Has the pink ribbon become the bully of ribbons?

Has the Pink Ribbon Become the Bully of Ribbons?

If you were to ask any number of people over, say the age of ten (maybe even younger) that you meet on the street (in the US anyway) if they’ve ever seen a pink ribbon and what cause it represents; I bet most, if not all, would say yes and yes.

The pink ribbon is everywhere and nearly everyone in these parts is more than familiar with it.

I think it might also be interesting to ask those same individuals a third question that might go along the line of something like this:

Has the pink ribbon become the bully of ribbons? Do you ever get tired of seeing all those pink ribbons everywhere?

I have a feeling you’d get more than a few yeses here as well.

Lots of diseases have ribbons tied to them. I suppose this is so every disease has some sort of identity or brand to set it apart. I’m not entirely sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing…

I do know that as far as ribbon notoriety goes, no other ribbon comes close to the almighty “hate it or love it” pink ribbon. Nearly everyone knows that the pink ribbon and breast cancer are inseparable in the awareness arena.

But awareness of what isn’t quite so clear.

Without peeking at the chart below, how many colored ribbons can you correctly match to its corresponding cancer?

Ribbon/cancer chart

Undoubtedly, some of the other cancers feel left out, or rather of course, some people affected by those other cancers feel left out.

I got a comment on one of my HP articles from someone who thought I should stop complaining about all the attention breast cancer gets. He told me breast cancer was lucky to get so much attention and that I should be grateful. I guess in some ways this is true, or could be if pink and pink ribbon use hadn’t gone so crazy and if truckloads of dollars were being delivered for research purposes, but this doesn’t seem to be the case at all.

I do know there are plenty of other serious diseases out there which deserve attention too. And again, this makes me wonder how breast cancer became the ‘showcase disease’, in other words, the shopping disease in the first place.

Fair or not, the pink ribbon is by far the leader in ribbon visibility, recognition and attention getting.

Good or bad, the pink ribbon is the ribbon among ribbons.

And let’s face it, the pink ribbon is probably not going away anytime soon.

In and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with the pink ribbon. And I still like pink.

But just as it’s never a good thing for a person to be a bully, it’s not okay for the pink ribbon to become one either.

To download a FREE copy of my ebook, “Pink Is Just a Color, Ribbons Are Just Ribbons:  A collection of writings about pink ribbon shenanigans,” Click Here.

Do you think the pink ribbon has become the “bully” of ribbons?

Has the pink ribbon become the "bully" of ribbons?
Has the pink ribbon become the “bully” of ribbons?

31 thoughts on “Has the Pink Ribbon Become the Bully of Ribbons?

  1. Good on you for getting this out there. I do think it has gone too far, when you are made to feel guilty for not wearing a pink ribbon. I am all for charities raising funds for research, but I feel other cancer charities are overshadowed, and are losing out.

  2. My mother had Leiomyosarcoma and I didn’t know until now there was a ribbon for that. We donated just the same directly to research for it. It’s true that it is good that the pink ribbon is out there. I’m bothered that so little of the money raised is going to research… especially once it has metastasized.

    1. Mae, I have not heard of Leiomyosarcoma, so thanks for sharing about it. There are a lot of ribbons out there aren’t there? Sometimes I wonder if we’d be better off without so many divisions and more of a unified approach, but maybe that’s not really possible. I don’t know. I do know the pink ribbon has certainly overshadowed all the others and does seem to be a “bully” of sorts. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I don’t know if “bully” is the right word. The pink ribbon as a marketing tool to reach the female market is harming women (and men) with other cancers and shortchanging bc survivors with second cancers. It plays out in many ways, including lack of support programs in hospitals following discharge; state laws insuring access to care that only support bc patients; community fairs for “women with cancer” that are only for women with bc; community, business or online service or support offers for women with cancer that turn out to only be for bc survivors; charities set up to help with financial needs that are only for bc survivors and on and on. It’s more than “feeling” left out, it IS being left out. The need is for a different universal symbol that unites all of us and uses our own voices, buying power and votes to put focus in the right places for all of us and diminish/end the pink ribbon marketing madness that has little to do with cancer.

    1. Pat, Of course I’m using the word bully sort of tongue in cheek here to make a point. And yet, it might not actually be that far off the mark… Great point, it’s more than a feeling of being left out, it IS being left out as far as other cancer charities, etc. are concerned. That’s a real shame and worse, quite harmful. Yes, a more universal symbol that would unite us all would be nice, but I don’t see that happening any time soon do you? Thanks for adding your insights here. Much appreciated.

