‘Bangers to Cancer’: Social media, charity fundraising and objectification


This paper examines images from the ‘Bangers to Cancer’ breast cancer fundraising campaign in the light of feminist perspectives on the gaze and Objectification Theory. I argue that the images circulated from this charitable campaign objectify women in four ways: 1) women’s bodies are fragmented for visual consumption as sexual objects, 2) it is suggested that this display has financial value, 3) the possibilities for viral nomination afforded online perpetuates this objectification, 4) women with cancer are ‘othered’ as less feminine. I propose that the images from ‘Bangers to Cancer’ epitomise the problem of women’s objectification in digital spaces.

How to Cite

Underwood-Lee, E., 2015. ‘Bangers to Cancer’: Social media, charity fundraising and objectification. Body, Space & Technology, 14. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/bst.36





'Bangers to Cancer', also often mis-ascribed as Nipnominate, was started in February 2014 (Kent, no date).[1] The campaign encouraged people to pose in their bras, post the images online via Facebook and Twitter, donate to the charity Breast Cancer Care, and nominate their friends to do the same. 'Bangers to Cancer' was not initiated by Breast Cancer Care but was, however, supported by them; Georgie Burchell, Community Fundraising and Marketing Officer at Breast Cancer Care, clarifies: 'This campaign was not officially endorsed by Breast Cancer Care. One of our supporters started the campaign to raise money for Breast Cancer Care, and many other supporters have gone on to fundraise in this way which is fantastic' (Burchell, 2014).

This article offers a snapshot of the campaign and its online and media coverage as it existed in September and October 2014. Due to the fast changing nature of social networking sites it is entirely likely that the campaign and its online manifestations will have changed dramatically by the point at which this article reaches publication; in view of this it is perhaps useful to give a brief breakdown of the images available on the campaign's official Facebook page on 21 October 2014. In total there were images of 77 people posing in bras available to view on the 'Bangers to Cancer' Facebook page; of these 73% (56) were women, 27% (21) were men, 100% (77) appeared to be of white, and of western origin, with 97% (75) having no visible or self-identified disability. 1% (1) had a visible mastectomy and 1% (1) self-identified as diagnosed with terminal cancer ('Bangers to Cancer' Facebook, no date). [2] A Twitter search reveals many more images which use the hashtag '#bangerstocancer' including pictures of children and animals in bras and women holding signs over their semi-exposed breasts dedicating their efforts to their deceased family and friends ('#bangerstocancer', no date). Many of the online images are posed for comedic effect or in domestic or non-sexual settings. Often women and men wear bras over their clothes and many pose in pairs or groups and are hugging, smiling or adopting other postures which are intended to signal 'light-hearted fun'; however, a significant proportion of the images are of young women, are deliberately titillating, and draw upon the iconography of 'glamour' modelling. It is these images that have gained cultural currency and been circulated most widely outside the 'Bangers to Cancer' official Facebook and Twitter pages both online and in print media. 'Bangers to Cancer' attracted interest and coverage from the tabloid press including from The Mirror (Mei Lan, 2014), The Mail Online (Hodgekiss, 2014), The Daily Star (Riley, 2014) and Chat Magazine (Kwong and Hardy, 2014). Images have also spread online well beyond the original sites associated with the campaign (cf. '#nipnominate', no date).

The founders are well aware that the images generated through 'Bangers for Cancer' may be distributed beyond the websites on which they originally are placed and this is absolutely intrinsic to the success of the campaign. They state: 'This is an open group accessed by the public and online press, as such only post a photo of yourself if you understand your image may go viral' ('Bangers to Cancer' Facebook, no date). Central to the growing interest in the campaign was the contribution of glamour model and presenter Brandy Brewer.[3] Brewer posted pictures of herself on her Twitter feed in support of the campaign; in the image her large breasts are lifted skyward in a bra that accentuates how much of her body it leaves uncovered, her pouting lips are glossed to suggest wetness and highlight their engorged shape, her eyes are unfocussed, and she holds a handwritten sign reading '#BANGERS TO CANCER @BANGERS TO CANCER'. An accompanying image shows just Brewer's mouth and breasts. ('Bangers to Cancer', 2014). Brewer's images are differentiated from others on the site because they bear the marks of professional production and are contextualised to highlight her celebrity status. However, the images of Brewer typify the stylistic conventions adopted in the images that gained currency within the campaign. The images of Brewer, and the imitate conventions within her pictures became a fleeting online media phenomena. Limor Shifman describes the two methods of circulation for online images as either 'viral' or 'mimetic' (Shifman, 2012: 190). These images were spread both virally, in that they were reposted on website after website and in the print media, and mimetically, meaning that the form and content were mimicked and replicated in a constant series of images following the 'Bangers to Cancer' model as defined by Brewer.

