I love the month of October, but I have come to dread it as well. I love the cooler weather, the pumpkins, and the harvest-themed decorations; however, I dread the appearance of the ubiquitous pink ribbons, signifying Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month started with the best of intentions, and awareness of breast cancer is preferable to the whispers and stigma of years past, when countless women died after a “long illness.” In the 1970s, well-known women such as First Lady Betty Ford and journalist Betty Rollin courageously shared their breast cancer stories and undoubtedly saved many women’s lives in the process. At this point in history, however, if someone lives in the United States and is not aware of breast cancer, this person must be living under a rock. Somewhere along the way, Breast Cancer Awareness Month stopped being about saving women’s lives. It came to be all about boobies and making money.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month isn’t really a month any more. It’s now a retail season which starts at Labor Day, and seems to continue on until about Valentine’s Day. It’s a veritable celebration of all things mammary, and this is what disturbs me so much. Huge breast cancer events take on a Carvinal-like atmosphere, with people sporting fake bras, massive rubber breasts, and feather boas. Young women publicly display, or throw off, their “bras for a cause.” At high school events, you can see teenage boys wearing push-up bras and stacks of rubber bracelets proclaiming, “I Love Boobies” (now, there’s a news flash). Meanwhile, female cheerleaders may wear fitted pink T-shirts emblazoned with large hands over each breast, all for a noble cause for “breast cancer awareness” of course. Public service announcements and stickers on cars admonish us to “save the tatas”, “save second base,” and , “feel your boobies.” In the waning days of summer, stores become stocked with all kinds of breast cancer-themed merchandise and everyday products dressed up in pink.
Some years ago, I decided that, for me, enough was enough. I was through with Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I refused to buy the yogurt with the pink lid. I refused to mail away the slimy, pink lids in order for a big food company to give their pre-determined, small “donation to breast cancer awareness.” I would not be using pink-ribbon toilet paper to wipe our bottoms “for the cure.” I politely told “breast cancer fundraisers” stationed in parking lots that I would consider donating after I could read their charity’s” annual report.
The reasons for my pink rebellion are simple. There is nothing cute, fun, or frilly about breast cancer. It’s brutal, terrifying, and ugly. It affects people of all ages and steal the lives of women and men we love. The crass commercialization of this disease is offensive. It portrays women as being childlike and naïve using cutesy teddy bears, angels, and ribbons. When breast cancer is overtly sexualized, women are, once again, reduced to the sum of their anatomy. Saving women’s boobies becomes more important than saving their lives.
What should we do in October, or in any other month, to save women’s lives? There are a number of worthy breast cancer charities. When we donate, we need to know how our donations will be spent. We need to find out what percentage goes to administration, salaries, and what percent goes to scientific research and services to people with breast cancer. If we purchase a pink ribbon product, we need to read the fine print first. We need to find out if a donation is made to legitimate organization, how large this donation actually is, or if a company is merely using the pink color to boost product visibility and corporate profits. We also must find out if a given company produces and sells products which may actually cause breast cancer or other diseases. When we have knowledge, we can fight breast cancer in a meaningful way. If we choose to, we can wear pink, volunteer our time, and donate our money. In the month of October, we can tie up our shoes, with our without pink laces, and we can walk or run “for the cure.” And even after the pink ribbons are frayed and faded, we need to keep walking. Walking helps us maintain a healthy weight, reduces our stress, and prevents heart disease-the number one killer of us all.
Love, health, and blessings to you!