Last night I told the entire Internet what color bra I was wearing. Usually I try not to overshare, but it was ostensibly for a good cause.
Around 4 p.m., I saw a weird Facebook status update from a friend, a journalist turned lawyer whose writing is usually smart, grammatical, and comprehensible. The update read, "rose and lavender paisley." Huh? Over the next seven hours, more than half the status updates in my feed turned out to be colors, mostly pink, beige, and black. I figured out that these were colors of bras. Then I chuckled a little at my friends who had written "nothing" and "pink" (that friend was a man) and "harvest gold" (him, too).
You know what I didn't do? Think about breast cancer. That, however, was supposedly the point of the exercise. No one yet knows who started the meme, but apparently, someone kicked it off a few days ago with a chain-letter-style Facebook message to a bunch of women, asking them to virtually flash the world in the name of supporting medical research, and to forward the note only to other female friends, and to be aware of breasts. Sorry, breast cancer. Right.
In the age of exposed bra straps and outerwear as underwear, this campaign doesn't strike me as very risqué—typing in the word "beige" is a far cry from dirty talk. But ultimately, what's the point of it? Almost all the people who are updating their status boxes with bra colors are doing only that. They're not saying a word about cancer. This isn't awareness or education; it's titillation. As Kate Dailey wrote a few months ago about a racy fundraising ad, "how many of the viewers are talking about breast cancer, and how many are going to remember the breasts?"
There's nothing wrong using nontraditional, goofy, even cryptic marketing tactics to raise awareness of public-health issues. Sometimes, if it's done really well, it can make people laugh while they're learning something serious. Other times, it's done in ways that are hugely successful, and it's hard to argue with success (although people do).
I'm sure the hundreds of thousands of women who "flashed" all their friends yesterday had the best of intentions. Many of them walk in marathons for cancer research and buy all manner of pink-themed stuff; some of them even do the research to make sure the proceeds from the pink stuff are used responsibly. But this campaign is roughly equivalent to buying something—that just happens to be pink—from a company that gives zero to breast-cancer research, then claiming you're doing it for medical science. It's harmless, I guess, but also pointless.
At this point, there can't be a person in the world who isn't aware of breast cancer. What we need is not a context-free reminder of its existence, but a cure, as well as some scientific clarity about how best to prevent the disease. Does anyone think the Facebook meme contributes an iota to that?
I doubt it. Even the writer of the initial promotional e-mail (or writers; there are several versions) didn't. It ends: "It will be fun to see how long it takes before the men will wonder why all the girls have a color on their status!" That's what this is mostly about: not cancer, but flirting.
The backlash against the campaign has already started. As of 1 a.m., the Facebook group "I Really Dont [sic] Care What Color Your Bra Is" had more than 1,000 fans (compared with 48 fans for "Bra Color As My Status"). Another group, "Not Posting the Color of Your Bra," was advising readers to make donations of time or money to cancer societies or at least to refresh their statuses with medical facts. Personally, I liked the approach of science writer Maggie Koerth, who updated thus: "Post what your arteries look like and support a cure for heart disease! (What? It still kills more women than breast cancer.) I'm guessing that mine are slowly filling with sediment thanks to a genetic tendency toward high cholesterol!"
So after all this, why did I end up describing my lingerie on Facebook anyway? I guess for the same reason anyone posts anything on Facebook: I wanted a little attention.
Y'know, for sick people.
Fine: it was black. Now can we talk about cancer?