Make That 13 Things Wrong with the Pink Ribbon!

Often I can’t think quickly on my feet, so I find this list to be handy when people ask me what’s wrong with pink ribbons (and they do). No matter what your thinking speed might be, it’s nice to have some specific responses ready to go, so this is why I’m sharing this condensed version with you. For my original list of 10 Things Wrong with the Pink Ribbon, click here.

13 Things Wrong with the Pink Ribbon!

1. The pink ribbon has morphed into mostly a marketing tool to sell stuff and lots of it.

2.  The pink ribbon is used to sell image as well as products. Talk about bang for your buck, I mean ribbon.

3.  Pink ribbons are often misleading regarding dollar amounts being spent on breast cancer anything.

4.  Sometimes pink ribbons are selling questionable, even possibly cancer causing products. (also known as pinkwashing)

5.  Pink ribbons dress up breast cancer often times giving a skewed misrepresentation of this deadly disease. We must never “dress up” the fact that 41,000 women and men die annually from mbc in the US alone. 

6.  Pink ribbons exclude the men who can and do get breast cancer too.

7.  Pink ribbons are entangled with intangibles such as:  faith, hope and courage. No, I’m not opposed to these things just the entanglement because they crowd out other genuine feelings like fear, anger and uncertainty.

8.  The pink ribbon has turned into the bully of ribbons. Yep, it has!

9.  The pink ribbon has too many ties with blatantly sexist breast cancer awareness campaigns. Look around.

10. The results from all this ribboning have not been good enough – unless perhaps you’re selling pink stuff.

11. Another problem with the pink ribbon is how divisive it has become. Sometimes it seems as if there are two sides in breast cancer land, the pink ribbon side and the non-pink ribbon side. Again, I’m not opposed to pink or pink ribbons. I am opposed to overuse and misuse. Big difference. Enough with the ribbons! I hope we can all focus on the same goals. Collaboration is sorely needed. Let’s focus on that!

12.  Individuals dealing with metastatic disease often feel shut out by all that pink and all those ribbons. I hear this over and over, so even if folks in the land of pink ribbons don’t believe this is true, it still is. Believe them!

 13.  Another addition to my list this year is that too often this “pink ribbon entanglement” over-simplifies breast cancer by contributing to the illusion that it isn’t that bad anymore. One example – inflammatory breast cancer is pretty much left out of the awareness conversations. Why? Because it’s rare and anything but simple. Another example – buy something with a pink ribbon and you’ve done your part. Again, way too simple and not the answer.

So there you have it, my updated list of what’s wrong the pink ribbon. I’ve probably still only scratched the surface.

Now, I’m secretly hoping someone asks you what’s wrong with pink ribbons. If they do, I hope this list helps!

To grab a copy of my FREE ebook, Pink Is Just a Color, Ribbons Are Just Ribbons: A collection of writings about Pinktober shenanigans, Click Here.

If you like this post, please share it! Thank you.

What would you add to the list?

Which one(s) do you find most troubling?

Have you ever been asked, what’s wrong with pink ribbons? If so, what do you say?

Make that 13 Things Wrong with the Pink Ribbon #pinkribbon #breastcancer #breastcancerawarenessmonth

48 thoughts to “Make That 13 Things Wrong with the Pink Ribbon!”

  1. The pink ribbon campaigns give the false impression that if you check for lumps and get mammograms, you will be safe from getting advanced staged breast cancer. They almost seem to imply that if you do get a breast cancer that is not in an early stage, that it is your fault.

    By the way, thank you for including inflammatory, no. 13, up above.

    1. Yes, Yes, Yes!!!
      I’ve never been able to get this thought into words before, but this is my biggest problem with the pink ribbon – “They almost seem to imply that if you do get a breast cancer that is not in an early stage, that it is your fault.”
      Thank you!!!!

    2. Elizabeth, I think you make a very important point. And you’re welcome. Most people probably have not even heard of inflammatory breast cancer. Where are the awareness efforts about that? Again, the over-simplification… Thanks so much for commenting.

  2. Dear Nancy, I love your lists. I’m also happy to read you need them as much as I do. I find them all troubling, the objectification… and the segregation – at times complete non acceptance – of the mets reality being my top two I suppose.

    Relating back to your post about renaming the month to Breast Cancer Education month. It would be pretty amazing if we could incorporate your two good thoughts, Education & Awareness is not awareness without metastatic awareness.

    So glad you are there speaking up for all stages of this horrid disease… shared and shared… big hugs, Carolyn

    1. Carolyn, Yes, the mets non-acceptance should be at the top actually. I feel this is beginning to change, but we have a long way to go. I like your suggestion there. Thanks for reading, commenting and sharing. And thank YOU for speaking up for the metastatic bc community. It’s so important to share stories from women of all bc stages. Hugs back.

