A group of cancer survivors are fighting back against corporate brands that glamorise the illness
By Michelle Fredman
When mother of four, Vicky Saynor, who is currently going through chemotherapy for breast cancer, first saw Fashion Targets Breast Cancer’s campaign, released early April 2019, she was appalled. The charity, which raises money for breast cancer research, had partnered with M&S and River Island to promote their campaign, #BosomBuddies, which featured longhaired models and celebrities smiling happily in branded t-shirts. The worst part was the campaign’s tagline, #twoisbetterthanone. Not exactly what a woman who’s undergone a mastectomy needs to hear.
“Once again the reality of this disease was overlooked and not truthfully represented,” said Saynor, 43. ”Using glamorous, healthy-looking women and insensitive language… all to sell some T-shirts?”
Immediately the campaign’s social media was bombarded with comments lambasting the brands and their PR teams for failing to show the reality of cancer.
The charity responded by removing the hashtag, deleting the celebrity videos and posting stories of people impacted by the disease on the front page of their website. However, the campaign has remained online.
Georgie Swallow (26), a Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor, revealed why she found it so insensitive.
“For a breast cancer campaign to say two is better than one, it just shocked me. Women are losing one breast, or they’ve got cancer in both of their breasts, and to say I’m a bosom buddy… well no I’m actually not very good friends with my breasts right now.”
After seeing the reaction from within the cancer community, Saynor took action by setting up her own campaign, True Cancer Bodies, on April 10th, to expose the real impact of cancer on both men and women affected.
A photo-shoot was organised, rallying 38 survivors into a studio in London. The group, aged 26 to 57 represented a variety of different cancers, such as bowel, cervical, lymphoma and sarcoma. This was important to Saynor and those involved, who felt fed up with seeing only breast cancer represented in the media.
“Yes breast cancer is the largest killer in women,” she admitted. “But bowel and lung aren’t far behind and yet you don’t see large corporations supporting them… Awareness must start for the new killer cancers, for all cancers really.”
Swallow, who jumped at the chance to get involved in the photoshoot, felt the same.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a campaign about lymphoma or bowel cancer,” she professed. “You don’t see any for lung cancer or skin cancer. Instead of campaigns just glamorizing cancer… they need to raise awareness of what symptoms people should be looking out for.”
The aim of True Cancer Bodies was to do just that. Provide a space for cancer survivors to share their stories, reveal how cancer really looks and access support.
However both women agree that while representing every person affected by cancer isn’t always possible, brands need to try harder.
“You’re never going to get something that appeals to every type of cancer, but you have to make an educated response,” said Swallow. “The fact that this was a happy campaign portraying breast cancer as fun and friendly, where you have all your friends around you just isn’t the case. For a lot of people you are isolated, you lose a breast, it’s not glamorous at all.”
After the photos from the shoot were posted online, they immediately gained traction. Yet, Swallow was quick to add that cancer doesn’t have one particular look and it’s a sense of diversity that’s missing from the media’s representation.
“We need to make sure that we aren’t only seeing pink and fluffy campaigns of white women with breast cancer and big smiles.”
Since the photo-shoot, True Cancer Bodies has amassed a following of over 2k on social media. Saynor is optimistic about the impact the campaign is having in transforming how people view the disease.
“We’ve started a conversation around the reality of cancer,” she said. “But, we need to keep pushing to be recognised in the media as a go to for companies to use us when talking about cancer.”
True Cancer Bodies is now working in collaboration with various charities to spread awareness on all cancers and is in talks with Channel 4 to be involved in the fundraising campaign, Stand Up to Cancer, happening in October 2019.