As Mel B sparks outrage with provocative topless photo for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Cosmopolitan's editor defends her decision to publish the image
Images were commissioned by Cosmopolitan in aid of charity CoppaFeel!A woman whose family has been affected by breast cancer was outraged
16:51 GMT, 5 October 2012
After weeks of planning, I finally looked at the black and white photos laying on my desk.
We'd set ourselves the challenge of getting Mel B and her husband Stephen Belafonte to recreate an iconic Rolling Stone cover, featuring a topless Janet Jackson, in aid of the charity CoppaFeel! for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Suggesting that Mel B went topless was a big ask, and was dependent on her belief in the importance of the cause we were supporting. Now was the moment of truth.
Mel B and her husband Stephen Belafonte in the October issue of Cosmopolitan, recreating the iconic Rolling Stone cover, in aid of breast cancer charity CoppaFeel!
My immediate reaction was a huge sense of relief: these pictures were every bit as powerful as I'd hoped. The first signs of breast cancer are often spotted by women's partners, which is why we involved Mel B's husband in the shoot.
We wanted the images to become a talking point that would make men and women look twice, think about the message, remember it – and ultimately save lives.
When I read Natalie Shalom's article in the Daily Mail last week saying the pictures were 'shockingly crass' and 'insensitive', of course I did some soul searching.
She lost her mother to breast cancer and both her sisters have had the disease. The last thing I want is for anyone to find the images upsetting.
The October issue of Cosmopolitan
But when I look at the response we have had from readers, and the hundreds of comments that have appeared on MailOnline, I feel very strongly that we did the right thing in publishing them. It has made the whole topic of checking your breasts a major talking point – which was our aim.
My inspiration in this whole campaign has been an extraordinary young woman called Kristin Hallenga, who started the breast cancer charity CoppaFeel!
Kristin has a very personal reason for her obsession with breasts. Three years ago, aged just 23, she was diagnosed with breast cancer herself.
As she says: 'I imagined that aged 23 I would see a bit of the world, enjoy crazy nights out with my friends and have a ton of carefree fun. Instead, I got breast cancer.
'Discovering a lump in 2008, I went straight to my GP but was sent away on the basis that at my young age it was bound to be hormonal.
'Six months later the lump was still there. My no-nonsense mother marched me right back to the GP and demanded a referral. We thought there would be nothing to worry about because breast cancer is an older women's disease. But we were wrong.
'Eight months on, following a frustrating fight to discover what was happening, I found out that not only did I have breast cancer, but that it had spread to my spine. I was at stage four, the most advanced type of cancer. There is no stage five.'
Kristin had radiotherapy followed by
five months of chemotherapy and yet more radiotherapy, during which she
lost her hair, had a mastectomy and said goodbye to her carefree life.
say she became a woman with purpose is a total understatement. Kristin
has since made it her full-time mission to encourage young women (and
men – they get it too) to keep hold of their youth and freedom by simply
getting to know their breasts.
Founder of CoppaFeel! Kristin Hallenga, left, and Natalie Shalom with her sister Anneliese, right
So CoppaFeel! was born, thanks to Kristin and her twin sister Maren – who was checked but thankfully found not to have any known breast cancer genes.
It's a cheeky name that gets right to the point and sums up both sisters' irreverent attitude, lust for life and love of a good pun. The key message from both of them is: if you don't check your breasts you don't know if you have the symptoms of breast cancer.
Kristin has taken her campaign to universities, schools and festivals. She relentlessly coaxes celebrities to add their support to her cause because she knows the power they have in getting the message across.
BREAST CANCER: WHAT SHOULD YOU BE LOOKING FOR
LOOK for swelling in your armpit or around the collarbone
FEEL for constant pain in your breast or your armpit
LOOK for nipple discharge
FEEL for lumps and thickening
LOOK for changes in skin texture, eg, puckering or dimpling
LOOK for change in size and shape
LOOK for nipple inversion and changes in direction
LOOK for a rash or crusting of the nipple or surrounding area
Do all these regularly. If you spot any changes, go straight to your GP.