The images with which this article is concerned are those that have been most widespread, both virally and mimetically, outside of the original 'Bangers to Cancer' Facebook, Twitter and Justgiving web pages. The women in these images generally wear brightly coloured push up bras, have arched backs and long hair that is deliberately dishevelled and (when faces are visible) heavy make-up and exaggerated pouts. These sexualised images of young women are particularly prevalent on Twitter and Storify accounts of 'Bangers to Cancer' and are not representative of the majority of images available on the official campaign pages. A search using the hashtag 'nipnominate' also reveals a predominance of sexualised images of women and girls. It is interesting to note that the mis-attribution 'nipnominate' has become as ubiquitous as the original name 'Bangers to Cancer' in the online and print coverage of the campaign. 'Nipnominate' obliterates the links to cancer and foregrounds both the nipple and the nomination suggesting that these are images circulated by people who are less concerned with combating disease (the stated aim of the 'Bangers to Cancer' campaign (Kent, 2014)) and more interested in the possibility of virally sharing images of breasts.

The prevalence of images conforming to these conventions in sites that share or spread the pictures particularly highlights the way that various images are given currency within the online sphere in relation to this campaign. The images of men, children, animals and women having 'fun' or posing for comedic effect have not been circulated in the popular press or the digital realm with anything like the same frequency. In this article I will argue that this is due to the fact that images of women are judged and valued according to objectifying principles.


In this article I will explore how many of the elements of 'Bangers to Cancer', and particularly the images of Brewer posted as part of this campaign, exemplify the problem of women's bodies being objectified.[4] I use the term 'objectified' to mean the manner in which women's bodies are valued according to their sexual desirability within late capitalist, patriarchal culture. This definition is influenced by both psychoanalytic perspectives on the gaze in visual culture and Objectification Theory. (Berger, 1972; Mulvey, 1975; Fredrickson and Roberts, 1997; Hall West and McIntyre, 2012). My aim in bringing both Objectification Theory and Gaze Theory to a study of 'Bangers to Cancer' is to enable a consideration of both how the images are formally constructed and the social context in which they sit.

I propose 'Bangers to Cancer' epitomises the problem of objectification of women's bodies in four ways:

  1. Women's bodies are fragmented and displayed for visual consumption as sexual objects.
  2. It is suggested that this display of sexualised bodies has a financial value.
  3. The nomination element promotes a perpetuation of both the objectifying gaze and 'self-objectification'.
  4. Women with cancer are 'othered' within the campaign as less than feminine as they do not meet the putative standards of the objectifying gaze.

Objectification Theory

Barbara Fredrickson and Tomi-Ann Roberts first outlined Objectification Theory in their much-cited 1997 article. For them, the objectifying gaze is defined by women's experiences 'of being treated as a body (or collection of body parts) valued predominantly for its use to (or consumption by) others' (1997: 174, original emphasis). Fredrickson and Roberts propose that one of the primary influences on women's well being is their experience of this objectifying gaze. The impact of this objectification has far reaching consequences in terms of both women's mental health (for example leading to problems including 'unipolar depression, sexual dysfunction and eating disorders' (Fredrickson and Roberts, 1997: 173)) and the oppression of women, including in areas such as equality of employment and violence against women (Fredrickson and Roberts, 1997: 174). Fredrickson and Roberts suggest that the pervasiveness of the objectifying gaze in Western society, which they find in both personal and social interactions and in mediatised images of women, has created a situation where women always, to a greater or lesser degree, occupy two subject positions in relation to the objectifying gaze. In this sense, women are aware of the objectifying gaze of others and have internalized that gaze to create a level of 'self-objectification' where they judge themselves according to their physical attributes as they perceive that they are viewed by others and that this 'can monopolize women's sense of self' (1997: 179, original emphasis).[5] Unlike much psychoanalytic theory on the gaze (cf. Mulvey, 1975) the gaze itself is not ascribed a gendered position in Objectification Theory - both women and men alike perpetuate the objectification of women and women also 'self objectify'.[6] Although the gaze in Objectification Theory is not gendered, Fredrickson and Roberts do suggest that the experience of objectification is perhaps a 'uniquely female' phenomenon (1997: 175). While this clearly ignores the complexity of objectification and gender it is not within the scope of this article to explore how men might be objectified.

