There are many important things we need to raise awareness for in the world, and an awareness campaign doesn’t always become as popular as some companies hope. However, the ultimate goal is to still produce something that is supportive, informative, educates, fun, none-offensive and inclusive. When myGPapp launched their cervical cancer campaign ‘My Cat’ to remind people they need to book their smears, I doubt they thought they would be going in the complete opposite direction to what they had hoped to achieve.
The myGPapp company helps connect patients to their GP services and allows them to gain control over their own medical records by providing remote digital access. It is an NHS assured service, but seems fairly new and use is rising due to fewer in-person doctor’s appointments due to the risks of coronavirus transmission.
The myGPapp campaign ‘My Cat’ original intentions were to help individuals feel comfortable about turning up to their smear test, regardless of how their pubic hair looks. To help raise positivity, apparently cat memes was the key to getting this message across, encouraging people to share cats with different hair lengths that correspond to their own pubic hair style currently.
Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, is an annual event to help raise awareness about the impact cervical cancer can have on individuals. Most campaigns focus on highlighting on symptoms, HPV vaccine, and additional risks. Most campaigns on cervical cancer are educational, and relatable to those who have cervixes. Jo Trust a cervical cancer focused charity has run for years a successful campaign called #SmearForSmear, helping to remind individuals to book their appointments with their GP.
According to myGPapp’s own research, up to 57% of women are putting off their cervical smears due to beauty salons being closed during the pandemic and unable to get their bikini waxed. So, of course, the correct way to break down stigma and embarrassment of ‘unruly’ pubic hair – their words not mine – they are encouraging women who already feel uncomfortable about their pubic hair to step even further outside of their comfort zones and show the world.The study focuses on women who already regularly book salon waxes, and doesn’t mention anything about whether or not they are embarrassed about not getting a wax.
Not only are their issues surrounding this, but the statistics and the campaign has a long list of stereotypes.
First off Salons have closed during the pandemic. They haven’t considered those who originally would be too embarrassed to even go for a wax even if they wanted to, avoiding waxing in a professional setting due to these negative emotions anyway. There’s no empathy to those struggling with body image, and no real support within the campaign to help women feel confident about their bodies. It’s basically saying “here’s a cute cat picture to help you forget about it”. Which feels a bit like the company may have been watching too much of The Simpsons during lockdown as regularly cute animal pictures are used to distract from important and sensitive issues when they pop-up in the show.
Also, mentioning Salons and lack of access, doesn’t cover the other times where people have been unable to pay for beauty treatments. Many avoid these treatments due to the lack of income, and right now, there are more people avoiding all extras due to reduced incomes.
Those with children also are struggling with childcare so are struggling fitting in personal beauty and medical appointments due to the restricted services and free time. Beauty and medical appointment aren’t generally linked her, as even if someone managed to score an illegal professional wax during lockdown, they would have to drag their children with them. Medical appointments have also transferred to phone and video calls where possible and in-person appointments are limited to reduce the spread of coronavirus. Many are currently worried about taking routine appointments because they fear the spread of coronavirus, but also, they may feel guilty about taking up appointment times for regular check-ups because the services are always being reported as very stretched within the media.
Accessibility for smears is already an issue, particularly in smaller GP surgeries where they are unable to adapt benches or have access to hoists for those with disabilities. Many people who are classed as disabled have struggled to get their smears for years.
The campaign basically gaslights those struggling attending appointment s for multiple reasons and turns into a blame game, where they are stating that your self-esteem around your body image is the reason people are getting cervical cancer. When really there are so many important factors at hand.
Dekko Creative the company who came up with the campaign also don’t help break down taboos around personal grooming and natural pubic hair by suggesting it is ‘unruly’. Making those who enjoy their natural pubic hair feel like there’s something wrong about it when it’s not.
Undermining people’s personal choices for their pubic hair is not the right way to go.
