Shame on You, Lee-Ann

Shame on You, Lee-Ann

2014-10-27 07:20

ON THE road to the airport yet again, I switched on the radio to find myself gasping as I took in the latest story to raise the listeners’ ire (quite rightly): You magazine featured a bunch of schlebs with shaven heads in support of cancer awareness.

Except, as it turned out, they hadn’t had their heads shaved at all. The baldness had been achieved digitally. And the faecal matter hit the fan.

Cards on the table, mense. I am the wife of a cancer survivor. It all came down last year, so it’s pretty raw. You may say it’s not so hard for a man to lose his hair, down to the last eyelash, and that’s true. But it’s not so much the looks as what that loss of hair represents.

Every little clump of hair that goes represents the loss of control, the loss of time, the not knowing how this whirlpool will treat you, if you’ll come out the same on the other side (or at all), if and how changed you’ll be… it’s all that and a helluva lot more. I lived side by side with it and I’m pretty sure I did not fully understand what it felt like; I’m damn sure someone who’s never been intimate with it doesn’t come close.

So shaving your head for cancer awareness is always going to be a bit of a stunt unless you have walked a road that allows you to attach some personal meaning to it, isn’t it; doing it this way is downright cheap, in my view. (And my husband survived well and is healthy, thank you very much; how does this publicity trick impact on someone who is still in the whirlpool, or someone whose loved one fought the demon and lost?)

And don’t give me the nonsense about opening up a dialogue about cancer; as one of our major terrors, the middle class doesn’t need this kind of awareness – info, yes, but how much actual information about causes, symptoms and so on is being ventilated here, please? You magazine did this to sell copies, plain and simple.

As I listened to the indignation of the public, all I could think was, what does this say about these women? What kind of commitment to this cause do these celebrities show? Because surely commitment is the thing you expect when a schleb shows up for a campaign, the sort of quid-pro-quo of the contract: you get the publicity, the image of altruism, but then you have to go the nine yards, my dear.

You want to be seen as the ambassador for children’s rights, I’m afraid you’re going to have to fly to some unsavoury spots, eat something that doesn’t remotely resemble sashimi and kiss a few snotty little ones while an entourage of photojournalists and NGO do-gooders looks on; you can’t have the pics photoshopped in the studio in Manhattan. Oh, and you’ll have to read some long reports so you sound at least literate in your chosen field when asked to provide the essential sound-bites.

The lesson here has been learnt the hard way already by a number of major companies whose corporate social responsibility departments have made huge mistakes over the years. Parachute do-goodery doesn’t work. Something cosmetic undertaken simply to make you look good and ensure that the annual report smells of roses will come back and bite you.

I’m afraid Lee-Ann Liebenberg, Shashi Naidoo, Poppy Nthshongwana, Elma Postma, Zakeeya Patel and Wilma van der Bijl may have found out already that the public reacts badly to powder-puff philanthropy.

If you want to earn the publicity, you need to do it the hard way: do as young Emma Watson seems to have done, for example. Choose a cause that resonates with you and your lifestyle and make it a part of your life; take it seriously; think about it.

Do the research. Get involved at the ground level. Find out what needs to be done and dig in. Don’t expect to get results for a time; know that you can only reap the PR rewards once the roots have spread and the green shoots have grown.

You want to give a poor school access to online resources? You may have to start with access to solar power, cabling, and other infrastructure, instead of just helicoptering in a shedload of tablets so the CEO can be photographed surrounded by grinning kids.

You want to provide food security for the families of your workers? It’s not enough to give them lessons in permaculture. They’ll need seed, some way of bringing water to their veggie plot and fencing – think it through, and start by standing in their shoes.

Which is what You and its schlebs should have done: stood in the shoes of cancer survivors and thought how this would feel to them. What this would do for them. So you got a glimpse of what you would look like if your perfectly healthy self happened to have her head shaved, did you? Big sacrifice that was! 

Big deal! Thanks – but no thanks.

 - Fin24

*Mandi Smallhorne is a versatile journalist and editor. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on twitter.

  • Thabiso Mokhosoa - 2014-10-27 15:16

    Lee-Ann Liebenberg, Shashi Naidoo, Poppy Nthshongwana, Elma Postma, Zakeeya Patel and Wilma van der Bijl. I'm sorry Mandi, however you do know you have just managed to put together a group that will only be able to muster 5 IQ points put together. Nothing but media corner walkers that charge by the hour. Expecting more out of this lot is a waste of precious time.

      Toni Tomason - 2014-10-28 15:58

      100% Mokhosoa (Y)

      Christien Scheepers - 2014-10-29 10:51

      They are all better looking than most of us, and richer !Regardless of IQ or lack there of.

  • Ike Jakson - 2014-10-27 16:22

    Well said Mandi. I must say you surprised me with this one. It must have taken guts, and I suppose your personal experience to do it. Whichever, you have my unconditional admiration for having this Article published.

  • Debbie Brain551 - 2014-10-27 19:39

    Most health and livelihood seldom consists of doing more for less. We should be abled to bake our own healthy bread, eat more fruit and veg and stop being slapped at the butcher with over kill. A lot of things such as heart, liver and chicken pieces and liver are being thrown at us because the average has little knowledge of how fat or money is saved or health preserved....shaving your head means blow all when your family is dependant on the shrine of woman's strength to shuttle meals which the whole family can help in doing. Amish people teach their children how to do everything from four, making them special ladders to do it possible to wake up and eat properly without crying for GMO's?

  • wynand.dewinnaar - 2014-10-28 21:58

    Your perspectives make a lot of sense. Very good article!

      Ike Jakson - 2014-10-29 14:45


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