P. Cougar Hall, Joshua H. West, and Emily McIntyre conducted a valuable review of many of the psychology based studies using Objectification Theory over the fifteen years that passed between Fredrickson and Roberts's initial study and their own. Hall, West and McIntyre offer a revised definition of objectification:

sexual objectification commodifies a woman's body, delivers it for visual inspection, and assigns value equal to the sexual satisfaction that it can supply to others (Hall, West and McIntyre, 2012: 2).

This definition extends Fredrickson and Roberts' proposition and incorporates value, placing the notion of objectification squarely within a discourse of late capitalism where human worth is ascribed according to commodity value.


The description of objectification offered by Fredrickson and Roberts and its extension in Hall, West and McIntyre's study owes a debt to John Berger (1972) and Laura Mulvey (1975). Indeed, Fredrickson and Roberts cite both Berger and Mulvey in their analysis and describe how reading Berger in feminist reading groups was an influence on the development of the theory (Fredrickson et al., 2011: 691).

Mulvey's arguments are well rehearsed and over the last 39 years have been much discussed within the academy (Manlove, 2007; McGowan, 2003; Pheasant-Kelly, 2014; Sassatelli, 2011). It is not within the scope of this article to consider Mulvey's theories in depth, however, it is useful when considering the sexualised images including those of Brewer in 'Bangers to Cancer' to consider Mulvey's argument's on fragmentation as a means of fetishisation. A critical aspect of Mulvey's analysis of objectification in visual representation is the notion that for women to function as a site of visual pleasure they must either be demystified or fetishised (1975: 13). One of the ways she argues that this is achieved is through the fragmentation of images of women, so that, rather than representing a unified subject, these bodies are able to be consumed as a series of body parts. This fragmentation is literally achieved through the way that filmic images use close ups and framing. These devices are similarly utilised in the images in 'Bangers to Cancer' with which I am concerned here; the focus is always the women's breasts and careful framing and placing of literal signs is used to further emphasise the breasts as the centre of the images. In Brewer's image only the lower half of her face and her breasts are visible and a handwritten sign advertising the 'Bangers to Cancer' hashtag is placed so that it covers her neck and shoulders, directing the viewer's eyes to her exaggerated pout and elevated breasts, bisecting her so it appears that the breasts and lips are fragmented from the whole person ('Bangers to Cancer' Facebook, no date). Mulvey proposes that this fragmentation allows the image of woman to be consumed as the 'perfect product, whose body, stylised and fragmented by close-ups, is the content of the film and the direct recipient of the spectator's look' (1975: 14). Fredrickson and Roberts (1997) reviewed empirical research on the way women's bodies are pictured in popular media and assert that a 'body-ism bias' exists in pictures of women while a face-ism bias' is found in pictures of men (Fredrickson and Roberts, 1997: 177). Fredrickson's and Roberts' empirical data analysis gives further credence to Mulvey's arguments regarding the way women's bodies are presented in film and widens the relevance of the theory to include all mainstream media. Both close-ups and framing are consistently used in Brewer's images and those akin to them to fragment the images of women by either positioning the breasts as the central focus of the picture or showing only women's disembodied breasts, exemplifying the fragmentation of women found in Mulvey's analysis of fetishistic looking.

As well as these images objectifying women's bodies through visual fragmentation, the language used to describe the images further highlights the separation of the breast from the whole body. In this campaign, breasts are referred to by the participants using slang terms such as 'my puppies', or the women reduce the other people within the pictures to their body parts, describing them as a plethora of 'boobies' ('Bangers to Cancer', no date) further defining breasts as objects outside of the self.


