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Supporting cancer research as a whole

Slouched opposite me in the youth room was a teen boy, baseball cap askew, arms crossed, nodding off slightly before our meeting began.

There’s nothing unusual about that. What I found slightly unnerving about this scene was the message on his bracelet which boldly declared, “I HEART (insert inappropriate word for breasts here).”

Maybe you’ve experienced this too?

While I am hip enough to know that these are bracelets sold to fund cancer research, as a woman I felt a bit violated.

I demand that teens respect themselves, each other and me. An important component to respect is recognition that we be treated with dignity not for how we look or what we have, but simply for who we are.

As my eyes darted from his bracelet to his face to the other women in the room, I wondered if his declaration of “I HEART (again, insert inappropriate word for breasts here)” was expressing this.

In no way do I support cancer, unless you count the carcinogens that occur in bacon (no one’s going to live forever). I’ve witnessed several friends and family members battle breast cancer and I don’t want to dismiss their truly heroic suffering.

However, in the midst of their battle, I was never praying, “Lord, please protect their (insert inappropriate word for breasts here)” — they’re not putting that on the prayer chain, that’s for sure. Our prayers, wishes and intentions are for the person.

Maybe it’s trite to pick on the slogans that emphasize one aspect of womanhood like “keep abreast”, “save the ta-tas” and “I HEART (one more time, insert inappropriate word for breasts here),” but I believe my discomfort comes from these messages being about a part, not a person.

In his Sept. 17, 1980, “Theology of the Body” address, Blessed Pope John Paul II stated, “It is one thing to be conscious that the value of sex is a part of all the rich storehouse of values with which the female appears to the man. It is another to ‘reduce’ all the personal riches of femininity to that single value, that is, of sex …” These slogans reduce the value of femininity.

This is not an attack on the attack on cancer, rather questioning the language that has become acceptable in promoting it.

We tell boys to value girls for who they are as persons, not just their physical appearance. We tell girls that they don’t need spray tans, cosmetic surgery or plunging necklines — that it’s who they are that matters. Yet every October, we are inundated with not-so-subtle messages about how much society values women’s chests.

Promoting the genuine health of women is a good thing. Supporting those battling cancer is also a very good thing.

However, as Catholics called to respect the dignity of the human person, we need to recognize the power of the words we choose to use and be sure we are supporting the person — body and soul. Not just a part.

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