The other night at Red Sky Tapas Bar in Marietta, about 300 people had gathered for a cocktail party. The event, dubbed “Tapas for Tatas,” featured “tatatinis,” a curious blend of lemonade, cherry rum, grenadine and triple sec.
While the name might have suggested something more suggestive, the party was, in fact, a breast cancer fund-raiser, and several breast cancer survivors were in the crowd. “Tapas for Tatas” was the brainchild of 21-year-old Kristin Corbin of Marietta, and the money was for her five-member female team, Pearls in Pink, which will participate in an upcoming walk for breast cancer prevention and research.
“A younger generation uses that word all the time,” Corbin said of the slang term for breasts, as though it was the most natural thing.
And that got us thinking: How does a term like that get mainstreamed, particularly in the context of breast cancer awareness? It seems to be cropping up everywhere in connection with events, merchandise and campaigns aimed at addressing the disease, displayed by women of all ages on signs and T-shirts.
There are plenty of once controversial words that over time have been reappropriated by certain groups, often to take the sting out of them or change their meaning. And there are innocuous words that can change meaning with each generation. (Remember when “sick” simply meant that you had a cold?) But tatas? Really?
“I think it’s an empowerment issue,” said Tavari Taylor, program coordinator for the cancer wellness program at Piedmont Fayette Hospital. “From a wellness perspective, if people can talk about cancer without it being a scary thing, you’re more likely to be proactive. And if you’re wearing a T-shirt like that, it gets people to talk and hopefully act in a positive way.”
Anita Kennerley of Hiram is a breast cancer survivor who runs a prosthesis shop in Paulding County called PAK in Pink. Kennerley carries merchandise from the California company that began using the phrase a few years ago on its breast cancer awareness merchandise, which is aimed primarily at survivors and friends and family of those dealing with the disease. She doesn’t have a problem with the word and thinks the phrase is no more than a way to bring a little levity and awareness to a difficult health issue.
“It’s usually an older person who will say, ‘What does that mean?’ ” Kennerley said. “The whole idea was to put a smile on your face.”
Go to a race or walk supporting research for the disease and you’re bound to see lots of well-meaning women, from young to middle-age, on teams that have the word in their title. Not everyone approves, however.
Kelly Dolan is executive director of Susan G. Komen for the Cure of Greater Atlanta. The organization’s huge 60-mile, 3-day walk is coming up in October, and teams such as Corbin’s are already raising money in preparation. Dolan has seen an increasing number of teams with such names.
“I remember when the Dallas Morning News wouldn’t print the word ‘breast’ in the paper at the first Race for the Cure” in the 1980s, Dolan said. “Breast cancer is talked about openly now. We don’t want to stifle creativity, but we don’t want it to become vulgar or make light of a serious disease that kills more than 40,000 women a year. Personally, do I like the word tatas? No, I do not. But it seems like it has become common vernacular.”
But will it last as a mainstream term? Tarshia Stanley, an associate professor of English at Spelman College, is betting no.
“It’s going to be difficult because the word has such a misogynistic history,” Stanley said. “This is faddish. Young people are going to like it because it seems a little risqué, but will it really get them thinking about women’s health care? When you change language, you’re trying to change the way people think.”
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