F*!k the middle ground

Why standing out and refusing to be censored can make all the difference for charity...

By: Clare Howdle,   3 minutes

Two adults sit middle-front of a middle-class expresso bar surrounded by middle-aged women. Friday. 10.30am. Coffee morning time.

Amid the rhubarb of discussion – Tom and Katie’s break up, the flame-dampening disappointment of Weymouth, the latest dine-in for £10 offer at Marks ­ a disapproving ripple of tuts gains momentum as this pair of iPad scrolling, notebook scrawling dissidents rock the oh-so-proper ship of good manners. “Boobs… boobies….get a squeeze of my boobs”. It was clearly enough to turn the clientele off their flat whites.

At first I was really conscious of it. I didn’t want to use the word. I tried other tacks. ‘Checking yourself’, ‘feeling for abnormalities,’ ‘early intervention’, anything to fit in, to shelter behind the chatterwall of small talk that promised to obscure us if we just stopped saying it.

But the more I tried to tone it down, the more Paul, who I was meeting with, cranked it up. It was like it was involuntary. He couldn’t stop boob banter tripping off his tongue – grabbing each others, flashmobbing on the underground, even giant boobs with dribbly nipples. It was too much.

With my neck reddening, I wanted to hold up his expertly pulled together presentation about the psychology of habit forming and stammer through an apology ‘I’m sorry, really I am. But we are working, we’re doing something worthwhile for a good charity, a great charity. I’m trying to help young women feel comfortable and confident feeling their breasts for lumps. I’m not being smutty.’

Helping young women. Not these women. Not these middle-aged, dine-in for £10, does anyone know a good picture-framer women. Light bulb. This wasn’t about talking to the majority, this wasn’t about using language that your mum and her friend Barbara felt comfortable with. This wasn’t about breasts. This was about boobs.

The aforementioned great charity, Coppafeel! has copped some slack since it formed three years ago; not taking the issue of cancer seriously enough, using light-hearted language, throwing silly stunts and erecting giant, nipple-topped tents. It might all be to get across the important message that young women should be boob aware, checking their boobs every month so if anything feels odd they can get it looked at early, but the way Coppafeel! talks about it – well it’s just not cricket.

Thing is, if the naysayers looked into it they’d see that Coppafeel! does understand how serious the subject matter is, all too well. Founders Kris and Maren have firsthand experience of it. But alongside that personal experience, they also know what they need to do to be taken seriously about such a serious subject, with other young women like themselves.

Don’t bullshit. Don’t use medical jargon, don’t separate the important task of checking your boobs from the reality of how young women live and talk in the real world. So Coppafeel! they became and boobs it was.

It was a brave decision that has caused a roll of eyes, a disapproving mutter or two and even a spot of controversy amongst the more traditional in the charity sector, but, for Kris and Maren that’s OK. Because Coppafeel! isn’t really about appealing to tradition or about finding the safe middle ground. It’s about recognising the ground that their demographic collectively tread, then treading it with them.

And in throwing caution to the wind and taking this challenging new tack, they found that for every disapproving mutter, there was a laugh, or two, or three, as the word about Coppafeel! spread and the people who were supposed to get it, got it, giggled, joined in and gave their boobs a squeeze, one a month.

Back in the expresso bar and my semantic epiphany has taken full effect.

F@!k the middle ground. It doesn’t always have to be about pleasing the moral majority. Sometimes it’s much better not to.

Boobies. Boobs. Here’s to boobs. And to Coppafeel! I’m looking forward to getting stuck in.

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