'What a shockingly crass way to battle breast cancer': A woman whose family has been ravaged by the disease reacts to Mel B's provocative topless campaign
16:00 GMT, 27 September 2012
As I opened the magazine, my eye was drawn to the picture of Mel B, her bare breasts covered by the hands of her husband, Stephen Belafonte. I instantly assumed the former Spice Girl had resorted to a desperate Playboy shoot to promote her career.
It was only when I began to read the accompanying story that a shudder of disbelief ran through me. It seemed the singer had agreed to this provocative pose — a recreation of Janet Jackson’s 1993 Rolling Stone cover — to raise awareness about breast cancer.
That’s the disease that has afflicted my sisters and killed my mother at just 47 — the age I am now. Having watched this disease devastate my family, let me tell you that there could hardly be a less appropriate way to publicise this issue than Mel’s sexualised posturing.
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Provocative: Mel B and Stephen Belafonte in the October issue of Cosmopolitan
My mother, who always looked so glamorous with her shiny red hair and Escada suits, was reduced to a shadow by this awful disease and courses of chemotherapy.
When she died, this once vivacious woman, whose personality could light up a room, was a creeping, silent, skeletal figure whose broken body weighed barely more than a child’s.
Those final images of her suffering, imprinted in my memory, were a world away from Mel B’s smouldering defiance.
Nine years ago, my sister Simone, now 42, was also afflicted by this disease, though thankfully she made a full recovery.
And then last October, my other sister, Anneliese, 44, discovered a cancerous lump and underwent 14 gruelling sessions of aggressive chemotherapy.
Anger: Natalie (left) with her sister, Anneliese who was diagnosed with breast cancer last October
I had a ringside seat to her suffering
as her hair and toenails began to fall out. I sat by her side at
Christie Hospital in Manchester, waiting for her blood test results,
surrounded by other frightened cancer patients.
Is it any wonder that this campaign, literally fronted by Mel B, seems to me to be insensitive, crass and out of touch with the terror of having breast cancer Clearly Cosmopolitan magazine intended to shock with this photoshoot.
And they’ve achieved their aim — but for all the wrong reasons. They have taken the self-awareness and self-examination message and distorted it into a seedy, self-promoting snapshot.
But do Mel B and her advisers have any idea how it might feel for a woman who has lost her breasts to look at the singer’s surgically boosted cleavage being manhandled in the name of breast cancer self-awareness
Anneliese told me that once you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s not about looks, sex or glamour. Your sole focus becomes survival, fighting to stay alive for the sake of your family.
How can any woman who fears the prospect of having her body, sexuality and femininity ravaged by a mastectomy not feel sickened by this insensitive picture
Perhaps it would have been easier to
stomach this pose if a celebrity affected by cancer — say, Kylie Minogue
— had been the subject for this campaign. I know Mel B suffered a
cancer scare in her teens and I’m sure she only had the purest of
motives. But any good intentions were compromised by the sexual pose —
and her husband’s crass comments.
‘I’m a boob man, so I had absolutely no problem doing this shoot or helping my wife check her breasts,’ he said. ‘What man wouldn’t like that It’s a fun thing to do and so very important.’
There is nothing sexy about self-examination. My sister Anneliese and I co-run a recruitment firm and I remember being in the office with her on the day that she found a lump in her breast. She fled to the GP and in less than a week had undergone a mastectomy. She just wanted to get through it for the sake of her two children, Harry, 14, and Claudia, 12.
This trivialisation of cancer, the idea that it can be treated as a bit of a joke provided it comes with the fig leaf of charity, seems to be gaining currency.
Breast friends: Jorgie Porter also took part in the same magazine feature in support of Breast Cancer Campaign
Survivor: Australian singer, Kylie Minogue was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005
Support: Irish actor, Chris O'Dowd has filmed a comedy video to raise awareness of breast cancer
Irish film star Chris O’Dowd has
filmed a comedy video with a group of topless female trampolinists to
help the Male Cancer Awareness campaign.
the Mel B photoshoot was in support of the charity CoppaFeel! ahead of
Breast Cancer Awareness month in October. The ludicrously jokey title
says it all.
The October issue of Cosmopolitan
Is equating self-examination with a fondle really an appropriate way to raise money or awareness
If so, then as a country with soaring rates of the disease, we should be deeply concerned.
Breast cancer has a massive charity machinery behind it — from the ubiquitous pink ribbons to customised cosmetics and fun runs — which drive huge sums of money towards this vital cause.
The difference is that these initiatives involve a sisterhood pulling together to do something about this devastating disease.
taken part in fun runs along with others touched by breast cancer. Who
could fail to feel inspired and humbled by their mud-splattered legs,
determined smiles and the heart-breaking messages on their tabards
saying ‘I’m doing this for you, Mum’ or ‘In memory of my wonderful
If Mel B wants to
do something really effective, perhaps she should place herself at the
heart of such an event with the paparazzi following her. Let her be
among real women, the fresh air and the reality of those afflicted by
Make no mistake, this is an awful
disease. On the day of my mum’s funeral, my grandfather stood at the
bottom of the stairs, turned to me sorrowfully and said: ‘I heard your
mother’s first cry in life, and I heard her last.’
you treat breast cancer as a bit of a lark, you are trampling on grief
like that. With a family history like mine, cancer is always lurking in a
corner of my life.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Britain, with one in eight women affected by the disease.
I refuse to let it floor me. I’ve decided against gene testing or a pre-emptive mastectomy.
With my husband Jack, 47, and our children Daniel, 17, and Frankie, 13, I embrace life for what it is rather than live in fear of a fate that might well be mine in the end.
Instead, I rely on being breast-aware — of being familiar with how my breasts look and feel — so I am ready to spot any changes if, God forbid, they happen.
I urge every woman to do the same. Mel B, that includes you. But without your husband’s help for the benefit of the camera.
VIDEO: Watch the Chris' O'Dowd topless trampoline ad…