Breast cancer

21 April 2010

Breasts up for grabs

A local radio station is giving away a boob job in an on-air competition? Is this innovative marketing, or a sleasy and dangerous publicity ploy?

Jacaranda 94.2 is offering a boob job to one of its listeners in a competition entitled "2 bOObs & a bag of cash".

For those who don't know, Jacaranda 94.2 is an English/Afrikaans radio station broadcasting mainly in Gauteng and surrounds.

There have been international precedents: the British radio station, Juice FM, ran a similar prize in 2007, and the British edition of Zoo Weekly magazine offered a prize of £4,000 "to spend on breast implants" in 2005. Other magazines, radio stations and even nightclubs have also offered breast augmentation or other plastic surgery as prizes.

In many of these cases, the campaign was criticised for trivialising a serious, and in some cases dangerous, medical procedure, putting patients at risk (physically and psychologically) and generally being in bad taste.

And, in fact, it is true that breast augmentation surgery is never a medical requirement, (except, arguably, in a very few cases of true anatomical deformity). Breast augmentation may be life-enhancing for some patients, but it is not life-saving. Thus Jacaranda 94.2 is effectively encouraging someone to undergo inessential surgery, and promotes the idea that a person can buy a better life/body/self – all it takes is enough cash.

The print accompaniment to the competition makes use of a raunchy picture of a diamond-encrusted dollar sign pendant dangling over a woman's cleavage, juxtaposed with the "2 bOObs & a bag of cash!" slogan (see picture). There are strong associations here are that a woman's body (or body parts) are mere objects to be ogled and bought.

In this competition women are reduced to nothing more than "boobs" argues Professor Lizette Rabe, head of the department of journalism at the University of Stellenbosch. "And we [women] thought we had equality under the constitution… The media has a responsibility to endorse these values [equality], but it is much easier to support stereotypes.

"So many women, conditioned by society, don't even realise that it is their SMSs paying for this operation – and they don't realise the potential risks of such an operation. Once again it is a case of the media that is supposed to be educating [the public], sadly failing."

Making surgical cosmetic changes to one's body is not fun and games, as the wording and graphics of these ads suggest: it's a decision to be taken very seriously and many medical as well as psychological issues should be considered. As with any surgery, breast augmentation carries the risk of serious complications, including sepsis (infection in the blood), bleeding, malformation, rejection of the implant and even death.

Equally important is to consider why a patient wants to undergo breast augmentation. "Low self-esteem is often, but certainly not always, a driving force behind breast enlargement operations," says Cape Town psychologist Ilse Pauw. "Unless there is some medical reason for cosmetic surgery, such as discomfort caused by very large breasts, psychological factors often underlie decisions to have cosmetic surgery done.

"Many people focus unhappiness on physical things rather than dealing with psychological problems they may have, such as low self-esteem.

"It's always difficult to make any kind of assessment unless one has counselled someone directly," says Pauw. "But, in general, people who constantly remodel themselves, often to other people's specifications or requirements, could be doing so because they fear rejection."

In a statement to Health24, Jacaranda insisted that the prize was not demeaning to women, and was not tantamount to encouraging people to consider breast augmentation. Further, Jacaranda stated that:

“The promotional concept originated from Jacaranda 94.2 Listener Advisory Panel research groups, where female members of our audience overwhelmingly thought that breast augmentation, as a prize, would be highly desirable.

“We recognise the medical significance of the procedure, and the prize will be awarded by way of paying the bill of a registered medical professional, and certain associated costs. We have taken steps to ensure that the winner will be able to choose a surgeon themselves, so they are comfortable with whomever conducts the operation. It is indeed a serious procedure and we have pointed this out in our competition terms and conditions published on our website.

“We have made it clear to our final contestants that should they win, they may still be ruled ineligible for the operation by their consulting doctor. If this happens, the breast augmentation prize will default to the next-placed contestant until a contestant is ruled suitable.”

See full statement

- (Wilma Stassen and Olivia Rose-Innes, Health24, April 2010)

 Read more:

Are you a candidate for breast ops?
The lowdown on breast implants
Implants can mar mammo detection


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Breast cancer expert

Dr Gudgeon qualified in Birmingham, England, in 1968. She has more than 40 years experience in oncology, and in 1994 she founded her practice, Cape Breast Care, where she treats benign and malignant breast cancers. Dr Boeddinghaus obtained her qualification at UCT Medical School in 1994 and her MRCP in London in 1998. She has worked extensively in the field of oncology and has a special interest in the hormonal management of breast cancer. She now works with Dr Gudgeon at Cape Breast Care. Read more.

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