Is NZ squeamish over breasts?

18:01, Oct 06 2013

As the country came to terms with its failure to win a certain cup this week the contents of entirely different kinds of cups caused some controversy in our social and news media.

I'm talking about breasts, more particularly women's breasts, which in public and on our television screens are generally hidden away within brassieres or under clothing.

Not being a naturist or nudist I don't have any major problem with that convention, but it does make it a little tricky if you are trying to run a state-supported breast cancer awareness programme which might include some television advertising encouraging women to check their breasts for any changes or abnormalities.

Encouraging women to do that is good because the earlier breast cancer is detected the higher the chances of successful clinical outcomes for the women involved.

So you would think that a TV ad about breast cancer might well include some depiction of actual breasts to convey what it was all about and that the rules and regulations surrounding advertising standards would appreciate and tolerate such an advertisement.

But you would be wrong.


When the good folk who run the breast cancer awareness programme showed the Commercial Approvals Bureau a Scottish ad featuring a topless woman talking about breast cancer while holding photos of breasts in front of her own, it decided it would probably breach standards of decency for television advertising here.

Faced with having their ad relegated to the same late-night slots as alcohol marketing, the breast cancer people and their ad agency came up with a sort of Benny Hill version which used strategically placed pieces of fruit and the like to artfully cover up the breasts, or more specifically the nipples, which are apparently the really dangerous thing about breasts on television.

To digress, it seems that female nipples are the real problem because there are lots of ads that run all day on free to air television which show male nipples, including Dan Carter in his undies.

But back to the indecency of woman's breasts, it seems younger viewers who can easily handle advertisements showing horrific car crashes, what tobacco smoke does to lungs and endless exhortations to buy and consume fat-laden, artery-lining fast food would be traumatised by seeing real breasts in a television ad.

The Commercial Approvals Bureau (which is an industry body designed to stop people wasting money on ads that might subsequently be banned) decided that such an ad could be the subject of a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority, which is a place where people with too much time on their hands can complain about breasts on TV ads and be treated like they are sane.

It also decided that because of the way the standards are written such a complaint might be upheld and the ad might have to be pulled.

So in many ways they were just doing their jobs and saving the breast cancer awareness people some money.

What is really disappointing is that we live in a country where the very thought of the threat of some prude making a specious complaint stops a really good cause running a really effective ad about a really important health issue.

It isn't like breasts are the greatest threat to the moral fibre of our society. Most of us spend the earliest part of our lives with breasts as our main focus and by our mid-teens we are either growing a couple or want to get our hands on someone else's.

Breasts are natural and common, not bizarre or secret or dirty. Our advertising standards seem to suggest that breasts and nipples disappear after we are weaned and magically reappear when we are 16 or stay up late at night to watch TV ads.

I wish we had made a Kiwi version of the Scottish ad and that someone had complained to the Advertising Standards Authority so that it could have told them to get a life, take a look around at the world of the internet and music videos and twerking, and realise that a simple no-nonsense ad about breast cancer awareness that included some breasts is absolutely ok for anyone to watch anytime.

Clearly we don't have the balls to do that.

The Dominion Post