A new way to educate without censorship or embarrassment

Breast cancer is associated with some pretty strong taboos that can make a public campaign difficult. First, "breast" is often associated with sex, and displaying images of breasts can be a problem. Second, "cancer" is often associated with death, making it a topic that for many is difficult to talk about, leaving many people avoiding it altogether. These materials remove the "sex" and "death" from the message of breast cancer through using a visual metaphor of a lemon to represent the breast. Because it is similar in appearance but separate from the body, it can be a powerful tool for illustrating signs of breast cancer in a very specific way, while avoiding censorship. This is a completely new way of educating the public about breast cancer, that makes it possible to reach more people than ever before. It also reaches those who may have difficulties with reading or are embarrassed about the topic. So how does one show something that can't be displayed in public? Simple! Find a friendly, familiar substitute—the lemon.

More than just a friendly looking fruit, lemons resemble the shape of a breast on the outside and resemble the anatomy of a breast on the inside. And amazingly, a cancerous lump often feels hard and immovable—just like a lemon seed. Have a look at just how similar it is in the image below:

To test if this metaphor worked to overcome censor, a small study was done to determine how children viewed this image of two lemons on a sofa:

It was found that most children did not see ‘breasts’ when looking at the image, which meant that the image was capable of sending the message of ‘breasts’ to older audiences, while remaining a child friendly image to young audiences. Most of the children’s responses were imaginative, with few of them even acknowledging a lemon was in the photo, for instance:

  • ‘a funny couch’ (3 year-old girl)
  • ‘a bench on a carpet’ (4 year-old girl)
  • ‘couch cake!’ (four year-old boy)
  • ‘a couch on golden stands and a pink carpet’ (four year-old boy)
  • ‘a couch with eyes’ (four year-old boy)
  • ‘a funny couch face’ (four year-old boy)
  • ‘frog’s face’ (five year-old girl)
  • ‘freaky yellow lemon eyes sitting on a couch!’ (5 year-old boy)
  • ‘wow it’s a smiley face’ (7 year-old boy)
  • ‘a couch’ (7 year-old girl)
  • ‘lemons on a couch’ (9 year-old girl)
  • ‘a cartoon face’ (10 year-old boy)
  • ‘frog’s face’ (10 year-old girl)
  • ‘it looks like two lemons that look like boobs on a sofa’ (10 year-old girl)
  • ‘sofa with two lemon circular pillows’ (13 year-old girl)

A follow-up interview with a parent commented that her four year-old son may not have seen the lemons because he wouldn’t normally see lemons positioned facing forward as they were shown in the image (Stephens, 2010). This may explain why the younger children didn’t name the lemons and instead identified the more familiar objects such as a sofa or saw eyes. It appeared that in this small study, the threshold for recognising breasts in the image was age ten. [1]

[1] It is possible that more children may have recognised the breast image, but were embarrassed to share this knowledge with their parents. A follow-up survey could be done in the future to test these findings if further accuracy was needed.