  4. The pink ribbon is losing its purpose of support and become an aggressive marketing tool.

    You didn’t spend a dollar for a cup of pink lemonade, you don’t support women with breast cancer? Nevermind that you are a breast cancer survivor AND allergic to lemons. You didn’t put on a pink shirt and go to that walk? Why aren’t you celebrating your survival? Nevermind that with chemo neuropathy permanently in my feet, still fighting fatigue from past and current treatments, that a walk is not my idea of celebrating. Plus, it was to celebrate winning and I haven’t. Remission in mets is more like a truce of unknown duration.

    BC survivors are supposed to be able to run marathons. Jump back into their old life better than ever. And always be positive because “positive is what it takes to win.”

    The pink ribbon does not ask, it demands support. And it demands support in certain ways. And you are not supposed to question it; is the awareness information correct? does enough go to research? where is that donation going? So, yes, that does make it a bully.

    I read back over this and realize I sound like a real downer. If someone says they are doing a pink ribbon something in my honor, I say thank you, even if it isn’t a group I would choose. I actively fight the fatigue, lymphedema, and other physical limitations through exercises. I can no longer teach fulltime public school, but volunteer a few hours a week at a small private school and the kids think I’m a blast! I still participate in the music program at my church.
    Overall, I’m a pretty positive person, but just like awareness did not prevent stage 3 IBC or later mets, positive thinking will not cure me. So, in the world of the pink ribbon, I’m a heretic.

    1. Elizabeth, You’re not a downer. You tell it as you see it and I respect that. I’m a positive person, too, but I don’t believe positive thinking determines survival. I have a post on that somewhere… thanks for sharing your thoughts. I always appreciate your perspectives. And I guess I’ve written enough about my views on the pink ribbon for another October! ha.

    2. Elizabeth – I loved your comment!
      I think you are being honest and real. I’ve been sharing a reality check kind of post every day this Pinktober on Facebook. I want the small number of people that I can reach to realize that BC, especially MBC, is not some pink, fluffy disease. Well, in the past few days I have gotten all sorts of people wondering if I need a life coach and that sort of thing.
      I am a rather positive person, because I don’t want to live life any other way. I am completely aware, however, that being “positive” has nothing to do with if / when my cancer will spread.
      Anyway, I just wanted to say that I really appreciated your comment.
      Nancy – my reality check topic today is BC vs other cancers and I plan to add a link to your post. Great timing!!

      1. oops! just realized that this post was from last year!
        Well, I just saw it today so the timing was good from that perspective! 😉

      2. Jenn, Thanks so much for reading and commenting. Good for you for doing those reality check. Feel free to share a link on my FB page if you’d like.

  5. Nancy,

    This is an excellent, thought-provoking post.

    Personally, I don’t believe in symbols such as ribbons to represent a disease. Ribbons should be used for decorating presents — ribbons of all colors. Since when should a disease have its own ribbon? It’s almost like there’s some kind of competition going on.

    And of course, the pink ribbon wins the competition for fame hands down. I do think in many cases it is well-intentioned. People want to show their support for others. However, it is also abused and causes divisiveness in the cancer community. I’ve known quite a lot of people with cancers other than breast cancer who commented to me that they wish their disease could get the publicity that breast cancer gets. It’s interesting how we know that awareness alone won’t cure cancer, but so many cancers need more awareness.

  6. Nancy! I’ve been so super busy since summer ended, and am so backlogged on my blog reading. Caught this post, and just want to say: I am ribbon conflicted. And am working on a piece that I’ll post on the topic later this week.

    Thanks for this one! 😉

    1. Renn, Ribbon conflicted – that’s a pretty common feeling I’d guess. I’m not opposed to pink or pink ribbons, just their overuse and misuse. I look forward to your post! Thanks for stopping by.

  7. I was recently on the bus and somehow got into a conversation with a lady who has a mental illness. She was VERY angry about the attention of the pink ribbon vs. lack of awareness around mental illness. Of course, she was also saying that BC is just a ‘physical illness that isn’t even a big deal’ . . . so I think there are many emotions around who gets the attention, compassion and money. But also, many misunderstandings, too.

    As for the ribbon. It’s a powerful symbol. I like to think of the poppy around Remembrance Day – also a powerful symbol. But they’ve been used quite differently, and so while the poppy remains respectful, the ribbon, unfortunately, has become overbearing.

