Tangled Up In Pink

I’ve always loved fall, particularly October, even though in recent years it’s become tinged with sadness. My mom died on October 1, 2003, and my dad’s birthday was October 13; this year, he would have been 80. But those bittersweet feelings seem in perfect keeping with fall. The glory of the brilliant gold and red leaves lies in knowing they can’t last. 

But now, thanks to the pink retail holiday that breast cancer has become, at least in the United States, the black cat and orange pumpkin of Halloween, the crisp blue sky and gold leaves of a perfect fall day, have all been crowded out by pink.

The crowding isn’t just visual. When you blog about breast cancer, October is a land mine just waiting to be stepped on. Do you jump on the pink bandwagon and blog about breast cancer awareness and support, as if it’s the one time of year you can talk about it? Or you resist, lamenting the avalanche of pink products and specials and events that have hijacked the month?

I knew this had become an issue when another blogger asked me if I had any big plans for October blog posts. The fact we were even having a discussion about this made me realize just how much Pinktober has gotten under our collective skin. LIke the pink ribbon itself, it’s a loaded symbol.

The truth is, I don’t have that much to say about Pinktober other than I’m already tired of it and don’t like feeling (self-induced) pressure to write about it. Instead, I’m going to give you a recommended reading list of the best things I’ve read so far.

I mentioned that the pink onslaught seems to be most intense in the United States. Read this wonderful post, “Where There Is No Pink Pandemic,” by Philippa Ramsden at Feisty Blue Gecko, to see how differently breast cancer is viewed in the rest of the world.

One of the best posts I’ve read about what a loaded symbol the pink ribbon has become comes from Jody Schoger at the wonderful Women with Cancer. In her most recent post, Upending Pink, she explains why October has made her uneasy for a long time, and includes some great links to recent news coverage of all things pink. But what touched me even more was her previous post, Left Behind, in which she talked about how the politics of the pink ribbon intruded on something as private as a funeral. (I’ve had similar mixed feelings when accosted by a basket of pink ribbons at a funeral, as I’m sure many of us have.)

One of the best and most consistent critics of pink ribbon culture is Gayle Sulik, who wrote the book Pink Ribbon Blues. She will be blogging 30 Days of Breast Cancer Awareness and her first installment, the Inspirational vs. the Actual, looks great.

Rachel May at the Cancer Culture Chronicles sums up what’s wrong with the typical approach to awareness in Breast Cancer Awareness Jersey Shore Style! All outcomes are good, buying a pink pashmina passes for awareness, and there is nothing remotely related to her experience with metastatic cancer. Apparently, her particular “brand” of cancer is a tough sell. It’s a bit problematic figuring out which shade of lipstick works best with thrush.  

Debbie Woodbury at Where We Go Now used to like pink, and wants us to reclaim its power this October.

You’ll find plenty of thought-provoking reads in these and many other excellent blogs. And here’s wishing all of us a fast month. -Jackie Fox


24 thoughts on “Tangled Up In Pink

  1. My life has forever been changed by breast cancer 3 years ago at the age of 39. I was clued into breast cancer at only 33 when my twin was diagnosed and her breast cancer saved my life. What if I hadn’t been doing the daily self-exams that found the lump that the mammogram I had only 8 months before my diagnosis. The tumor was over 2 cm by the time it was taken out. So as a survivor, I too am distressed by the pink we swim in in the month of October. I know the purpose of all this ultimately is to raise money for research for a cure. I pray for that. But if the silliness of the pink ribbon on the NFL gets one more person to think about the self-exam or mammogram they should have had and it gets them to their doctor to find cancer and treat it so they can be alive and around for their families and loved one’s. I’ll deal with it. Waiting (impatiently) perhaps for a day until we do have a cure. And to keep the nausea at bay, perhaps a little Peptol Bismal will help.

