on Pink Ribbons

notice: the post below is a bit of a rant, and contains some not-so-polite language. Others with similar opinions have written on this topic before, so I’m not trying to break any ground, but I feel strongly that this conversation is not one we’re having enough, and I want to do what I can to change that. Come back next week for more weddings & prettiness.

As, well, everyone in mainstream society knows, October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Stores are already full of pink versions of normal products, people are donning pink ribbons, and every random person you know from high school is posting a cryptic-but-vaguely-sexual status on their facebook pages. I’m here to ask everyone to please stop. Stop with the pink, stop with the fetishization, stop with the consumerism.

I, like many, many, many, people, have been touched extremely closely by breast cancer. My mother was diagnosed when I was a teenager (she went through treatment successfully and is doing great 12 years later, thanks.) I’m not sure I can even count the number of women I know who’ve been diagnosed with this terrible disease at some point (the Bay Area is considered a hot spot,) and I personally have had two amazing women in my life, both incredibly close family friends, been killed by this motherfucker of a disease.

But you will not find me wearing pink this month, and you will not find me buying anything with a pink ribbon emblazoned on it’s packaging. The truth is that pink ribbons, appliances, packaging, and bracelets offend me at this point. And they should offend all of us. I mean, why pink? Pink is way too happy of a color for this disease. You want to recognize breast cancer? Wear black, the color that thousands of people are putting on every single day as they attend the funerals of women who have left behind their families and friends after treatment has failed. When I see a pink rubber bracelet I want to scream. A fatal disease should not be a fashion statement.

The worst offenders? The organizations, fundraisers, and memes that are doing what can only be called making light of breast cancer. “I <3 boobies” “save the boobies” “boobie-thon” “save the ta-tas.” Or the now infamous “put your bra color as your status,” or the Facebook status meme I still don’t understand even a little bit about a number of weeks and a food craving? (I mean WTF? how in the hell does that even begin in any way to raise awareness for breast cancer?) Fighting breast cancer has nothing to do with saving breasts – it is about saving lives. Please show me someone who has lost a woman close to them, be it a partner, a mother, a child, or a friend, to breast cancer who gives a shit about weather said person’s breasts are in tact.

Let’s stop this. We are better than this. We are more than capable of taking what is all-too-often a fatal disease seriously, even though it originates in an area of the body that is eroticized by society. I don’t have the time or space to get into the fact that because breast cancer is a disease that mainly effects women, it’s been feminized and infantilized on many levels beyond the pinkness, but if you’re ever interested in having that conversation with me offline I’d be more than happy to.

Sure, $50 from your new pink mixer is going to a breast cancer charity (if you happened to be one of the first 10k people to buy one.) You know what would be more helpful? Donating the entire $350 you spent on that mixer to an organization that’s doing real, groundbreaking research on finding a cure, or one that’s actively working to improve the lives of women already suffering from the disease. Also actually helpful? Make sure that the women in your life are getting mammograms & clinical examinations at the schedules recommended by their doctors and current medical guidelines (if you, like me, have a first degree relative who’s had breast cancer, it may be recommended that you get your first mammogram when you’re 10 years younger than your relative’s age at diagnosis.) Also, please be aware of the chemicals you’re putting into your body (because yes, that pink-ribbon-emblazoned face cream may actually be raising your cancer risk.)

Over 200,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and 10,000 of them will be under the age of 40. Close to 40,000 women in America alone will die from breast cancer this year. There’s absolutely nothing pink about that. Let’s stop pretending like there is.

posted in my life


  1. Emily
    Posted September 30, 2011 at 08:22 | Permalink

    Thanks for posting! I had no idea that the death rate is still so high for breast cancer alone.

    The issue of cancer and cancer awareness is dear to me because my father was diagnosed at 47 with colon cancer and died in 2009. I miss him! During his 5 year battle he participated in Lance Armstrong’s bike for cancer awareness and I think it is similarly hyped and may not always equate to funds being allocated to medical research and finding a cure. Yet I do find that it is helpful to the community to raise awareness. Although in the case of breast cancer I do feel like it has gotten out of control because people are very aware of it now, there is much less of a stigma than there used to be, and we must now ask, what can we do to get more of those funds to cancer research and hopefully a cure?

    On a different note, I’m reading Jerry Sittser’s book called A Grief Disguised and it has been really helpful for me to process my loss. I recommend it to anyone even if the loss isn’t necessarily a death.

    I’m not sure what organizations there are to donate to besides Komen… would you suggest American Cancer Society?

    As for colors go…. I have to seriously disagree. There are colors that represent all kinds of cancer (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_awareness_ribbons). And while pink may not be “serious” it is at least designated for Breast Cancer unlike almost every other cancer. I found the color system very helpful in my grief and was happy to learn that Etsy sellers and others are beginning to sell items for colon cancer awareness. I’m very much into the idea that some of our products can tell stories to strangers and friends and let them know us more (like my Lance Armstrong pin from my dad’s last ride before his death).

  2. Posted September 30, 2011 at 18:19 | Permalink


    I had read a number of years ago about the disparity between money raised under the guise of the pink ribbon and how much of it actually goes towards research for a cure, and ever since then I’ve been irritated by all the pink crap each October. (And ditto for similar fundraising efforts for a host of other diseases…) I’ve never understood why people fail to understand the basic economics – especially with fundraising races – those events have to be coordinated by someone! A lot of someones. Who are doing it as a full-time job. In other words, a really big chunk of the money you raise for the cause ends up going into the event administration and logistics. Why not just give directly and help more?

    And you make a very good point – a more effective cure is prevention – and your efforts to make sure your loved ones are taking care of themselves are more valuable than either the money or effort put into these things.

    Thank you for SAYING SOMETHING. A brave thing to do.

  3. Posted October 1, 2011 at 08:24 | Permalink

    My rule is that I won’t buy a breast cancer pink thing unless it’s something I would actually buy normally. (Hello, cute pink hand mixer!) I have no problem with this. I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy a pink thing JUST because of breast cancer, though. I’ll also admit that while I don’t tend to go out of my way to find a charity, research it and then write a check, it’s nice to have a donation made for me easily.

    The pink-branded products that do more harm to women’s bodies than good (Fried chicken, anyone?) are ridiculous. And companies are making more money off of these pink products by getting free advertising, which makes me uncomfortable; it’s difficult when charity gets capitalized on. But even still, the humanist in me says better some money donated than none, even if the circumstances are distasteful. I’m a bottom line kind of girl.

    When the breast cancer awareness started, people mumbled the word “breast” and didn’t talk about it. Women suffered silently. The pink was to make it disarming, to make it ok to say “breast”. At this point, it’s dated marketing that’s making people offended and angry, but at the time, it was empowering.

  4. tammy j
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 08:03 | Permalink

    my mother died of lung cancer. my husband died of throat cancer. my sister-in-law just died of breast cancer.
    i once said to my beloved husband who was in the last stage and in much pain… “we have walked on the moon for God’s sake.. WHY can’t we do something about this disease?!!!”
    his answer, very calmly, somewhat sadly …
    “honey, it’s an industry now. think about it. there are billions of dollars tied up in expensive real estate… entire clinics and hospitals dedicated totally to “handling” this disease… technicians, doctors with its specialties… pharmaseuticals… it’s all just too big now. would put too many people out of work.”
    think about it.