    1. Catherine, It’s sad when others feel angry and left out isn’t it? Something’s just not right… And yes, overbearing, that’s a good word to describe the pink ribbon. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  8. Very interesting post, Nancy. I never really thought of the pink ribbon as being bullying, but in a sense it is. I went to a breast cancer awareness lunch last week where all the ladies at my table, and in most of the room, were wearing pink. I wore beige and orange, the proper colors for this time of year. I wanted to be there as the face of mets, an overlooked, ugly, and underrepresented category for which there is no separate girly ribbon (maybe a slashed or moldy pink ribbon?). By the way, the ribbon for lymphedema is turquoise. I get lots of questions when I wear my turquoise ribbon, and use the opportunity to educate people. Thanks for the insightful post. I only wish I could comment more often! xo

    1. Jan, Good for you for going to the lunch dressed in something other than pink. You made a statement for sure. Not that’s there’s anything wrong with pink, but… well, you know. I did know about the turquoise ribbon being the one to represent lymphedema because YOU taught me that! Thanks so much for reading and commenting. Do both whenever you can. xoxo

  9. To answer your question, I’m not sure if I would use the word “bully”. Diva might be a better term. October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and there is Mental Illness Awareness Week in October. I have a mental illness and I can kind of see the point the one lady with the mental illness was trying to make, but she also was guilty of doing to you what people do to us (the “oh, it’s just….”) thing.

    I guess what frustrates me the most is that the Pink overshadows other causes. Where was all the purple for Domestic Violence Awareness Month on the football field? Other than Brandon Marshall putting green tape on his shoes for mental illness awareness (which he got fined for by the league), there hasn’t been anything.

    On the other hand, I don’t want people making a profit off of my condition. I don’t want people to think the answer to mental illness management and research by spending money on crap they don’t need so they think that they’re helping. That’s not going to help ease the mental health care provider shortage, which is probably the biggest obstacle, besides money & insurance, in people seeking care. I’d rather they give directly to research or to support organizations. I’d rather they lobby or legislators on our behalf to make sure some of these non-profits like NAMI and our community mental health care centers are adequately funded. I’d rather you become advocates for us and help end stigmas, because the hardest thing to deal with in my situation is the stigma. I’ve been denied employment because of it, I don’t get the right medications I should be taking because of it, etc.

    Am I sick of all this pink? Yes. I think we’re long past the stage where we need to bring awareness to breast cancer. I would rather see the focus go from awareness to prevention, but since the biggest breast cancer charity is in bed with a lot of corporations that sell pink things (some even made out of materials known to cause cancer), who are both guilty of pinkwashing, I don’t see this changing unless people stop buying into this cause marketing stuff.

    This year, though, I’ve sensed a shift in the tide. I’ve seen others speak out against it. I think the numbers have grown since the whole Komen debacle last year. I’ve been against pinkwashing for a long time and I loathe October because of this, but I’ve seen other people questioning if this is really what we should be doing, especially after finding out that SGK only spends 15% or something like that on what they bring in for actual research and charity. The rest all goes towards salaries and overhead.

    1. Kathy, Thanks for sharing your insights. I do sense that shift as well, but I also wonder how long it will take to see some real change. Shifting is at least a start though, right?

  10. I was just diagnosed w breast cancer October 15. Not that I’d ever thought of pink ribbons as “bullies” before, I cannot tell you all how tired of seeing them everywhere since my diagnosis. I think though that it was because I didn’t want to think about breast cancer any more than I had to & happened to get diagnosed in October. Still, I think the pink ribbon IS overkill. I wanted to throw out any article of clothing of mine that happened to be pink. That said, how someone could say that ANY cancer is not a big deal just sickens me. This diagnosis has turned my world upside down. Even though my son is almost 18 yrs old, he is autistic spectrum & mentally disabled. I have to figure out a way to explain it to him this week before I go in for surgery to remove both my breasts that nourished both my wonderful children for a combined 2 1/2 years. Yes, breast cancer,any cancer, is a big deal.

    1. Pam, I’m sorry to hear you were diagnosed and in October no less. Not that the month matters, but it is ironic isn’t it? Cancer does turn your world upside-down, but somehow a person does what needs to be done and you will too. Good luck telling your son. That won’t be easy, nothing about cancer is. Thanks so much for sharing, especially since your feelings must be so new and raw. I’ll be thinking of you.

  11. As a 19 year old with brain cancer, I couldn’t agree more. Often I have friends or family that want to spread awareness so that we can get closer to finding a cure. But it is a challenge trying to find anything supporting brain cancer. It is a little frustrating.

    1. Beth, I’m sorry it’s such a challenge to find that support. It makes me sad to think breast cancer is a ‘bully’ of sorts. Thank you for stating your thoughts on this.

  12. Yes I do. Even though they have cleaned up their act, a little, Komen has profited far more than is ethical for their sponsor-fest every October. In addition many companies promote ‘Pink Ribbon’ in the most God-awful ways. Pink trash bags, pink tools, pink NFL bullshit, pink undertaker outfits FS (true, google it). And the whole time the thing needed is not awareness, but research into new therapies. Less than 8% of Komen contributions goes to breast cancer research. The current CEO males close to $400K/yr. Most pink products actually contribute less than 5% to anything breast cancer related. And long-term survival rates for cancer remain pretty much unchanged despite all the pink hype.

