9. Pink Ribbons, Inc.

The day I saw an advertisement in Harper’s Magazine for Samantha King’s book, “Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy,” I gasped. Not because of the title. I had been researching the social aspects of breast cancer for five years and was about to begin the next phase of my analysis into the industry and consumption side of pink ribbon culture. When I saw the ad I wondered if King had already written my book! I ordered Pink Ribbons, Inc. and was relieved to learn that, no, this was not the book that was slowly worming its way into my psyche. It would, however, provide a crucial part of the puzzle I was trying to piece together.

In its analysis of breast cancer as a “dream cause,” Pink Ribbons, Inc. shows how the emerging culture of breast cancer survivorship became more intimately tied to fund-raising and fitness events such as “The Race for the Cure,” and how empowered survivorship, virtue, and social action were incorporated into the cancer establishment itself. It exposes how privately funded social movements help to (re)shape civic identity as corporations, politicians, and consumers alike use the purchase of breast cancer-related goods and services as a proxy for good will and responsible citizenship. Creating a perceived mutual dependence between health and consumerism, the cause of breast cancer morphed into a vehicle built to advance corporate interests, while shifting attention away from prevention and environmental causes and masking the decline of public funding for social services and research support. Now that the pink ribbon cause has taken a firm hold in mainstream culture and industry, it’s going global.

A documentary based on Pink Ribbons, Inc. by Léa Pool recently premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film asks: “Each year, millions of dollars are raised in the name of breast cancer, but where does this money go and what does it actually achieve?” Crucial questions.

Variety magazine writes about the film,

“Indignant and subversive, ‘Pink Ribbons, Inc.’ resoundingly pops the shiny pink balloon of the breast cancer movement/industry, debunking the ‘comfortable lies’ and corporate double-talk that permeate the massive and thus-far-ineffectual campaign against a disease that claims nearly 60,000 lives each year in North America alone. Veteran helmer Lea Pool, working from Samantha King’s book, won’t be making any friends with her full-frontal attack on the corporate co-option of the breast cancer cause, which could limit Stateside circulation of this Canadian production. But there are plenty of women who’ll want to see it. And they’ll be seeing red, not pink.”

Interesting point about how debunking comfortable lies may be a barrier to friend-making. I guess that depends on the company you’d like to keep. I prefer level headed truth-tellers myself. Consider yourself “friended,” Léa Pool. You too, Dr. Samantha King!

Here is a video link to the movie trailer.

Samantha King is Associate Professor of Kinesiology and Health Studies and Gender Studies at Queen’s University where she researches and teaches the cultural politics of health, sport, and the body. Her work on the social meanings of HIV/AIDS, new reproductive technologies, and other subjects has been published in a variety of academic and popular outlets.

For more consciousness raising essays, check out “30 Days of Breast Cancer Awareness.”

Be Sociable, Share!

6 comments to 9. Pink Ribbons, Inc.

  • Sounds like an intriguing book and movie. When I was going through treatments, the last thing I thought was that breast cancer was a big-business industry. When I was first out of treatment, I even participated in walks for “the cause.”

    No more. I refuse to support anything that smacks of profiteering in the name of breast cancer.

  • I saw the documentary at TIFF and it is indeed excellent and enraging. The filmmakers said it was coming out in February, so if it gets released near you and you have an opportunity to see it, definitely do so.

  • Deb

    I was all for the “cause” for 19 years following my stage 1 diagnoses. When I moved on to stage 4 and really started looking into the politics of breast cancer, I found many truths that are there for all of us to see that were in direct opposition to the “feel good” atmosphere that is created by pinktober, pinkwashing and the seemingly unstobbable corporate takeover of all things pink. Now, my message is simple: Check out the charity before you participate. The money raised for research should be at the top of the list of where the money goes, not at the bottom. Only when research is the top priority, will the cure be found.

  • Thanks for profiling Samantha King’s book Gayle. One of my ‘favourites’ too… along with Pink Ribbon Blues of course!

  • Samantha King

    Thanks so much for this, Gayle. I don’t know if we’re making friends either, but Pink Ribbons, Inc was well received at the Toronto International Film Festival by fairly diverse audiences, and that’s pretty exciting. It feels like the movement of which we are all a part is gaining momentum, even as pinkwashing reaches new lows. Thanks for the tremendous work that you do.

  • Bravo! – Finally someone investigating. This has plagued me for years, especially when I, through my business (really a love mission as we do not take any money from our business – but a wonderful love mission it is)worked various events to help educate and assist cancer survivors and found the largest of all breast cancer charities to be a huge bully who treated anyone else who was trying to help people very poorly. I contacted them after the NBC News piece last year and told them how I felt about the fact that they, as a supposed “cancer survivor advocate” should be working to be a mentor toward anyone else trying to help these women – we are after all supposedly on the same mission – instead of bullying those out there working with a true heart for what they are doing. At the time of my contact, they expressed appreciation and “horror” at what I was saying and vowed to do better – they would talk to National – said i would probably get a call from National – and would get back to me – never heard another word and I found most people did not even see the piece NBC did on them.

    Breaks my heart and I have to say pretty much all of us survivors I know, including me, have grown to hate October and a pink appliance is the last thing we would buy! I have survivors of other types of cancer (whom we also work with) ask me why and how does breast cancer get so much attention – my answer – think about it – what could be more popular and successful at raising money than boobs!

    keep up the good work – all of you! One day maybe folks with listen.

"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 cutt.ly/jei8WJr

“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 iafrica.com

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? Salon.com

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