Whilst the first response when I saw the ad was to think it was a pet health care ad, many have pointed out that the use of cats also links to the slang pussy, which by many is seen negatively going as far as promoting rape culture particularly after ex-President Trump was quoted saying it when trying to say sexism and sexual assault is ok in one of his terrible speeches.
It gets worse, they even find cats that are meant to look like Trump and Biden.
The campaigns tweets are far off from going viral, but with over 500 responses, only a couple of the replies actually support the ad. Most discussing it are finding it rude, offensives, and lacking empathy. Many are demanding the use of ‘Flower’, ‘Undercarriage’, and often derogatory terms to be removed and ads in future stick to technical terms, such as vulva, cervix, smear. Many of the terms the ad uses, not only are childish when addressing adults, but also outdated slang.
Can it get even worse? Yes, it can.
The ad is marketed towards women completely forgetting about non-binary and trans. I know this is a big debate right now, but in 2021, inclusion is key. Again, the focus should be on the cervix and cervical cancer, which can happen to anyone with a cervix. The campaign completely leaves out trans, intersex, and non binary individuals who may already struggle going to doctors appointments. The myGPapp itself is not making itself feel like a safe inclusive space, which may have been an option to those worried talking on the phone to their GPs or even visiting in-person appointments, due to the fear of being judged. Instead, they have completely cut off these individuals, and even removing small stepping stones that may help someone who has doubts from past negative stigmas reach out to health professionals.
Some of the content even feels like it’s talking down to you. On their Facebook, they start it with addressing individuals with ‘Dear Woman’, which then leads on with a written letter that feels it mansplains and devalues the importance of cervical cancer.
Addressing their target market as ‘Dear Women/ Woman’, feels really impersonal, and to some may even trigger memories of abuse from relationships where individuals have been addressed as their born sex rather than a unique individual. “Oi woman”, “I’ll chat with the little woman”, are all sexist phrases that have been echoed throughout history, in which many campaigners have fought to remove in the hope of equality in the home and workplace. The My Cats Facebook and press release section of the ad, completely removes the importance of those who have protested against sexist ways women have been addressed in society in the past – again, taking us back in time to darker moments in history.
But the fact is, not only should information surrounding cervical cancer be focused on being inclusive to include those identifying as non-binary, the discussions should educate and promote awareness in men so they can support those who have cervixes to go for check-ups.
The ad gets mentioned on Loose Women….
‘I’m in the mangy moggy category now so I’m over it.’ Kaye Adams from Loose Women comments.
The comment suggests two things, that those of older age care less about their pubic hair than younger generations, and also it makes out that cervical cancer is not an issue for older generations when the average age of diagnosis is 50.
Yes, the campaign does get it 20 seconds of fame, but the light its shone in is far from positive.
Replies are still going to the campaign with many asking for a stop to it. There are already successful cervical cancer campaigns that trend in a more positive way and help remind people to book and attend their appointments.
‘My Cat’, just isn’t one of them.
The creators of the campaign did ask for advice from those who have already run successful Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, but from what I gather, they didn’t listen. They even contacted Eve Appeal, a charity that supports people with gynaecological cancers, including cervical cancer, and the charity too didn’t see the positive side to My Cat.
There’s so much to pick apart with the myGPapp ‘My Cat’ campaign that I’d love for you reading this share your thoughts on how the campaign went wrong in the comments below.
You can use the following links to find amazing charities and support websites around cervical cancer below:
- At Your Cervix atyourcervix.org.uk
- Jo Trust https://www.jostrust.org.uk/
- Eve Appeal https://eveappeal.org.uk/
- NHS information for Trans Men and Cervical Cancer https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/sexual-health/should-trans-men-have-cervical-screening-tests/#:~:text=When%20trans%20men%20with%20a,at%20ages%2050%20to%2064
- Jo Trust info on Trans and Non-binary cervical screening https://www.jostrust.org.uk/information/cervical-screening/trans-non-binary