    In the mean time Who knows what the gold ribbon is? It’s for childhood cancer. Brain cancer just became the number one cancer killer of children. Please visit TheTruth365 on FB to see some of the most courageous humans you’ll ever meet. Children battling cancer.
    Please give October to these kids too, I don’t want Pinktober anymore. I want every month to be Gold Ribbon Month for pediatric cancer, until kids aren’t dying anymore. We need them. Talia, Delaney, Katie (KitKat), Jonny (Jackie’s twin brother), my beloved Kyssi (Kyrstin Andrews), Parker, Zamora Moon, all so beautiful……
    Finding cures for them may find cures for all of us.
    Sorry for the rant, I was just watching CureFest on FB. Annual convention of families impacted by pediatric cancer. This weekend in DC. On the Mall. Amazing love and loss and hope there. Fin.

  13. I’m hoping to write an argumentative essay on this topic for my college English class. I need reliable resources. Do you know of any?

  14. Its interesting and feels supportive to hear that these feelings exist within the cancer community. I hadn’t thought about the uber-pressure to “be positive!” But had about the intensity of marathons, 3-day walks and other things expected of survivors.

    I don’t have cancer, but for 6 years have struggled with debilitating diseases that started overnight and have resulted in huge difficulty raising my children, have found me urging my husband to divorce and find a more able, fun partner while he still can, and In really dark times, have contemplated suicide, rather than face living this way – getting one condition under “management” only to have a new one crop up, or just dealing with the juggling of symptoms from each condition one day to the next. I’ve wondered how often people during their fight, or especially afterwards, facing chronic symptoms after “cured” have struggled with these emotions.

    This month, After seeing what I thought of as the “pepto-bismol” fest on the Today show, as women in pink danced on a truck as they awaited makeovers- I got the phone call that told me I can add Ménière’s disease to my list. This being the only dx I’ve felt comfortable sharing widely because everyone “gets dizziness.” This, for me, while another hardship and difficulty for my family, driving me to the “divorce talks” again during a bleak moment, is actually one of the less painful conditions I’ve got to deal with.

    I guess my point is, that besides cancer, which I haven’t experienced so cannot even measure the difference between my experience and theirs – there are other illnesses – as someone else mentioned – most invisible, many with names no one has heard and therefore can’t have instant understanding of the experience, and people with this suffer deeply. I’ve heard some say they wish they could either get a cure or die. It’s difficult to live with the constancy, the secrets, the lack of awareness or community support, and often the same pressure that if you’d just think positively life would get better. My doctors and other care providers have told me I’m one of their most optimistic, least “sick-minded” clients – I find that so insensitive – yes, mental strength helps, but illness and recovery is a process and everyone has their own experience and right to be afforded that – , and this year, when pink month came around and I was grieving over loss of another body system, a month so far In bed, and my absolute inability to give my family the kind of experience I wish I could, I just got mad. Especially given the lack of money that makes it toward research, and the success that has made this a diagnosis where it seems – and I may be way off here — but this is what I’m told, that survival – and good, back to normal survival – chances are getting better – that right. The attention is disproportionate. And unfortunately, the focus takes away from other cancers and other diseases that cause misery and suffering and have no cure, sometimes no treatment.

    I always tell people that suffering is suffering and we shouldn’t compare our experience against another’s, discount or invalidate it, because when you are going through whatever it is, it is big and difficult and sometimes scary.

    I hope for increased awareness of all disease. I hope for less pressure for survivors to feel like they have to “perform” or behave according to expectations of those who haven’t had the experience. I hope for awareness that cured doesn’t always mean “completely gone.” And, that you can be a positive person but still express frustration and sadness, be allowed to have an authentic experience, be a critical thinker and yes, even sometimes experience negative data – just like the average non-sick person. Selfishly, I wish the support I’ve witnessed given to friends with a cancer diagnosis – food, babysitting, cleaning – all offered and organized by others – had been once offered during the 6 years of my illness. 7 take that back – it has happened, once in awhile someone will really see me and it’s beautiful and magical, but this struggle for people without well-recognized ribbons – it’s tough.

    I appreciate the space to speak out and hope I don’t offend anyone with my thoughts. And, I know it’s an old post by thank a goodness for the Internet support on a somewhat negative day! Blessings to all of you.

    1. Wendy, Thank you for sharing your insightful comments. You definitely aren’t offending anyone by expressing yourself. You’re so right, suffering is suffering and comparing and judging gets us nowhere. I’m sorry you are dealing with so many issues. It must be so challenging. And it certainly doesn’t help when even those delivering medical care resort to cliches about positivity and such. And yes, the pepto-bismal fest, I hear you. I’m sure many, maybe even most, people will be happy when Breast Cancer Awareness Month comes to an end. Pink fatigue is real. Hope you’re doing okay, and I also hope you are getting some support, you certainly deserve it. Again, thank you for sharing.

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