  2. Jackie,
    Like all of us, I think pink has become more important than looking for a cure. As a result, I have invited Leslie Aun, Director of Marketing & Communications for Komen for the Cure in Washington, DC, “the” big dogs on the block, to address the breast cancer community on BRENDA’S BLOG, this coming Sunday, October 9th. I’m hoping this will become a regular dialog between “the powers that be” at Komen and the women who have breast cancer, a forum for us both to address our concerns and hopefully work toward a beneficial change as well as finding common ground.

    This is what we’ve all wanted, an opportunity to talk to Komen, face-to-face, to make our concerns known and heard. I am also hoping for a live Facebook chat Monday, the 10th, on BreastCancerSisterhood’s FB page. More when I know more details.

    Please pass this along to everyone in the breast cancer community.


    • Jackie and Brenda,

      Thank you so much for continuing to spark dialogue between people of all opinions on this complicated issue of pinkwashing. I too wrestle with the conflicting emotions of relief that breast cancer is no longer stigmatized and frustration that a cure is not yet here. None of us want to lose another loved one to this terrible disease.

      For all of my fellow BRCA sisters, we know that the challenge doesn’t stop with our generation. Unless we find a cure, I might have to tell my future daughter about having her breasts pro-actively removed when she is still a teenager. That is a conversation I hope I never have to have.

      I look forward to hearing the dialogue and working towards finding common ground.


      • I’m excited about the dialogue too and I also hope you never have to have that talk with your daughter. Thanks for your comments, Terri!

  3. Thanks for an excellent, comprehensive post. It is amazing how people expect that October is a really special month for us affected by breast cancer. I personally find it reprehensible to assign a particular month to any condition. This year, I’m reclaiming October and will be posting about it.

  4. Thanks so much Jackie for including my blog post “This Pinktober Let’s Reclaim the Power of Pink.” I so agree that the “awareness v. research” debate is a land mine. I thought long and hard before posting my piece. I finally posted it because we must take the power of pink beyond “awareness” to further the research necessary for prevention and cures. I’m thrilled to see Brenda’s comment and looking forward to a dialogue with Komen beginning on her site.

    • Hi Debbie, I know exactly what you mean. I thought long and hard about the couple I’ve done on Komen, since they’re the 800 pound gorilla of awareness. I’m also very excited about what Brenda is doing to engage them, and glad they’re willing to do it.

  5. Jackie, this is a wonderful collection of posts, but in addition you touched on something I’m struggling with and that’s whether or not to enter into the pink bashing. I agree with everything being said, but do I need to join in? I’m still on the fence. Glad to see I’m not the only one. Great job.

  6. I’m already tired of October and the pinkwashing, too, and the month is just getting started. I too struggle with whether to pink-bash or to be grateful that our disease is no longer stigmatized. Progress is a great thing, but I wonder if the pinkwashing has gone too far. Thanks for the round-up; I’ll be reading each one.

  7. Thanks so much for this great post and round-up. I was sick of pink before October began this year, and posted about it in, “Puking Pink.” Guess that tells you what this survivor’s views are, eh? Again, thanks – I will be checking out the other articles you mention. Thanks again.

  8. This is a response I made to a comment a girl on my Friends List made to this comment:

    At the ob/gyn and everything is covered in pink ribbons. I’m going to punch someone in the face. #ihateoctober

    I was . . . surprised by how furious that made me. There’s this new backlash, or maybe not so new, over the pink ribbon and how breast cancer has become this cool thing to sell and how the pink ribbon is just a money sign to opportunists and nothing more . . . I don’t think so.

    I got a pink ribbon tattoo behind my ear three years ago with my niece who has had breast cancer for five years and who is now living with stage four metastatic breast cancer at the age of 28. We got them on the day of Courtney Clevenger’s funeral. She died three years to the day after her diagnoses at 23 years old. Angela’s tattoo is a pink ribbon that’s slightly tattered at the ends modeled after one that Courtney always liked, and mine is a pink bow. Those tattoos were, and always will be a sign of support for everyone who has had, who will have, and who has and will die from breast cancer.

