Reach MD Interviews Gayle Sulik about “Pink Ribbon Blues”

“Pink ribbon campaigns have been highly successful in rallying recognition and funding around breast cancer. But our guest thinks the cheerful image of such campaigns whitewashes realities of the disease, both in terms of statistics and patient experiences.”

April 18, 2011


Doctors Michael Greenberg, MD and Matthew Birnholz, MD interviewed me on XM Radio’s ReachMD for a series called Second Opinion Live. The hosts wanted to share my perspective about breast cancer awareness with the medical community.

The interview focused on the central question raised in Pink Ribbon Blues: Do the ends justify the means? If you’ve read the book or this blog you already know that after spending ten years researching the topic I’ve concluded that the answer to that question, at this historical moment, is no. I have argued that to understand whether the ends justify the means, one must consider ALL of the ends: the positives, the negatives, and the range of consequences, both intended and unintended.

The doctors seemed to get it. They acknowledged that pink is everywhere and asked when the shift in awareness happened. They questioned where the money actually went and saw the irony in pinkwashing products that increased cancer risk and also donated money toward “the cure.” They understood that triumphant survivorship and pink festivities could actually re-stigmatize the diagnosed and that hope is personal–not something to be mandated by society in a narrow way. Still, the doctors referred to these ideas as controversial.

It always strikes me when others use the word controversial to describe Pink Ribbon Blues. To me there is nothing controversial about looking at social problems in a systematic way, or acknowledging what works, what doesn’t, and then offering solutions. It’s just pragmatic.

The real controversy surrounding Pink Ribbon Blues has nothing to do with the research, the data, or the argument. It stems from the fact that pink ribbon culture has become so sacred in American society that sometimes it feels very risky and uncomfortable to look at the system beneath it. To do so might result in catching a glimpse of something that lacks the pink lustre we’ve grown accustomed to seeing. Looking beneath the ribbon to the industry and culture that fuels it, profits from it, and exploits it…requires exploring a pink underbelly that prevents real progress, not only for breast cancer but for every other chronic illness that has to fight for air time, research dollars, and support. It is risky to look. But it’s more risky not to.

Here’s an audio clip of “In the Pink? Examining Breast Cancer Awareness Campaigns.”

ReachMD provides thought-provoking medical news and information to healthcare practitioners. Established to help increasingly time-constrained medical providers stay abreast of new research, treatment protocols and continuing education requirements, ReachMD delivers innovative and informative radio programming via XM Satellite Radio Channel 160 and online streaming developed by doctors for doctors.”


Be Sociable, Share!

2 comments to Reach MD Interviews Gayle Sulik about “Pink Ribbon Blues”

  • Mary

    While Doctors Michael Greenberg, MD and Matthew Birnholz, MD seem to “get it”, apparently they don’t!!!!! Thanks, Gayle, for attempting to educate and my sincere thanks for being “controversial”.

  • Great interview. You covered a lot of ground in your usual articulate, rational way. It really amazes me that anything you say is still considered controversial. The folks who really believe that are still drinking the Koolaid.

"women urged to get screened because it might save their lives. But that’s only 1 possible outcome, and it’s the least likely one" @cragcrest

“Pink Ribbon Blues”

Paperback includes a new Introduction on fundraising controversies and a color insert with images of, and reactions to, the pinking of breast cancer (2012).

Praise » 

Flyer »

Press Release »

Hardback Cover »

Paperback Cover »

Request Review Copies »

Order the Paperback »


"Seeing clearly through the pink haze" Toronto Sun

*Sad face*: Being happy does not help you live longer" New Scientist

How should we address breast cancer when norms continually change? The Guardian

Your Fun 'No Bra Day' Photos Are Overshadowing Terminal Breast Cancer Patients Broadly

Backlash against “pinkwashing” of breast cancer awareness campaigns BMJ

Breast Cancer to Rise 50 Percent by 2030? Hey, Not So Fast! Health News Review

Breast Cancer: The Flaws in the Cause

How to Make the Biggest Impact With Your Breast Cancer Donations Money

The Very Pink, Very Controversial Business of Breast Cancer Awareness Racked

NFL, Pink Ribbons Not Enough to Win over Women CNN

3 Questions We Need to Answer for Breast Cancer Awareness Month Chronicle of Philanthropy

The problem with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month Women's Health Magazine

Pink Ribbon Envy: Living with an Uncool Cancer The Nib

A Year After Bombings, Some Say 'Boston Strong' Has Gone Overboard NPR, All Things Considered

Canadian Mammogram Study KCRW, NPR Affiliate

Time to Debunk the Mammography Myth CNN

Breast Cancer: Awareness, Activism & Pinkwashing NPR Charlotte

Buying Pink Al Jazeera's The Stream Watch »

The Pink Backlash Orlando Sentinel

Why Jolie's Test Costs So Much CNN

Preventative Mastectomies: Disease and Deception BlogTalkRadio

Angelina Jolie and the 'Breast Cancer Gene' KCRW

Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer The New York Times Magazine.

The Story Behind the Pink Ribbon Campaign Sisters Talk Radio

WISH Interview Women's International Summit for Health

Making Cancer About The Patient, Not The Body Part CBS Pittsburgh

Sexy breast cancer campaigns anger many patients USA Today

The perils of pink The Daily

Komen pink campaign creates breast-cancer blues for some Dallas Morning News

A yellow flag for the NFL's pink New York Daily

Gayle Sulik named #7 in SharecareNow’s Top 10 Online Influencers in Breast Cancer

Breast cancer cancer causes so easily derailed Philly Inquirer

Komen Charity Under Microscope for Funding, Science Reuters

The Fight Against Cancer - And Abortion?

Susan G. Komen For the Cure defunds Planned Parenthood. In Deep with Angie Coiro

Amid Breast Cancer Month, Is there Pink Fatigue? NPR's All Things Considered

How is Breast Cancer Culture Undermining Women's Health? America’s Radio News Network

Pink Ribbon Culture and Breast Cancer The Kojo Nnamdi Show

The Big Business of Breast Cancer
Marie Claire

Does Breast Cancer Awareness Month Crowd Out Other Diseases? Slate

Pink Inc. Has Many Starting to See Red The Sacramento Bee

Get Your Pink Off Ottawa Citizen

Komen Pink Ribbons Raise Green and Questions USA Today