The images in 'Bangers to Cancer' are displayed as part of a charity fundraising campaign and are conceived as a transactional process whereby women's images are traded for money (albeit for a 'good cause'). By being included as part of a charity fund-raising campaign it is suggested that the images in 'Bangers to Cancer' not only confirm women's sexual value as objects for the scopophilic pleasure of others, but that the images of their bodies also have commercial value and people should donate money for the privilege and pleasure of viewing them or, in the cases where women mark their modesty or embarrassment, to compensate them for the humiliation of revealing their 'less-than perfect' bodies publicly. This inclusion of a financial element chimes with the inclusion of value in Objectification Theory as outlined by Hall, West and McIntyre (2012). By not suggesting an amount that should be donated but asking people to choose what they give, if they give at all, the viewer is invited to participate in the objectification of the women in the images and to make commercial assessments of the value of the images.

The association with a charity makes opportunities for dissent problematic - people who criticise the 'Bangers to Cancer' campaign have been accused of causing harm to women by preventing the raising of money for valuable 'life-saving' research. One of the many comments posted in response to a criticism of 'Bangers to Cancer' as being narcissistic states:

Credit to her for trying to think of something positive [...]. If me getting my bra out to raise money stops someone in the future from going through what we have it's well worth it (Letsbepositive, 2014).

Letsbepositive embraces the idea that women's objectification is an effective tool for raising money. The use of the term 'well worth it' highlights both the assumption that the negative effects of objectification are worth enduring and that objectification also has a financial worth.


The 'Bangers to Cancer' campaign can be seen as further exemplifying objectification through the nomination element. Women posting images as part of the 'Bangers to Cancer' campaign are asked to nominate three of their friends to do the same (Kent, no date). By doing so the campaign is aiming to create an online nomination phenomenon akin to 'Neknominate' or 'The Ice Bucket Challenge', which spreads voraciously in order to create the greatest number of donations possible.[7] The campaign relies on the connectivity of social networking sites to ensure that the images are circulated, inspiring as many people to donate as possible, thereby raising larger amounts of money and confirming the value of the images of women as objects for the scopophilic pleasure of others. George Rossolatos suggests that the essential purpose of any online phenomenon with nomination and replication at its core is to perpetuate itself and the cultural ideology it promotes (2014: 2-3). This perpetuation is manifest in 'Bangers to Cancer' and the cultural ideology of objectification that it endorses and continues through nomination. In 'Bangers to Cancer' women are directly asked to 'self-objectify', to open themselves up to and embrace their status as objects for the sexual satisfaction of others, and to encourage their friends to do the same in a (potentially) ever expanding cycle.

Despite significant levels of coverage in the popular press, after an initial flurry of activity in early 2014, the 'Banger to Cancer' campaign more or less died out. By September 2014 the campaign had only raised 12% of its stated target of £50,000 and no donations had been given since 10 April 2014, meaning all donations were made during the first two months of the campaign (the first donation was given on 9 February 2014) (Kent, 2014). No newly created images of people wearing bras were posted on the campaign's Facebook page after 12 March 2014. [8] Again this highlights the objectification inherent in the campaign; after the novelty value of the images of breasts diminished the campaign did not have any more cultural or commercial currency.

Breast Cancer and the 'Other'

In 'Bangers to Cancer' the breast is highlighted as the fetish object and, in the majority, elided as the site of illness. If, as Mulvey argues, the only way that we can look at women's bodies is by marking them as objects of scopophilic desire - and in the case of 'Bangers to Cancer' this is achieved through fetishisation of the breast - then when we cannot resort to our usual tactics of objectification due to the marks of disease we are either unable to acknowledge women as sexed or unable to see women's bodies at all. The scarcity of images of women whose bodies have been marked by cancer in the 'Bangers to Cancer' campaign is testament to the disruptive properties of bodies that do not conform to normative notions of feminine desirability. [9] The (few and far between) images of women with visible or self identified marks of cancer are constructed and contextualised so as to establish a 'them and us' between the women who possess the fetish in the form of the sexualised breast and those who do not either because their breasts have been completely removed or have been marked by cancer. Margrit Shildrick highlights the power structures inherent in any exchange 'in which someone is defined by a form of anomalous embodiment - she ceases to be an equal, and becomes the lesser in a hierarchical binary in which the unmarked self is dominant' (2009: 20).

