UNION SQUARE — With a level of bra-centered enthusiasm usually reserved for a Victoria’s Secret sale, dozens of women — and a few brave men — helped stretch a string of brassieres hundreds of feet across Union Square Thursday.
The lingerie-laden flash mob drew mothers and children, teenagers and grown men as part of a bid to encourage women to conduct self breast exams — or, as they put it, “feel your boobies.”
“Our mission is to do unconventional outreach,” said Leigh Hurst, founder of the Pennsylvania nonprofit organization Feel Your Boobies Foundation, which helped organize the event along with the NYC-based marketing agency, GoGORILLA Media.
Volunteers collected more than 400 bras from individuals and lingerie stores around New York City. After making the trip around Union Square, all the bras were to be donated to charity.
There was even a visit from the artist Holly Van Voast, whose typical topless-ness seemed oddly appropriate.
Hurst, who is a breast cancer survivor, said the clinical language of breast cancer awareness talk can sometimes turn women off. But in reality, a self breast exam is really just a matter of getting comfortable with your own body, she said.
“It doesn’t have to be this step by step process,” Hurst explained. “It just means that you know your body.”
Hurst said she discovered a lump in her breast 10 years ago. Doctors didn’t feel it, but she did.
“If I wouldn’t have felt it, it would’ve gone on much longer,” Hurst said.
Two years after she found the lump, she had it tested and was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. Now, at age 41, she is cancer free and has one child, with another child on the way.
“There are stories that are good,” Hurst said. “I feel like [mine is] a story of hope.”
The event on Thursday was dotted with breast cancer survivors, those who have been touched by the disease and some who just wanted to help spread the word.
Patricia Brett, of the Upper East Side, joined the group after undergoing an elective bilateral mastectomy in an attempt to prevent future breast cancer, which would have been an 85 percent likelihood because she tested positive for the BRCA1 gene and had a family history of breast cancer.
“I was able to skip chemo and radiation and all those things,” Brett explained.
Brett has since developed a line of swimwear for women who have undergone mastectomies. The company is named for her aunt, Veronica Brett, who died from breast cancer.
“The reality is that we need to be feeling our own boobs,” Brett said, calling Thursday's event "a great, fun, uplifting way to raise awareness."
Ann Blazovic lives in New Jersey but came to Union Square on Thursday to donate a bra and help string the chain around Union Square.
“I think it gets the attention of younger women,” Blazovic said of the Feel Your Boobies message.
Blazovic, now 55, was diagnosed with the first of her two bouts with breast cancer at age 38.
“Having gone through this so young, I of course taught my daughter to do self exams,” she said.
Alyssa Millman, 31, also made the trek to Manhattan from New Jersey for the event. Millman, who performs massages on cancer patients at a hospital in Summit, N.J., said the cause was fresh in her mind on Thursday.
“I’m actually waiting for results from a biopsy from feeling my own breasts,” she said.
Millman said the message behind the Feel Your Boobies Foundation appealed to her.
“It’s not sad. It’s not clinical,” she explained. “I think that people can absorb more when you’re not bombarded, if you can just be cool about it.”