Remember when “I Love Boobies!” bracelets were popular a few years ago? Everyone knew a 13-year-old boy who had one and insisted that it was for a good cause and that all funds go to breast cancer research. Spoiler: they don’t. We will inevitably encounter similar messages in October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Whether you choose to buy an “I Love Boobies!” bracelet or a similarly “pink-washed” item, make sure that you know what you are representing and contributing to.
“I Love Boobies!” is Keep a Breast’s signature brand as well as a leader in objectifying women in the name of breast cancer awareness. I found it difficult to find comprehensive financial information about a where 13-year-old boys’ allowances go.
First, I found a large bubbly infographic with no numbers but mentioned ambiguous “expenses” and “research.” I dug further and found financial information for 2011. The total income was close to $3,700,000. Interestingly, Keep a Breast only gave $150,000 in research grants, and 86.5 percent went to programs surrounding “awareness” about the importance of boobies – I mean, women.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women; one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer in their lives. It is commonly known that the most significant risk factor is simply to be a woman.
Naturally, this is an opportunity for corporations to bombard women with images of other smiling women clad in pink telling us to buy pink makeup, teddy bears and yogurt for a good cause. Breast cancer is one of the only illnesses that has cultivated a multimillion-dollar saccharine brand and culture that serves to exploit women.
Superficially, messages of pink positivity seem empowering, good natured and helpful when, in fact, they detract from the seriousness of the disease. “Breast cancer culture” has been written about extensively, particularly by sociologist Gayle A. Sulik.
Sulik draws attention to the “she-ro,” the idealized patient who is optimistic and assertive yet retains her femininity and is ultimately transformed. It sets up unrealistic standards for women. The she-ro who achieves the mandatory cure and fully regains her femininity via breast reconstruction is celebrated. This culture disregards women who are less than eternally positive and fearless. Furthermore, it does not represent women who are dying or have died.
Angelina Jolie strayed from this archetype when she announced that she had received a preventative double mastectomy. Social media, as always, kept its priorities straight, with fans mourning her breasts when she could have potentially lost her life.
Pink ribbon culture, particularly campaigns that focus on breasts instead of women, relies on society’s obsession with breasts. It undermines women’s health and contributes to corporate greed instead of contributing to progress in research.
It is also important to remember that the pink ribbon is not copyrighted or regulated. Think Before You Pink advises consumers to know exactly where their money is going. Anyone can use the pink ribbon, or there is often a cap on how much money a company will donate and the rest goes directly to the company. Worse yet, the product may contain toxins that actually contribute to breast cancer.
Ultimately, ensure that you know where the money is going and how it will be spent; we already know there is an epidemic. “I Love Boobies!” and similar campaigns are essentially useless if there is no plan for action or meaningful research on risk factors and preventative measures.
Women’s issues have been trivialized enough. Rather than basking in pink ribbons, we need to demand both facts and action.