“It’s Time To Get Real”

The commercialization of breast cancer has been a growing trend. Beginning with the emergence of the pink ribbon in 1992, there has been an increasing notion that breast cancer “awareness” results from pink osmosis. Many, including myself, have asked: What exactly are people made aware of? When analyzing the imagery associated with pink ribbon products and awareness activities, the messages are clear:

Breast cancer exists.

Ch4 SunSoy Image 164

All women are at risk.

Daughter-Sister-Mother-Friend IMG120

Be afraid.

BCRF NobodyIsSafeYet

Grab a feel.


Get a mammogram.


Have hope.


Show courage.






Within the pink patchwork of fear, hope, courage, beauty, and inspirational triumph, ads and other promotional materials cater to the public’s desire to do something about breast cancer. Offering an endless fight and an imaginary cure, pink culture offers mammograms and breast self exam (BSE) as forms of “prevention” while the commercial approach encourages people to support the war through pink consumption.

Join the Fight. BUY the Gear.

204__420x340_0123-fordcaresAdvertising messages simultaneously guilt people into participating in pink culture while telling them that cure is really out of their reach.

BMW asks: How far would YOU drive to help find a cure for breast cancer?

BMW 1-8 crop

Yet Avon suggests that YOU can’t cure breast cancer. Instead, you can walk.


Ultimately, citizens are cast as consumers who must think pink, buy pink, and do pink to show unwavering support for the cause of breast cancer.




If these strategies worked, it might be worth the endless sea of pinkification. But they don’t.

The National Cancer Institute sees no decline in breast cancer on the horizon and, in fact, estimates that incidence rates will continue to rise. NCI data further reveal that there has only been a small decline in mortality rates: a reduction of eight deaths per 100,000 people from 1975 to 2007. Recurrence rates remain high. Mammography screening is insufficient. Breast Self Exam has not been shown to find tumors early or reduce mortality. Fund-raising dollars barely make their way to research allocations. Those whose cancers progress to stage IV are largely invisible in pink culture as well as in research agendas. [See: The Dream of Eradication and Swimming in a Sea of Pink.] To put it bluntly: we’re not winning the war.

There are clear limitations to the current feel-good, consumption-based approach to breast cancer awareness and advocacy. One of my readers commented:

Only by presenting a united front in pressing for change in both government policy and research funding and focus, do we stand any chance of reversing this trend…It’s time to get real.

I couldn’t agree more.

Click here for the German translation from Breast Cancer Action Germany.

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15 comments to “It’s Time To Get Real”

  • Unfortunately the relentless assault by “pink” on the minds and wallets of consumers, has lulled the masses into a false sense of security. That they are doing good. That the money is helping. That we are winning the war on cancer. That there’s no need to ask deeper questions or demand real transparency or accoutability. Wrong on all counts. I should know. I have Stage IV breast cancer and I really don’t know what, and if, I can pin my hopes on anything coming out of the current breast cancer realm. Indeed it is time to get real.

  • Jan

    Now that the unwieldy underbelly of the pink culture is being exposed, hopefully we will take off our rose-colored glasses and get serious about finding a cure for this horrible disease.

  • I hate to be the pink bubble buster here, but there is NO CURE. We do HOWEVER have the ability to educate and LOWER THE INCIDENCE AND RISK of breast cancer and other cancers through changes in our lifestyles and habits. Not a physician myself, but common sense tells me not to but cancer causing chemicals under my arms right next to my breasts, but heh, that’s just me. Common sense also tells me to not smoke, limit my exposure to petro chemicals and all the products made from them and also to remove endocrine disrupting chemicals from my life. (These by the way are found in foods, PLASTIC BOTTLES, containers and pretty much all commercial body care products). This is where the money has to go! Into education, and then also into better treatments for those dealing with the disease. The information is known for the most part, now people need to be educated about the power that they have in their own hands to improve their lives! I have devoted my career into this education and making a difference for the future of us all.

    Moderator’s Note: Joyce Shanks is the founder of eCause, a fund raising resource for organizations trying to raise donations in an environmentally friendly way. For more information, go to http://www.eCause.ca

  • Gayle, you’ve hit the nail on the head here, the strategies are not working, and they are failing thousands of women every year. And your reader’s comment is absolutely crucial: “change in government policy and research funding and focus” – that’s EXACTLY what we need.

  • Gayle, Great delivery here once again that what we are doing is not working. It’s just not enough. Why does it seem so obvious to some and not to others? We need to funnel the money into research and more research. Keep saying it.

  • Oy, what a shameful collection. Thanks for this excellent post.


  • Oy, is it ever! It’s way overtime to get real.

  • Gayle,

    You speak such truth! The pink brigades everywhere will not cure cancer. Only research will. People are aware, but people are also dying of cancer in astronomical numbers. And what about men with breast cancer? They are completely left out of the picture.

    Wonderful posting.

  • […] verlassen und will einen radikalen Richtungswechsel erreichen. Nachfolgender Text aus Suliks Blog >>> Pink Ribbon Blues vom 3. März 2011 veröffentlichen wir mit freundlicher Genehmigung der […]

  • Gail

    Truth well spoken. Prevention!!

  • Denise Aguilera

    Bravo!As a woman with stage 4 breast cancer, I hate the pink ribbon thing. As adults we should be able to hear the truth. Why don’t we have a real conversation across the board about how many mothers will leave their young children motherless due to a lack of research into stage 4 breast cancer? Let’s talk about the fact that, though reactions to chemotherapy are bettter than in the past, the side effects are still sometimes difficult and painful. There’s nothing “pink” about any of this. I pray I will live long enough to see my daughter strong enough to take care of herself.

  • As adults we should be able to hear the truth! Yes, and thank you all for commenting. I think the response to this post suggests a real need to poke a hole in pink bubble thinking and expanding the conversation. Personal pink is different from social pink. Personal pink has meaning for some people, and finding meaning for ourselves is crucial. Social pink is about looking at what and who pink ribbon culture represents, who it doesn’t, and the consequences of the current iteration of pink ribbon culture and industry. Moving beyond pink is about creating a culture with a bigger umbrella, one that is optimized toward to ultimate goal of eradication and supporting ALL who are diagnosed with cancer. Let’s not be hung up on a color, but let’s move beyond pink.

  • dc

    Well, I’m alive but have pn from chemo. Level 7 pain 24/7. How pink is that? No one even talks about it. too messy.

  • SouthamptonMom

    Are there ANY organizations that actually raise money for the CURE, and not for prevention?

  • Yes, Metavivor raises funds specifically for metastatic breast cancer research. Cancer centers such as Sloan Kettering, MD Anderson, etc all raise funds for research. If you want to support research, it’s useful to go to the source.

"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

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"Seeing clearly through the pink haze" Toronto Sun

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

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

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Marie Claire

Does Breast Cancer Awareness Month Crowd Out Other Diseases? Slate

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

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Komen Pink Ribbons Raise Green and Questions USA Today