This marginalisation of women with breast cancer as the other to a normatively embodied ideal within 'Bangers to Cancer' chimes with Kay Inkle's description of disabled women as either invisible or infantilised as pre-sexual. Inkle uses the example of disabled toilets to highlight how disability is often constructed as outside gender - toilets are categorised as 'female', 'male' or 'disabled and baby changing' (2014: 392). This refusal to see subjects that do not meet certain requirements confirms the degree to which women are judged and given value by their visual bodily attributes in 'Bangers to Cancer'. Both sides of the coin of objectification are clearly present in 'Bangers to Cancer'; the breast is presented as the locus of feminine desirability and the campaign promotes the idea that women who are to be pitied and who need charity are those whose breasts have ceased to have value as sexual objects and instead have become medical problems.

This power structure is further exemplified in the commentary on the few images of women with breast cancer that are posted on the 'Bangers to Cancer' Facebook page: 'This is Mel supporting our campaign. She is suffering from terminal cancer. She is an amazing lady and it's for people like her that we are all doing this' ('Bangers to Cancer', 2014). 'Mel' is described as 'suffering' and is portrayed as other, separated from the people organising the campaign. She is the 'people like her' that 'we' are supporting. Unlike the other normatively embodied women in 'Bangers to Cancer', Mel is so disavowed that she is not even allowed her own voice - in posting what we must assume was intended as a show of support for Mel and her image the moderators of the 'Bangers to Cancer' Facebook page have decided to speak on Mel's behalf rendering her silent and differentiating her in one fell swoop. Mel is further set apart as other to the women who are raising money for 'people like her' in the way the image is constructed. Mel is pictured without the iconography of sexualisation found in the images of Brewer and others - Mel's face is unadorned by make-up and instead of pouting she is smiling. Additionally, she is not fragmented with most of her body visible in the image and she is wearing pyjama trousers which locate her in the sick bed rather than the boudoir.

This notional differentiation between those who meet an ideal of femininity (i.e. Brewer and others akin to her) and the other women who have posted images on the campaign pages is clear in all the images features in 'Bangers to Cancer', although it is less marked than in the images of Mel. Many of the images that are not sexualised are presented as either embarrassing, shameful or comedic and are presented within text that disclaims them in some way. For example, a post accompanying a donation on the campaign's Justgiving page states: 'Not sure I was too happy to get them out. But hey it's for charity' (Kent, 2014). These women either disavowed or mock themselves as less than the dominant body ideal presented by Brewer and others.

The 'Bangers to Cancer' campaign was challenged for its fetishisation of breasts, objectification of women and insensitivity to the psychological impact of losing a breast within an objectifying culture through both the comment function on Twitter and Facebook and within the press (Buchanan, 2014). Online commentary was answered by the 'Bangers to Cancer' campaign team and supporters with the usual and often touted arguments regarding 'raising women's self-esteem' and charity fundraising. However, these responses never engaged with the issues of objectification. Within a framework of Objectification Theory this blindness to the objectification of women in both the sexualised images of women revealing their breasts to raise money and the 'othered' images of women with breast cancer is, at best, naive and at worst, perpetuating a cycle of the objectifying gaze that has a direct impact on women's lived experience, opportunities and mental health.


This article has considered the ways in which fragmentation, commodification, nomination and othering all contribute to the objectification of women in the images in 'Bangers to Cancer', particularly those that have been virally and mimetically spread. This brief examination of these images illustrates all the elements of Hall, West, and McIntyre's model of objectification (2012). Brewer and other women's bodies are 'delivered for visual inspection' in a series of online images devoid of any context or meaning apart from their display as objects for the sexual satisfaction of others. Even when taking into account the well-rehearsed and highly contentious arguments of empowerment and offering a space for women to freely express their own sexuality, it is clear that these images conform to notions of sexual desirability as defined by a patriarchal, objectifying culture. [10] The images that have been widely circulated within the digital sphere are thus not celebrations of women's sexuality, diversity and beauty, but gratuitous displays of disembodied breasts designed to titillate the viewer and commodify women's bodies.

