Reaction: The PINK Ribbon and Breast Cancer Awareness Month

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What does PINK mean to you? To some it may remind them of underwear or bras from Victoria Secrets younger line. To some like me, it is the symbol of Barbie.  Maybe you relate the color to flowers,  jewelry, watermelon, or a favorite pair of high heels.  Some may relate it to female in correlation to the color blue referring to male. When you mention PINK and the month of October, I could probably place money that one of the most common words would be Breast Cancer.

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As a recent cancer survivor, I was asked a few days ago how I felt about the color pink and its connection to breast cancer awareness.  My response, “I love it”! I actually do not mind it at all! I mean, there’s nothing wrong with pink its just the best color on the planet! Maybe i’m a little bit bias because if you haven’t realized, my favorite color is pink and anything pink I typically love. Literally I drive a car with pink wheels and eyelashes, but thats for a later blog) Truthfully, if I had to chose a color to represent my cancer, it 100% would be pink!  However, it turns out that the pink ribbon symbolizing breast cancer awareness has been surrounded in controversy for yearsssss.

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In my mind, when I think of boobs… they typically have nipples.  My nipples were more of a pinkish color being a little more fare in complexion. Could this be where the “pink” reference came from?  Then there is that misconception that breast cancer affects women aka the pink color would represent the female race that this disease affects? Maybe that was the initial thought, however we all know that guys have breasts too, therefore this cancer does not pick and chose its prey! So where the heck did the pink color and the symbol of the ribbon come from anyways?

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Well… I did some research… and it  turns out it has an interesting story! First, lets address the  symbol of the “ribbon”.  Okay, so I love the color pick as a part of the breast cancer symbol, but the pink ribbon— UGHHH I HATE IT!  Why? I don’t really know why, like I said before… its only a ribbon and I loveeee the color pink!  However, since my diagnosis I have received many gifts with pink ribbons on them and literally I want to strangle myself with a ribbon thats how badly I hate it.  Not that I don’t absolutely cherish every single gift I’ve received along the way, it’s just unsettling to me, but why?

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Before cancer, I saw “cancer ribbons” of all sorts of colors to be a sign of fundraising, awareness, hope, and memory of those affected by an awful disease.  Now that I am one of those people affected, its like I don’t want one stupid little symbol to label me. The whole hope, faith, and courage words that often surround the pink ribbon sort of makes me want to throw up! Its like it unintentionally is saying “oh you have cancer so you need to (my other dreaded quote “fight like a girl”) have hope, strength, and faith and you will get through it”. Like GOSHHHH lets be a little more optimistic here! How about, you sell those ribbons— actually give the money towards research or womens health in general and lets 1. advocate, 2. prevent, and 3. find a fucking cure!

Basically, to me the ribbon itself has lost its effectiveness and is sort of turning into a marketing tool to sell “stuff” and make someone behind a desk a lotttt of cash! I feel like we live in the land of the pink ribbon especially in October! Its sad to me that breast cancer awareness literally is “tied ” to shopping instead of tying women and men to talk to their doctors and get mammograms especially the younger generations like me! It just makes me so angry! I feel as though some corporate monster is straight up making money on me because they are selling the merchandise with the pink ribbon attached and saying it supports breast cancer. News flash, when I was sick and my husband couldn’t work because he was taking care of me… the money from that pink ribbon Wal Mart shirt you just bought did not put food on my table or buy me my anti nausea meds… just saying!

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The ribbon Penney Laingen used as a symbol for support of her husband

Heres a quick little history lesson for you all.  The symbol of the ribbon came about sometime in the 70s they say by a woman named Penney Laingen.  Supposedly she was a wife of a hostage taken in Iran and she was inspired by a song to tie tons of yellow ribbons around trees in her front yard.  The act was publicized and new stations were claiming that the ribbon was a symbol of her desire to see her husband again.  That was the first time that the symbol of a yellow ribbon had become a visual message.  Perhaps one of hope, maybe desperation?  It wasn’t long before the yellow ribbon movement stretched across the country.

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The next big historical event surrounding ribbons came around 80’s when the AIDS epidemic spanned the country.  A group of individuals saw the awareness the yellow ribbon had on bringing our troops home, and decided to use the red ribbon to symbolize the strength and hope needed for the men dying on our own US soil from an awful and at the time unfamiliar disease. An activist art group known as “Visual AIDS” decided on a bright red color—“because it’s the color of passion”.  They looped it to make it different, and placed the symbol on stage at Tony awards pinned to the chest of actor Jeremy Irons. It wasn’t long after that that every charity had their own “colored” ribbon as a visual symbol of their cause. Heres a Snapple Cap fact for you… did you know that The New York Times named the year 1992 as “The Year of the Ribbon” due to the amount of support gained from this simple symbol?!

