafeel has, I am sure, nothing but good intentions) we cannot ignore the lack of understanding and shear disrespect with which this campaign has been executed.
I speak as a 19 year old woman in the incredibly fortunate position of having, thus far in life, avoided both a direct and indirect encounter with breast cancer. Therefore, from what I have gathered, I meet the criteria of the demographic The Sun and their partner Coppafeel are aiming to address.
I know that there are many who would envy my lack of experience with the disease. I know that my circumstances, in this respect, could change at any time and, also, I know that checking my breasts regularly is vitally important. Yet, as a full-time student, juggling a part-time job with studies and social life engagements I know many will agree that maintaining routine health checks can often slip the mind. This is why I hold great admiration for charities such as BreastCancerUK who distributed leaflets on campus with guidelines for identifying lumps and Macmillian Cancer Support and their friendly, easy to navigate website. Both of these charities enjoy widespread respect and endorsement and yet, interestingly, neither have opted to include soft-porn as part of their campaign strategy.
If The Sun had truly wanted to spread awareness of this tragic disease they could have printed guidelines on how to detect the early signs and the subsequent steps you should take as a result; they could have included real life personal accounts of the trauma that cancer can cause and if, after all of this, they still felt the need to include a topless woman, they could have included a picture of a woman after undergoing a mastectomy to indicate the strength that women have despite their ordeal and promote a healthy body-confidence image for women adapting to life after the operation themselves.
Instead we have the Page 3 Girls. Once assumed to be there simply for the sexual gratification of creepy men across the country, it turns out it has been young women whom the page has really been set out to attract (who knew?). The Sun appears to be under the illusion that attaching the word ‘cancer’ to the headline of the famously offensive feature eradicates its obscenity. I’m not convinced. As I write, the No More Page Three campaign, founded by Lucy-Anne Holmes, is experiencing an influx of support both in messages across their multiple social network sites and in names added to their online petition. It would appear, many see this rebranding of the notorious page as callous and disrespectful – hardly the morally justifiable use of topless young women The Sun was aiming for.
Regardless of the well-rehearsed excuses The Sun has offered this stunt proves two things. Firstly, that in the eyes of the newspapers editors women are, once again, simply a sum of body parts that should be on display for titillation. Their suggestion that (after checking for cancerous lumps) young girls should text in topless selfies to promote the campaign simply further emphasises this point. The message is clear: check you don’t have cancer, so that men can continue to enjoy your breasts.
However, the second conclusion we can draw from ‘Check ‘Em Tuesday’ could be seen as a positive sign: The Sun is worried. After lengthy interrogations during the Leveson Inquiry and mounting pressure from the celebrity-backed No More Page Three Campaign – which also boasts support from Girl Guiding UK, Mums Net, multiple schools and universities, politicians and even many former glamour models – it seems advocating the purpose of topless women in a 21st century family newspaper is becoming a tiresome job.
This desperate rebranding is not the first of its kind (nor, sadly, do I believe it will be the last) but what it does prove is that The Sun is attempting to convince the nation that Page 3 Girls are not simply relics of a bygone age. However, judging by the swarm of support for Lucy-Anne Holmes’ campaign, I’d hazard a guess that their latest attempt has backfired.
This article was originally published for Qmunicate magazine