  3. We focus on funding expensive new research instead of doing a better job of organizing and sharing the information we already have.

    1. Lee, I don’t actually think we are spending enough on research efforts, but yes, you make a valid point about the organization – we definitely need more collaboration. Thank you.

  4. When I was DX’ed in 2004 I never felt comfortable embracing the fact I felt like an “outcast” because I just couldn’t,wouldn’t, buy into the prettiness if it all when so so many of my friends are hurting and dying.. there’s just NOTHING pretty about it.

    I’m just so glad that I’m not alone in my misgivings all of these years.. We should get paid royalties for someone using our disease toake a profit and them we could use the money to fund research!

    Just my 2 $

    1. Marcia, I agree, there’s nothing pretty about bc at all and no, you’re definitely not alone in your misgivings. Thanks for sharing your two cents.

  5. I refuse to wear anything symbolic of the pink ribbon – I have always said that when these companies and organization want to pay me to be their billboard we can discuss a contract. Until then I’m not advertising for them. Many are making profit from our purchases and being the advertisement for their products. A very small percentage of the profit goes towards education, research and finding. I’m a fighting survivor diagnosed ten months ago.

  6. Your last thought was very compelling for me – people think if they wear a pink hat, pink boa, or ribbon, they have DONE something.

    Sadly not so.

    I was reminded of this at the Sept 2013 ASCO (Am Soc Clinical Oncology) Breast Cancer Symposium in SF. At the session Tumor board, most docs suggested the correct treatment for a woman with metastatic breast cancer (here’s another area men are basically left out of), is putting her into a CLINICAL TRIAL.

    I thought that was absurd, as a 20+ year survivor I have NOT seen any real amazing outcomes from new drugs (exception is Herceptin but even that has feet of clay).
    The docs continue to believe the press releases that indicate the ‘cure’ is just around the corner. Donate more billions, wear a pink ribbon and it will be over. Not so much.
    I founded Annie Appleseed Project as a platform to provide information and challenge the status quo.

    1. Ann, I know, right? This is a huge problem. It’s been shown that when people do buy something with a pink ribbon, many often think that is enough – and therefore they refrain from donating to an actual worthy cause.

  7. Nancy, I love the light (ie,non rant way) but informative way you delivery a message. You cut straight to the point and there are a lot thinks wrong to talk about. I am personal very grateful you have included the lack of education of Inflammatory Breast Cancer in list of that is wrong with the pink ribbon. It is so disturbing that the most fatal of all the breast cancers has been overlooked. Rare? Maybe, but rare does not mean never. Being the most fatal of all the breast cancers, seems now is the time to talk about it, get research funded, etc.

    Also I wanted to take this time to thank you again for hosting my guest post on Cancer and the Glass Ceiling.

    People as me all the time, “Why don’t you just move on? you are fine?” Well this week, I just learned I have tested positive for the gene mutation for Triple Negative Breast Cancer. Which that information puts my children at a greater risk for aggressive breast cancers as a young age. I will never move on, because cancer is never really over. That test result gave me that clear take on my family and how more that ever before, that my definition of “moving on” will be doing what I can do make Cancer History.

    1. Terry, I try. And yes, I had to include IBC in the list. And honestly, before I learned about bc the hard way, I don’t think I’d ever heard of it. What kind of awareness was this? Like I keep saying we need educated awareness, not mindless awareness. And I’m sorry about the genetic risk mutation you’ve tested positive for. I had no idea one could test for TNBC. I know exactly what you mean about never really moving on… thanks for reading and sharing, Terry.

  8. If collaboration is really important, then perhaps October should be renamed “Cancer Awareness and Education Month”. My father died of pancreatic cancer. I cannot describe how infuriated I was the month of October the year he died. I couldn’t buy a pizza, or walk into a restaurant, or a department store, without it all being swathed in peptic bismol pink. He deserved a life, too. While I applaude the marketing that has done something right to make everyone take notice of breast cancer, the month of October feels alot like a high school clique to me. Like having pancreatic cancer wasn’t enough for anyone to take notice. I don’t frequent businesses or buy products that support breast cancer in October. I do contribute to general cancer research, because what they find with one cancer, might help with another… or not.

    1. Tracy, I’m very sorry for your loss and I understand about your frustration completely. That’s why to many, the pink ribbon has become the “bully” of ribbons. I have a post coming on this. Stay tuned. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

    2. Thank you for your comment about being the bully of ribbons. Imagine how mothers of children who died from cancer feel in September, when barely half-way through the month (which is supposed to be Childhood Cancer Awareness Month), the pink starts appearing everywhere. I don’t have to imagine – it’s a slap in the face and a stab in the heart for my lost son, who only lived to the age of five, to have the children ignored.