Objectification Theory proposes that 'exposure to sexually objectifying experiences from media outlets and interpersonal relationships socialize women to adopt an observer's perspective as the primary view of their own bodies' (Hall, West, and McIntyre 2012: 2). This is clearly evident in certain images posted online as part of 'Bangers to Cancer'; the women in these images are choosing to objectify themselves in order to raise money, adopting the view that the way in which they can best raise financial contributions for their campaign is as objects for another's viewing pleasure. Following this line of argument, we can see how images like those Brewer and others displayed as part of 'Bangers to Cancer' can perpetuate objectification and dominant power structures, leading women to accept patriarchal and sexist behaviours and allowing these ideologies to continue; after all a woman who views her status as a sexual object as her primary asset will not be able to challenge others for treating her as such. The images that have been spread from 'Bangers to Cancer' reduce the women who participate within it into sexual objects and disavow those women who, due to the marks of disease or failure to conform to hegemonic bodily ideals, do not meet up to putative notions of femininity. The fact that the images of men or those images of women which do not conform to the conventions demonstrated in Brandy Brewer's images have not been taken up in media coverage of the campaign or online responses to it further suggests that images that do not conform to objectifying principles do not have cultural currency. The images discussed here and their online and print distributions both encourage women to embrace the objectifying gaze and to perpetuate an ideology of objectification.


[1] There is also an online Nipnominate campaign but this is in no way related to 'Bangers to Cancer'. In fact it is a site encouraging (predominantly) male students to share digitally altered images of their own nipples for comedic effect.

[2] Figures have been rounded to the nearest percentage point.

[3] Brandy Brewer is a model whom has been regularly featured posing semi-nude in tabloid publications such as The Sun and other 'lad's mags', see Brewer (no date) for more information.

[4] I am here using 'women' to refer to a socially constructed gender position rather than biologically determined sex.

[5] Szymanski et al. have pointed out some of the gaps in the research around Objectification Theory and note that significant differences exist between how this objectification impacts on women from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds (2010). This is a flaw that Fredrickson and Roberts also note in their research (1997: 174). Whilst it is important to avoid universalism here, the context within which this article is written (an examination of images of predominantly normatively embodied, white women), means that an exploration of women's experiences of objectification in relation to cultural and demographic factors is not within the parameters of this study. Szymanski et al. also note that a review of existing literature on sexual objectification reveals that 98% of a cross sample of women in the US report some level of experience of sexual objectification regardless of ethnicity or socio economic factors (2010: 6), and so it is certainly possible to surmise that objectification is a common experience for almost all women in western, patriarchal culture.

[6] For a critique of the maleness of Mulvey's gaze see De Lauretis (1987), Kaplan (1983) and Silverman (1980).

[7] Neknominate is a drinking game that spread through social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Participants filmed themselves 'necking' a drink in increasingly outlandish ways and then nominated their friends to do the same. Neknominate attracted criticism in the press after the death of several young people (cf. Bellis 2014). The Ice Bucket Challenge is a charity fundraising campaign that uses similar nomination techniques but asks those that participate to throw cold water over their head. This challenge was taken up by a huge range of public figures, celebrities and politicians (BBC News, 2014).

[8] Images that were created on other sites were shared to the 'Bangers to Cancer' Facebook page and new images continued to be posted on Twitter after this date. The 'Bangers to Cancer' team now appear to be focussing their fundraising efforts on other activities such as charity auctions and events.

[9] I am not arguing here that women who do not conform to patriarchal notions of femininity are outside of desire; simply that 'Bangers to Cancer' and other predominant cultural narratives present them as such. Indeed, my own performance practice has focussed for some time on presenting my own cancer marked body as both desirous and desirable (Underwood-Lee, no date).

[10] For a discussion of the empowering effects of self-sexualisation within a public arena, see Regehr (2011).


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Emily Underwood-Lee is a performance artist and researcher based at the University of South Wales where she works as Research Associate at the George Ewart Evans Centre for Storytelling and Research Assistant at the Creative Industries Research Institute. Her areas of interest include performance and the body, feminist performance art, narratives of illness, autobiographical performance, and performance and disability. Her recent performances consider her relationship to femininity in the face of her radically changed and continuously changing body, which bears the marks of breast cancer treatment, double mastectomy, salpingo-oophorectomy, motherhood and menopause.




Emily Underwood-Lee





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