Breast Cancer is not a Pink Ribbon.

20 10 2010

I have always had mixed feelings in case of large happenings like marches and ribbon activities and cancer months. September is the ovarian cancer month (and also a US Prostate Cancer Month and a childhood cancer month) and  October the breast cancer month…. We have only 12 months in a year!

Please, don’t misunderstand me! Awareness is very important, also in the case of breast cancer: Awareness so to recognize breast cancer in an early stage, awareness of preventive measures of cancer,  awareness what women with breast cancer go through, awareness that breast cancer often can be cured, awareness that research is needed, and thus money.

But I also feel that the attention is overdone and often hypocritical, with fancy pink ribbons and “pink”: everywhere. This feeling is strengthened by some recent articles. For instance this article in, called Pink Ribbon Hypocrisy: Boozing It Up for Breast Cancer discussing that fast food and alcohol companies Use Breast Cancer as a Marketing Ploy (whereas these items some reputation if it comes to -certain types of- cancer). You can sign a petition here against it.

There is even a book Pink Ribbon Blues – How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women’s Health, written by Gayle A. Sulik, that is “thought-provoking and probing argument against the industry of awareness-raising”

From the description:

Pink ribbon paraphernalia saturate shopping malls, billboards, magazines, television, and other venues, all in the name of breast cancer awareness. (…) Gayle Sulik shows that though this “pink ribbon culture” has brought breast cancer advocacy much attention, it has not had the desired effect of improving women’s health. It may, in fact, have done the opposite. Based on eight years of research, analysis of advertisements and breast cancer awareness campaigns, and hundreds of interviews with those affected by the disease, Pink Ribbon Blues highlights the hidden costs of the pink ribbon as an industry, one in which breast cancer has become merely a brand name with a pink logo.

The following quote from a woman who had lost her mother to breast cancer illustrates the feeling of many (see comments):

As the years went by, life provided me with more reasons to hate pink. Frustration over society-defined gender roles piled on as did annoyance at the image of ultimate feminine woman. And then came the big one.

Breast cancer.

My mom passed away after a six-year long battle with breast cancer at the age of 45.

When pink later became symbolic of breast cancer awareness, I wanted to punch some pink piggies. I know that some people choose to wear pink to honor or remember or show support for a loved one. That is not what I get my panties in a bunch about–it’s the way corporate America has grabbed that pink flag and waved it to and fro for their own profit that makes me furious.

I remember once standing in the grocery store and staring at a bag of pink ribbon-adorned M&Ms, my blood boiling harder with every passing second.

She ends her post with:

Everyone has a story. Some have seen the scars of a mastectomy. Some have witnessed the toll that chemotherapy takes on a body. Some have lived the pain. We all know it’s bad.

I, for one, don’t need pink to remind me.

That same is true for me. I’ve seen my mother battling breast cancer -she is a survivor- and I have seen the scars of mastectomy and these are nowhere near pink ribbon.

“Breast Cancer is not a Pink Ribbon” tweeted Gilles Frydman yesterday and he meant a great pictures exhibition that lasted 3 days, showing portraits of young topless breast cancer survivors shot by fashion photographer David Jay.

At first I found it mainly confronting: this is the reality of breast cancer! As described elsewhere (Jezebel):

Seeing scarred and reconstructed mammary glands is not just shocking because of the way breasts are fetishized in our society, but because it speaks to how much we hide, gloss over and tidy up disease. Breasts are one of the defining physical attributes for identifying a woman. Breast cancer eats away at flesh meant to nourish. Surgery is a brutal procedure from which to recover and heal. But cute, clean, pink ribbons have come to symbolize all that.

But at a second and third look, I mainly saw the beauty of the photo’s, the fierceness of the women and their beautiful eyes.

Exactly as put into words at the website of the SCAR project:

Although Jay began shooting The SCAR Project primarily as an awareness raising campaign he was not prepared for something much more immediate . . . and beautiful: “For these young women, having their portrait taken seems to represent their personal victory over this terrifying disease.

SCAR by the way stands for ‘Surviving Cancer. Absolute Reality.”

David Jay was inspired to act when a dear friend was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 32.

The SCAR-project is “dedicated to the more than 10,000 women under the age of 40 who will be diagnosed this year alone The SCAR Project is an exercise in awareness, hope, reflection and healing. The mission is three-fold: Raise public consciousness of early-onset breast cancer, raise funds for breast cancer research/outreach programs and help young survivors see their scars, faces, figures and experiences through a new, honest and ultimately empowering lens.”

The exhibition was last week in New York, but you can still see the photographs at the website of the SCAR-project.

Furthermore, you can participate in the project and/or buy the (signed) SCAR project book ($55).

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15 responses

20 10 2010

“But at a second and third look, I mainly saw the beauty of the photo’s, the fierceness of the women and their beautiful eyes.” — Me too.

20 10 2010
Tweets that mention Breast Cancer is not a Pink Ribbon. « Laika's MedLibLog --

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Laika (Jacqueline) and Laika (Jacqueline), Deirdre Bonnycastle. Deirdre Bonnycastle said: RT @laikas: Blogging: Breast Cancer is not a Pink Ribbon. […]

21 10 2010

the above photo reminds me of my sister who had died 4 years ago. she died of breast cancer. previous breast cancer surgery has been performed, but no success.