      1. JCS in SATX, Your comment says so much. I’m so sorry for your loss and for the extra stab your heart receives from this misuse of a simple ribbon. Thank you for sharing something that needs to be heard.

  9. Awareness does not equate a cure. If folks with other cancers want October, I say let them have it. Hell, if the men with 1% of the breast cancer want it, let them have the whole damn month, and turn it blue. It still does not equal better treatments and cetainly not a cure. Sorry. I’m a little grumpy this morning. Heading for my 2nd treatment of my fourth course of radiation treatment since my MBC dx.

    Love you Nancy! Love your list!

    1. Shelli, Awareness does not equal a cure. No, it does not. And early detection is not prevention, nor is it the whole story… But I don’t need to tell you. I think you’re entitled to be feeling a bit grumpy. Hope the treatment went okay. Love you back, Shelli. Great to hear from you.

  10. Nancy,
    So true! I’m including your list in one of my posts today–I’m tempted to print your list off and start handing it out!!
    I do have one thing to add–NFL newscasters spreading inaccurate information!!! Granted, it falls under #13, but way too many people are watching football–and listening to the ‘awareness’ NFL announcers present.

    1. JoAnn, I heard something about that misinformation one of the announcers was relaying, though I didn’t catch the details. Yes, when you’re in a position where thousands (millions?) are listening, you need to share accurate info that’s for sure. Thanks for spreading the word about my list. And thanks for commenting.

  11. The Pink Ribbon has done a lot to help promote awareness of breast cancer and it has helped bring breast cancer to the forefront. I grew up in a time when cancer and, especially the “personal” cancers such as breast, ovarian, uterine, prostate, were all whispered about as though they were shameful. This is the positive side of the campaign. The negative side is that it has also served to turn many people against breast cancer awareness. I read a facebook post about diabetes that stated diabetes isn’t sexy like breast cancer, it doesn’t have pink and everyone from sports heroes to celebrities wearing pink for its own special month. I politely commented on the post listing all the far-from-sexy aspects of having breast cancer starting with the loss of your hair to the scarring and on up to the vomit from chemo and burns from radiation. The person who posted the remarks quickly apologized to me, but I realized then how many people resent the publicity and promotion of breast cancer.

    1. Rosemary, It’s true pink and pink ribbons have helped bring some positive changes. But somewhere along the line, things went crazy. You make an excellent point about the resentment some do indeed feel. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  12. Hi Nancy,

    I’m catching up with reading your blog, and what can I add? All the comments and your list are spot-on.

    One of the things I hate is the association of those who survived cancer as heroes or warriors, thereby assigning blame to those who didn’t survive. It’s unfair to the deceased and the living.

    1. Beth, I know. I agree completely. The survivors are glorified while those who are living with mets, or who have died, are too often forgotten.

  13. I’m a little late to the party, but a day after the 2nd annual World Ovarian Cancer day I am still very frustrated. I lost my mother to Ovarian Cancer over 15 years ago, it is silent, has a very high mortality rate, not to mention being very difficult to diagnose. Where is the awareness for this? Where is the teal blasted everywhere? I think the “bully of the ribbons” hits the nail right on the head and I now fall into the category of I hate to see all the pink in Oct. as it is shoved in your face everywhere you turn. I’m not minimizing the struggle of those with breast cancer, but there are other things out there that could use even 10% of the attention it gets.

    1. Melissa, There’s no such thing as late to this “party”. I am really sorry about your mom and I completely agree with you. The “attention” needs to be spread around more. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  14. I would add to the list that cancer does not respond to awareness, organizing or celebrities.

    And sometimes I think the pink ribbon is an attention hog – women, and men, die of plenty of other kinds of cancers.

    I also think there’s such a thing as tunnel vision – if we throw enough money at breast cancer researchers, a cure will be forthcoming. I would not be surprised if the cure (or cures – or even turn-it-from-death-sentence-to-chronic-management) might come, not necessarily from breast cancer research, but from some other area of biological research – maybe lymph cancers, or prostate cancer or genetics or epigenetics or some discovery we cannot yet imagine.

  15. The pink campaign makes me depressed because I’m not happy and smiling. It doesn’t reflect the horrendous effects of chemotherapy. I think there must be some upsides, since it seems to help some. Maybe it should be directed more toward helping people struggling with insurance or time off from work. Throwing money at is isn’t helping 🙁

  16. As a woman that has Stage IV lung cancer ( no I was not a smoker nor did I do drugs) the pink campaign is extremely commercialized. Lung cancer is the number 1 cancer that both women and men die from. And yet it is over shadowed by breast cancer with the majority of society not being aware of the fact that other cancers exist. Your 13 points on the pink ribbon campaign is spot on. Thanks

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