Sexy Cancer?

September 3, 2007 at 9:20 pm (feminism, opinions, television)

In the weekly Feministing reader I came across this article about the “Crazy Sexy Cancer”
story.  I have seen ads on TLC for this and for reasons I cannot quite articulate, it really bothers me.  I guess the whole point of it is to show that these women are empowered to fight this horribly disease, which it truly a worthwhile message.  These women are putting a positive spin on their strength and determination.

Here are a couple of explanations I could come up with, and these apply just to the title and premise of the show:

  • It implies that even in the face of pain and illness, women are expected to be upbeat, cheerful and sexy.  Their ultimate goal is to go into their MRI or their chemo treatment, or surgery with a big, toothy smile on their face .
  • The name of the TV show itself is quite flippant and juvenile and evokes images of bright pink Chick-Lit novels one would read over a margarita at the beach.
  • It somehow gives the impression that there is always some happy ending, which there isn’t.  Cancer treatments have advanced by leaps and bounds in the last few decades, but it is still and incredibly difficult disease to treat and live with.
  • I think the women battling cancer can be crazy, beautiful, sexy, empowered, whatever she wants to be, but the disease itself is none of the above.

I know it seems cold and callused to criticize this, and I have absolutely no idea how I would view it if I were personally affected by cancer.  With my work, I am definitely on the periphery of how cancer affects the patient and their family.  I know a lot about the molecular workings of cancer, but my education is lacking any emphasis on the emotional or even symptomatic aspects of the disease.  As a cancer researcher, I am always eager to learn from those who are more intimately affected by the disease.  I’d be interested to hear what others think about the idea of this show.



  1. vintagefan said,

    I thought it wasn’t my business to say anything because these women have obviously approved of it. But I thought the marketing of the program and the ad was weird too. The first two points and the last that you made are similar to what I thought.

  2. mysterybea said,

    Well, I’m glad to know I’m not totally off-base with my inexplicable annoyance with Sexy Cancer.

  3. arvind said,

    i remember aunt twisty wrote some really good posts on the sexualization of women’s cancer…or at least the narrative that emphasizes the sexualized imagery of women in the face of cancer…

    here’s one

    you should definitely add twisty to your feminist must-read list.

  4. mysterybea said,

    Thanks Arvind, that was a great link. She brings up the good point that all that pink crap that people buy/display supposedly to combat breast cancer is all a gimmick, and an ineffectual one at that.

    People need to realize that what actually will help to cure cancer is better funding for cancer research (hmm, am I repeating myself?) – and the only way to ensure this is to elect political officials who will choose to allocate our government’s spending towards research and education and away from more violent pursuits.

  5. figswithbri said,

    I don’t get TLC, so I can’t speak to the ad itself, but after my mom died of breast cancer when I was 14, and I was diagnosed with it at 28, I can tell you there is nothing sexy about cancer. Sure, I got through surgery and chemo and can be philosophical about it. But flippant is another thing altogether. Everyone needs to be able to laugh at themselves and find the humor in a situation, no matter how dire, but the name sexy cancer is not something I would have signed off on, if I was in a position of power. Thanks for bringing it up and asking the question.

  6. Shinta said,

    This morning I saw a cancer patient talking on TV, he lost all hair from the chemotherapy. Yet, he looked composed and was at peace with his disease. When I had the TV on, he was saying something like, “It’s not that I advise others to get cancer. The disease and the treatment are painful. Letting the surgeon cut your body in no party game. However, I also see the disease as a gift. A gift, to make me realize our fragility as humans.”

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