21 10 2010
Anne Littlewood

Oh I so agree with this! One of my biggest problems with the “pink ribbon” campaign is the way it detracts attention from other forms of cancer, and indeed, other diseases. Heart disease is the biggest killer of women (at least in the west) but I’ll bet that most of the public think it’s breast cancer. Breast cancer research is extraordinarily well funded these days (again in the West) but other forms of cancer research get neglected. My dad had bladder cancer, no-one does marches for that do they?!
Wonderful photos by the way!

22 10 2010

Congratulations Jacqueline for your post!

At least another European who thinks that all this pinkification just clouds the real issue with breast and other cancers and these are many. We lack breast cancer clinics, we lack interdisciplinary approach to the disease, we lack equipment such as digital mammographers, linear accelators, labs. etc. that could cut down the waiting times for treatment and diagnosis from 2-3 months to max 15days. These are issues worth advocating for, as for prevention, if there was a preventive cure then it would be here.

General good care about oneself e.g. low-carb low-fat diet, no smoking, exercising and screening are just general. I do all this all my life and nevertheless had got twice BrCa. It did not prevent but maybe it helped me with a good health to face the challenge.

Thank you for your thoughtful post
Kind regards,

23 10 2010

I couldn’t agree more. Sadly, there seems to be a great deal of hypocrisy surrounding this issue and it’s only getting worse as the potential for profits continues to increase. It should be considered a conflict of interest for non-profit organizations and foundations conducting breast cancer research to accept donations from companies that stand to gain from their philanthropy, or that can then exert influence on the direction of the research, i.e. detection and treatment vs. prevention, because of their financial “clout.” Then there are the companies that profit by linking their products to the breast cancer cause. Breast Cancer Action has coined the term “pinkwashers” to describe a company “that purports to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink-ribboned product, but manufactures products that are linked to the disease.” Their organization is leading a call to action and has a website that encourages people to “think before they pink.” Thanks for spreading the word about this issue through your insightful post.

1 11 2010
Dean Giustini

Extraordinarily moving post, Jacqueline.

Could I use it / refer to it for the Blog Carnival?

my best to you


14 11 2010
» Medical Blogging Matters: A Carnival of Ideas, November 2010 The Search Principle blog

[…] impresses me most is that she is undaunted by controversial topics such as those she takes on in “Breast Cancer is not a Pink Ribbon”. She […]

9 03 2011
Tammy N Marshall

Though no one in my family has it, we have had a few other forms of cancer and I understand some of the emotional complexities that many women and their families go through. It a difficult and damaging disease that leaves so many women feeling like their fighting for not only their lives, but their womanhood as well: losing hair, losing of breast, losing sex drive and appeal..

For the past year I have been raising money for breast cancer. Fundraising has also given me the opportunity to hear the complaints of those “sick” of the pink ribbon: So many other diseases don’t get enough funding for treatment or research… How much money needs to be raised if we’re no closer to a cure… Its easy to see why people take so have so many views on this topic.

The Scars Project looks incredible and I can’t wait to see more. Thank you so much for sharing from your heart why you think the way you do and for letting us all look for beauty in outside of a ribbon.

28 03 2011

Thanks Tammy for commenting and connecting. It is the first time (I guess) someone from blip actually commented to my blog.

It is good to read your thoughts. I have nothing to add, except that I too find the Scars Project incredible.

21 03 2011
Samantha Morgan

No I don’t need a pink ribbon to know the pain breast cancer causes, I can see it in the mirror and in the faces of my loved ones who share the death due to breast cancer of our daughter/sister/wife/mother/aunt. I don’t care if some businesses increase their profits by supporting, raising and donating money to pink ribbon groups! The money they raise is not less important, less valuable or harmful to anyone! It does not cheapen or harm anyone or anything. What is important is that people can come together, if they want, and cherish the memories of loved ones lost and support those struggling to be survivors.

28 03 2011

Hi Samantha. Although I degree with the first and the last part of your comment, I don’t think that “it doesn’t matter that a business increases its profits by raising and donating money to pink ribbon groups! The money they raise is not less important, less valuable or harmful to anyone!”
Money raised for one aim is always at the cost of another aim (other cancers, diseases) and why should businesses profit from it anyway??

7 08 2011

Great post. Iespecially found it useful where you state about this one.
im from the east. May i know about something? the truelly, what the meaning of that pink ribbon?
how u not agree with peopleh who assosiated pink ribbon with the breast cancer?

26 10 2011
Grand Rounds Vol 8 nr 5: Data, Information & Communication « Laika's MedLibLog

[…] of breast cancer and try to call attention to new discoveries about breast cancer. Personally I have mixed feelings about the pink ribbon exploitation of this month”, but David Gorky at Science Based Medicine points at a worse […]

10 05 2012
Roger Wabbit

I am a strong supporter in finding a cure for breast cancer and to help prevent tragedies like this. No woman should ever have to loos her breasts. That’s just sad.

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