    I absolutely understand the fact that those ribbons are on things that are not making any money for breast cancer . . . so what? They’re on SO many things that ARE making money for breast cancer. There will ALWAYS be opportunists. There will always be someone who comes and takes your symbol, your slogan, your motto, puts it on a cup and sells it for 25 dollars and takes every drop of the sales. That will always happen with ANY symbol you use. That doesn’t mean that you desert a symbol that has been around for YEARS and means so much to SO many. You don’t just throw something like that in the trash, and you don’t disrespect that when you see it. Yes a lot of the people who sell them are corrupt. A lot of them are not and most of the people wearing those little ribbons, flying those pink flags, and draping those banners over everything are doing so because they want to support, represent, and remind people.

    Saying that you want to punch someone in the face because you see ribbons that were put up with the intent to support someone is childish and disrespectful. If I ever over heard someone say something like that because they saw me wearing a pink ribbon I would be the one feeling violent. I am wearing that because a girl that I was raised with has terminal breast cancer, and I can’t do anything about it. I can’t make her better. I can donate some money when I think the cause is just, and I can wear a little ribbon that might remind someone walking down the street that they haven’t done a self exam in two months.

    I’m also thinking, if this place is like any other Doctor’s office in the US that I’ve ever been in, that this OB-GYN ALWAYS has something up about the detection and treatment of breast cancer. Its Breast Cancer Awareness month, so yes, there’s more pink. I think it’s pretty silly to think that by “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” they mean . . . “By all means forget about breast cancer the other 11 months of the year.” Black History Month is in February and Woman’s History Month is in March, but the last time I checked we don’t just exclude all conversation about black and women history all the other months of the year.

    It’s a month to pay homage. It’s something special set aside. And YES it does create an opportunity for people to sell shit, but that doesn’t mean that it’s meaningless. That’s like being a breast cancer hipster, “Uh I only liked the pink ribbon when it was underground.” “Breast Cancer Month is so mainstream.” Really? I know I totally have never talked to you, but I only know you through the cancer grape vine to begin with, so I think it’s valid to respond. I am aware that I sound borderline angry, which admittedly I am, but it’s honestly not just something towards you, but a rebuttal of sorts to this pink bashing that’s come with the “backlash” surrounding the pink ribbon. I think if you have issues with it then you shouldn’t wear it. However, I think that it’s preposterous for people to tell people they SHOULDN’T wear their pink or their ribbons, or that when they do that means they’re supporting the commercialization of breast cancer. You don’t tell anyone wearing a pink ribbon what they’re supporting because if they’re supporting their recently deceased mom, daughter, aunt, sister, cousin, niece, best friend, god mother . . . and so on . . . you might be the one who gets the punch.

    • Good comments. You should have been on the Twitter #bcsm chat tonight because this was the topic of discussion. You raised some really good points (I can see where a hipper than thou attitude could come into play.) Personally, I don’t like the way breast cancer awareness in October has turned into big commercial retail overkill like the Christmas retail season has. But I would never want to make someone feel bad because she’s supporting someone she loves, or tell her she can’t wear pink. I think many of us have mixed feelings about that. And I don’t care if it’s breast cancer or something else, talking about how you’re going to punch someone in the face like that commenter did is not helping. I always tell people no one can tell you how you should feel about your diagnosis. Maybe we shouldn’t tell each other how to feel about pink/bc awareness.

      • Exactly. I understand and support people having their own feelings on it even if they differ from mine, but alienating someone else who finds comfort in that symbol is a horrible thing to do, I think. Breast Cancer survivors want to come together not alienate one and other! Thanks for the response!

  9. I find myself bracing for the pink onslaught, and now sitting back and appreciating all the great blogging out there. More and more women speaking out this year about the counter-effects of the pink culture, and how it is disguising the need for MORE (research, prevention) and not just “I love boobies” t-shirts. Making this disease sexy to get the attention of the masses isn’t really helping. Thanks for a great post. This year, I just can’t say it better than fabulous blogs you’ve rounded up here.

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