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Fast forward to the 90s when Susan G. Komen began handing out bright pink visors to breast cancer survivors running in its Race for the Cure event. In fall 1991, after seeing the effects of Jeremy Irons wearing the symbol, the foundation gave out pink ribbons to every participant in its New York City race that year. Basically the pink ribbons were cute however to catch on, Komen knew she had to gain nationwide attention on a much greater scale.

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That opportunity came through in 1992 when the then editor in chief of Self Magazine Alexandra Penney was busy designing the magazine’s 2nd annual Breast Cancer Awareness Month issue.  With inspiration from the prior years issue which was edited by Evelyn Lauder—Estée Lauder senior corporate vice president and a breast cancer survivor.  They decided they had to step up their game the following year… thats when inspiration hit Penney right in the face, a ribbon! She created a ribbon, and had them distributed on cosmetics in NYC! With Evelyn Lauder on her side, she decided to put the ribbon on cosmetics counters across the country.  But that wasn’t all…

Somewhere around a week later,writer Liz Smith wrote  a story about a woman who was using a peach-colored ribbon as a symbol for breast cancer awareness.  Who was this woman you ask? Reportedly, 68-year-old Charlotte Haley who had multiple women in her family affected by the awful disease. She made peach-colored loops by hand and was selling them by the set with a card saying: “The National Cancer Institute annual budget is $1.8 billion, only 5 percent goes for cancer prevention. Help us wake up our legislators and America by wearing this ribbon.”  Once her story was picked up by Liz and her phone number was printed, through word of mouth and shear determination she had distributed thousands of ribbons across the country!

Self magazine decided to reach out to Haley!  Reports say they wanted to collaborate to give the movement national attention, however Haley declined their offer saying they would make it more commercial than she wanted it to be. Like it would lose its effect to gain awareness of funds by legislators and turn into more of a makeup symbol.  Liz Smith later in the year wrote a follow-up article on Haley’s efforts and reported a controversial piece between Self Magazine and Estee Lauder.  Reportedly, it was announced that  Self  magazine brought up the fact that they really wanted the ribbon as a symbol and with Haley refusing to collaborate, they reached out to their lawyers who stated that as long as they didn’t use the same color ribbon as Haley they could run with it! And BOOM— we have the pink ribbon as a symbol for breast cancer!  About a year later, poor little Charlotte Haley’s peach colored ribbons were history, and basically never to be known or related to breast cancer ever again! Harsh right?!  Basically the point of the story is play nice, be a team player, collaborate, and support each other and you can be a part of something much larger!

“Pink is the quintessential female color,” says Margaret Welch, director of the Color Association of the United States. “The profile on pink is playful, life-affirming. We have studies as to its calming effect, its quieting effect, its lessening of stress. [Pastel pink] is a shade known to be health-giving. Pink is, in other words, everything cancer notably is not.

Okay, so maybe I feel a little better about the ribbon now that I know the history, and i’m still super stoked about the color being pink, because what girly girl doesn’t LOVE pink!

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I’ve also been asked the question of how I feel about social media, girls posting their bra colors, or provocative campaigns in support of breast cancer awareness specifically in the month of October.  My response, show those titties all you want as long as you then feel those tits for lumps, bumps, or discharge and if you are at risk or it runs in your family, please get to a doctor and DEMAND a mammogram! It literally can save your life! I don’t feel that these social media attempts make “cancer” more sexy, light-hearted, or saying that cancer is easy because thats not the point of the posts.  Basically SEX SELLS and in this day and age, it catches peoples attention. Sure, my boobs were cut off and YEAH I’m jealous over perky natural boobs on models etc. However once again, if it draws attention and gets one girl to notice a lump or bump and to get help! HIGH FIVE TO YOU NUDEY SELFIE! Work that camera girl… 😉

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I found this really interesting list of  Controversial PINK products.  Take a look… basically it really highlights the whole color pink and money not being used correctly controversy when surrounding breast cancer awareness. If you take one thing out of this post…PLEASE be more mindful about where your donations are going…there is a chance that not one single penny goes towards helping a breast cancer patient like me!

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Thank you: Think Before You Pink for the history lesson! Basically, wear your pink, support the smaller breast cancer campaigns, love each other, and feel those boobies!!! Oh ya, and #sparkleon!

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Support Izzy (yes he’s the cutest dog in the whole wide world!!!)

XO Meghan

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