Yes, Mamm?

One of the year’s hot Pinktober fads was “mamming.” The mamming website asked people to take pictures of themselves placing their clothed breasts on a flat surface to signify the act of getting a mammogram (minus the breast compression between two solid plates, the x-rays, and the potentially frightening or uncertain results letter from the person’s physician). People were all a twitter about the chest-level photos popping up in their Instagram feeds in the name of early detection. Whether at a bar, in line at a grocery store, or just goofing around in the kitchen anyone with a camera and Internet connection could take part in fun-loving awareness.

Mamming Website Screenshot

Screenshot of Mamming Website

Well-intentioned perhaps, but the mamming website doesn’t tell the whole story.

Despite the odd method of disseminating breast cancer messages, the intent behind the mamming campaign seemed to be serious. The mamming website was founded by two women in advertising, one of whom had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Their goal was to encourage women to “embrace the awkwardness of mammograms” so they will have them done and “increase their chances of surviving a breast cancer diagnosis.”

The premise seems to be that if breast cancer were detected “early” via screening, fewer women would die from the disease. Beyond the simple claim that “when breast cancer is caught early, over 90 percent of women beat it,” the source the mamming site used to support this claim, from the American Cancer Society, is unfortunately taken out of context. The website does not delve into the conditions under which the statement may be true or false. Nor does it provide evidence-based information about the relationship between screening mammograms and early detection. Though audiences generally seem to understand that mammography is an important diagnostic tool, there has been considerable debate about how effective screening mammograms really are, the extent to which they decrease mortality, and how much they increase the chances of overdiagnosis and overtreatment.

The mamming site also states that doctors recommend that women should get mammograms once they “reach a certain age,” but never says what that age is. The age at which a woman would consider having a mammogram, and how often, is at the center of debate, one that the website conveniently ignores. Since one of the founders was diagnosed in her early twenties, she feels passionate about “early” detection as the means for surviving breast cancer. But the site does not provide women with information about when early screening might be warranted or give statistics about which groups of women may be at increased risk for breast cancer.

Another issue with the campaign is that it represents mostly young, white women. Since women decide to participate or not in the mamming display, the website may not be able control which images show up on the page. However, as it has turns out, mamming representations do not embrace the full diversity of women. Factors such as race, income, education, and access to health insurance play a role in access to screenings, treatment options, and outcomes. If the campaign seeks to attract young women at greatest risk for breast cancer, it does not appear to be achieving that goal.

In addition to ignoring important information about breast cancer, the mamming photos add to the rampant sexualization and ‘cute-ification’ of breast cancer awareness, similar to campaigns like “Save the Boobies” that draw more attention to breasts than to cancer. Again, individual women decide to participate and how to present themselves, but a picture that is essentially of breasts on a platter represents breasts purely as objects for another person’s gaze. Yes, there is a suggestion of the mammogram experience — but a photo zoomed in on breasts spilling onto a table is more reminiscent of pop culture images of women as sexual objects.

While efforts to help women be proactive about their health most likely come from good intentions, as with other Pink trends, we must ask what the actual outcomes are for women’s health and for getting to the root of causes of and best treatment for breast cancer. Perhaps in the case of this new trend we should say, “No Mamm!”

Marianne Joyce No Maam crop


Marianne Joyce is a graduate student in Sociology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.  She is currently working on a project that explores the experiences of women who choose not to have breast reconstruction after cancer treatment.


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1 comment to Yes Mamm?

  • Tru

    Thank you, Marianne. This is so perfect! The last thing breast cancer needs is another cute, sexy, trendy meme amongst young white women, sending them the message that they all have to run out and get mammograms lest they die.

"women urged to get screened because it might save their lives. But that’s only 1 possible outcome, and it’s the least likely one" @cragcrest

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