What would Ida Cohen Rosenthal think of your bra as a symbol for breast cancer awareness?

Maidenform advertisement circa 1960s. 
Courtesy of Lobstar28/Flickr, found in the Maidenform Collection, National Museum of American History/Smithsonian.

Today I got a curious message titled "Breast Cancer Awareness" in my inbox on Facebook.  It instructed me to update my status to say the color of my bra, and asked me to spread the word to my lady friends only. It struck me as an odd way to show support for breast cancer awareness, but I decided to play along. 

Throughout the day, I saw the number of status updates reading simply "black" or "hot pink" increase throughout the day, accompanied by comments by confused and frustrated male friends asking, "What does it mean???"  I was pretty surprised to see how quickly the message spread throughout the Facebook universe.  (Behold the power of social media!)

And as this was happening, and will continue to happen, I couldn't help but wonder what Ida Cohen Rosenthal -- co-founder of Maidenform -- would think of the fact that the bra is quickly becoming a symbol of breast cancer awareness.

Ida Cohen Rosenthal was born January 9, 1886.  I was reading about her today, and learned that she and her husband invented the modern bra because they did not like the way that the popular "flapper" dresses of the era demanded an artificially flattened chest.  Instead, they wanted to support and accentuate a woman's natural figure, hence "maiden form." 

Last year, Judith wrote about bras and their resonance with Jewish women. 

Somehow, it doesn’t surprise me that a Jewish woman was behind Maidenform. Bras (or maybe it’s just underwear in general) seem Jewish to me. I’m not sure why. Is it because Jewish women are stereotypically large-breasted? Are we possibly more comfortable with our bodies than women of other religious/cultural backgrounds? I think of all the Jewish ladies standing around a Loehman’s dressing room in their bras and slips. I think of Selma Koch, the late owner of the Town Shop, a four-generation lingerie business and fixture on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, helping me find a “good fit” when she was in her 90s.

And now, it seems that bras have another reason to resonate with Jewish women.  Ashkenazi Jewish women are at higher risk for breast cancer, and Jewish women like Deena Metzger have played a significant role in the breast cancer awareness movement. More than ever, the bra is becoming a symbol of the fight against breast cancer. I feel good about using the bra to symbolize the importance of women's lives and women's bodies, especially considering its history.  I think Ida Cohen Rosenthal would be proud.  

In any case, the bra is a much better symbol for breast cancer awareness than objectifying and childish "Save the Ta-Tas" campaign.

What color is yours?

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Breast cancer offends me... not the campaigns against it.

Seems like the folks at Feministe had a very different reaction to the Facebook meme.

I do see their point. But considering the other oh-so-offensive breast cancer campaigns out there, this one doesn't get me too riled up.

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How to cite this page

Berkenwald, Leah. "What would Ida Cohen Rosenthal think of your bra as a symbol for breast cancer awareness?." 7 January 2010. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 28, 2024) <http://jwa.org/blog/what-would-ida-cohen-rosenthal-think>.