Reclaiming the Pink Ribbon

–by Suzanne Rainey

It’s October 2015: Another Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Corporate America is featuring special promotions and specially ‘pinked’ products. Most of it is ludicrous. I don’t like what has happened with the pink ribbon.

It served a purpose in the beginning, when we needed more awareness and less stigma about breast cancer. I have heard terrible stories about women years ago being too scared, unaware, or intimidated to get to a doctor after sensing a suspicious lump in her breast. It’s hard to imagine a time when women wouldn’t talk about their breasts with friends or doctors. Some of that hasn’t changed. But thanks to breast cancer awareness, we are ever so much more able to talk, to sense, to learn, and to act. And that’s what the pink ribbon has given us. It has definitely raised awareness. But how much is too much?

We commonly hear phrases like ‘save the boobies’ or ‘tatas’ that even make light of it all.

But what’s really not OK about the ribbon is that corporate America has seized our need for awareness and turned it into a money-making venture. After just a little research, this is what I find:

A great article, “The Problems with Pinktober,” about the Susan G. Komen Foundation partnering with a fracking company who created pink drilling equipment, and with KFC in a campaign called Buckets for the Cure from a few years ago. What has this done to benefit women’s health? There are ads for car sales too, and many other products. Here’s another good post about “Pinkwashing” (pink washers and dryers??). The lesson for all of us is to verify where proceeds really go before we think we’re doing community service by buying an item with a ribbon on it. We need to step into greater awareness.

A little NFL case study says it all:

The Tennessee Titans are going gangbusters sporting pink everything: Game balls with pink ribbon decals and pink kicking tees, pink cleats, wristbands, gloves, sideline caps, helmet decals, captains’ patches, chin straps, shoe laces, skull caps, sideline towels, eye shield decals and quarterback towels, Bose headsets for coaches, coins used for the coin toss, hats, pins for coaches and teams, caps, wristbands, whistles and pins for game officials…and that’s not even all of it. See the full list here.

There are three major faults with all of this excess:

Money.  How much money has been spent to design and purchase all of that equipment? And other teams are doing the same thing. Who really benefits from that investment? I’d argue: Not women. I dare say nobody has learned a new lesson, and a lot of it will end up in landfills.

Fear.  I have come to believe that the pink ribbon itself inherently comes with its own fear factor. My friend Deanna has pointed this out to me. When we see a pink ribbon, lots of things come to mind: We think of loved ones who have had breast cancer. We think of that terrible C word that seems so pervasive, and our mind jumps to fear: “Will I get breast cancer? If one in eight women get it…That means one of us from my book club. Am I the one?”

Mammograms.  Lots of these groups are merely encouraging women to be sure to get their annual mammograms. Nothing more. The problem is that lots of studies are pointing to excessive screening from mammograms as an actual CAUSE of more breast cancer, from the radiation. My surgeon told me not to worry–that it’s the amount of radiation we get from a round trip flight across the U.S. in an airplane. Yet many studies are showing a correlation. And, doctors are saying that many instances of DCIS breast cancer—which is commonly detected early and treated quickly through surgery and radiation—may never even have evolved into any problem at all, and so treatment in many cases may have been unnecessary. Mammograms are not necessarily the answer. I’m in favor of them in certain cases, and infrequently–but for many of us, not annually. Breast thermography is proving much more effective, and not harmful. We need to urge our insurance providers to pay for more ultrasound, thermograms, and innocuous screening methods. Watch The Truth About Cancer to learn lots more on this.


Many people now dream that we reclaim the pink ribbon, and here’s my proposal:

1: Let it honor the women and men whose lives have been impacted or lost to breast cancer, and to extreme treatments like chemotherapy and radiation.

2: Let it remind us that yes, breast cancer may happen to me, but it isn’t always a death sentence. In fact for me, breast cancer was one of the wake-up calls I needed to move into a much deeper awareness of how to be healthy and complete in my life. I am grateful to breast cancer for that.

3: Let it remind us to love and choose vegetables, especially broccoli and cabbage and cruciferous friends; turmeric root+pepper, and ginger root and lemon and parsley and cilantro; celery+cucumber+lemon+ginger+spinach green juice (thanks Kris Carr 🙂 ); and less meat/dairy/soy/wheat. Let it remind us to take Vitamin D and to stop drinking so much alcohol and eating so much sugar.

4: Let it remind us to take care of ourselves with critical habits including: Sleeping 7-8 uninterrupted hours each night with a peaceful heart and quiet mind; Meditating; Exercising 20-30 minutes every day; Lowering stress factors in our busy lives; Simplifying; Making time for ourselves and those we love; Connecting with our Higher Powers; Experiencing the Joy.

These are my wishes…to turn the meaning and symbolism of the pink ribbon into positive actions that we all can take day by precious day. It’s sort of like turning the pink ribbon green, or rainbowy–but since those are taken, let’s stick with pink and make it mean something really  useful to us all.

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