She has persuaded Dermot O'Leary to run marathons, Fearne Cotton signed up to be the patron of the charity, and Hollywood actor Chris O'Dowd has given up time to support CoppaFeel! too.
Shooting celebrities in an homage to the Rolling Stone cover was her own idea. Originally, we discussed doing the shoot with survivors of breast cancer but decided early on that celebrities would command far more attention.
The point of the campaign was for
young women to take preventative action – immediately. We wanted the
photograph of Mel to be eye-catching and glamorous, and knew it might be
a little controversial.
it was never intended to be disrespectful to women battling breast
cancer, or to those who have lost loved ones to the disease.
to Kristin about the recent controversy, she believes we must celebrate
healthy breasts – and doesn't think showing photographs of them on
glamorous celebrities is a bad thing.
'Getting your partner to help isn't
only fun but potentially life-saving. Sexy or not sexy, this awareness
and education can prompt another young woman to start checking her
young women about the dark days of chemotherapy is not going to
persuade my generation to check their breasts. If anything, it will
scare them into doing nothing – and the fear of this disease must be
stamped out or many young women will be diagnosed too late, as I was.'
Hollyoaks actress Jorgie Porter also took part in the Cosmopolitan feature in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month
For years at Cosmopolitan we have
persuaded famous men from Lenny Kravitz, Alex James from Blur, Jason
Donovan, Ronan Keating, Graham Norton, boxer David Haye, Strictly Come
Dancing stars Brendan Cole and Bruno Tonioli, cricketer Stuart Broad
and many Olympians to strip naked in the battle against testicular
It is the most
common cancer in young men but as they are notoriously bad at going to
see the doctor about any health matters we target the women in their
lives too. We tell them the symptoms and encourage them both to be aware
Cosmo naked centerfold has made a taboo subject talked-about and from
letters we have had I know it has saved lives. No one has complained
that we have used healthy tennis players, footballers, cricketers, DJ's
and soap stars to make this point and no one has had a problem with the
fact that many of them have been shot in a sexy or tongue-in-cheek way.
is a brilliant breast awareness campaign being run in Scotland starring
the comedian Elaine C Smith, 54, whose mother died from breast cancer.
It shows her holding up a series of placards featuring the lumps,
dimpling and changes in skin texture of diseased breasts. It is powerful
and shocking. And I am sure will get the message through to women in
their 40s and beyond.
The iconic September 1993 cover of Rolling Stone magazine, featuring a topless Janet Jackson, which inspired the Cosmopolitan shoot
But I truly believe the photos of Mel, who had a breast cancer scare herself when she was younger, will have far more resonance with women in their 20s and 30s. As the biggest magazine for young women in the world, Cosmopolitan does a lot of research into what grabs their attention – and they are a generation of young women who respond to strong visual messages.
They don't want to be patronised, but a celebrity will always catch their eye. And they are at risk from this hideous disease. Elaine C Smith says, as do the supporters of our photos on MailOnline and Cosmo readers who have written into the magazine: 'As far as I am concerned if this saves one life it is absolutely worth it.'
I feel exactly the same way about our photographs, I thank Mel B for having the courage to take part but most of all I thank Kristin for being the brains behind this campaign and allowing us to bring it to life.
But I'll leave the last word with a Daily Mail reader, Amy from Kingston-Upon-Thames, following Thursday's moving piece from Natalie Shalom.
She said: 'The campaign isn't aimed at her age group; it is aimed at mine, the 18-30s. I had my first cancer scare at 15 and have had to check myself regularly ever since.
'When I had my most recent scare my best friend came to me and asked how to check herself, she had no idea what to do or even that she ought to!
'My attitude is anything that gets people to think about preventative measures is a major positive. Fear is an incredible motivator. And I say this as the proud daughter of a breast cancer survivor.’
For more information visit the CoppaFeel! website.