Last month Calgary's AMP Radio started running their "Breast Summer Ever" contest. For a chance at the grand prize of a $10,000 breast augmentation surgery, participants were asked to submit a picture and a description of why they thought they should win.
The initial reaction from some feminist bloggers was to condemn the contest for perpetuating damaging standards of feminine beauty. For example, Gauntlet awarded AMP their "Outstanding Enforcer of the Patriarchy Award" for "telling women that they are not good enough the way they are and suggest[ing] other women follow in the winner's footsteps."
The mother behind Calgary-based blog Extra Fancy One complained that the contest made it that much harder for her to help teach her 6-year-old daughter self-acceptance when the radio was promoting surgery as the solution.
"I would feel almost complete," said finalist Kass in her pitch video, when asked why she wanted the surgery, referencing the "beauty on the outside and the inside" she said she saw the surgery bring others.
The concerns raised about the contest were legitimate. But many entrants challenged the idea that cosmetic breast surgery is always something women to do conform to a beauty ideal and please men. "I'm doing it for me. I'm not doing it for anyone else out there. This is something I've wanted for ten-plus years," said entrant Diana.
Another finalist, Lindsey, lost a lot of weight after suffering from extremely high cholesterol and was looking to get a breast reduction due the difficulties she experienced exercising and finding bras in her size. Many of the other contestants echoed her problems dealing with body changes after significant weight loss.
Maybe the contestant who most challenged the conventional idea of breast augmentation surgery as a "cosmetic" procedure was the eventual winner, Avery: a trans woman who garnered three-quarters of the final votes.
Avery was unable to access funding to get sex reassignment surgery (SRS) and she's also experienced difficulties accessing voice therapy. The Alberta government cut all funding for SRS in 2009.
"I didn't even think I'd ever be able to get this done," Avery said in her post-win interview with AMP. Winning this competition was clearly a meaningful and important experience for her. She did an extremely brave thing and deserves congratulations.
If there's a real tragedy behind "Breast Summer Ever" it's that Avery had to go on a radio show to get the surgery she had a legitimate medical need for. Not all trans people choose to undergo surgery but for those who need it, sex reassignment surgery is a crucial treatment, and is anything but "elective" or "cosmetic". Egale Canada advocates for greater access to SRS and related medical procedures because they can alleviate discomfort associated with Gender Identity Disorder: "Failure to remedy feelings of dysphoria can cause significant health care concerns. Health issues transsexual persons face include; depression, anxiety, anger, stress, drug and alcohol use, eating disorders, childhood trauma, self-harm and suicide." Egale argues that helping people with GID access SRS can actually lower health care costs by preventing these health issues.
The Canada Health Act guarantees all Canadians access to comprehensive, universal, accessible health care. It's not supposed to be limited based on how few people require the treatment or affected by discrimination. But coverage for SRS procedures is inconsistent across Canada and people in some provinces people are required to jump through more hoops than in others (for an overview, check out this interactive map via xtra.ca).
According to Xtra, In Alberta, Nova Scotia, PEI, and New Brunswick, no surgeries are covered. Patients have to move to another province and qualify for coverage there in order to get assistance. In Saskatchewan and Newfoundland, patients have to travel to the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health in Toronto in order to be assessed prior to having approval for surgery. Even where procedures are covered, often after years of assessments and waiting, provinces often don't reimburse travel costs or costs of related medical supplies. And late last year the Conservative government instructed the Correctional Service of Canada to stop providing SRS for federally-incarcerated inmates.
Avery's win, in addition to being a huge step for her, could also help bring awareness of issues with SRS access issues. Because trans people in Canada shouldn't have to go on the radio in front of tens of thousands of people to beg for money for surgery the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and federal courts have agreed is an essential medical treatment.