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Put the pink ribbon to rest


It’s time to put a stop to this madness. No more “awareness.” No more car magnets, “save the ta-tas” stickers and shirts, specially-packaged yogurt, no more running and racing to chase down a cure. The pink ribbon needs a well-deserved funeral.

Do you know why Komen never tells the history of the pink ribbon? Because it isn’t a good one. The pink ribbon was the result of an attorney decision because the originator of the breast-cancer awareness ribbon wanted no part in contributing to a company’s bottom line.

From “Pretty In Pink,” originally published in the now-defunct breast-cancer magazine Mamm and reprinted by Breast Cancer Action:

 Early in 1992, Alexandra Penney, then the editor in chief of Self, was busy designing the magazine’s second annual Breast Cancer Awareness Month issue.

The previous year’s effort, inspired and guest edited by Evelyn Lauder—Estée Lauder senior corporate vice president and a breast cancer survivor—had been a huge hit. The question was, how to do it again and even better.

Then Penney had a flash of inspiration—she would create a ribbon, and enlist the cosmetics giant to distribute it in New York City stores. Evelyn Lauder went her one better: She promised to put the ribbon on cosmetics counters across the country.

Penney recalls the birth of the ribbon now from her office at Ziff-Davis. “You know how it is when things are in the air,” Penney says. “A week later Liz Smith wrote about a woman who was already doing a peach-colored ribbon for breast cancer.”

The woman was 68-year-old Charlotte Haley, the granddaughter, sister, and mother of women who had battled breast cancer. Her peach-colored loops were handmade in her dining room. Each set of five came 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.”

Haley was strictly grassroots, handing the cards out at the local supermarket and writing prominent women, everyone from former First Ladies to Dear Abby. Her message spread by word of mouth. By the time Liz Smith printed her phone number, Haley had distributed thousands. Then Self magazine called.

“We said, ‘We want to go in with you on this, we’ll give you national attention, there’s nothing in it for us,” Penney says. Even five years later, her voice still sounds startled by Haley’s answer. “She wanted nothing to do with us. Said we were too commercial.”

At the end of September 1992, Liz Smith printed a follow-up to Haley’s story. She reported that Estee Lauder had experienced “problems” trying to work with Haley, and quoted the activist claiming that Self had asked her to relinquish the concept of the ribbon. “We didn’t want to crowd her,” Penney says. “But we really wanted to do a ribbon. We asked our lawyers and they said, ‘ Come up with another color.”

They chose pink.

Yesterday Susan B. Komen for the Cure announced that it would not withdraw grants to Planned Parenthood after all. This move has angered both sides of the debate who no longer trust the organization.

The post a few days ago, Why you should have boycotted Komen before this week, has reached thousands of people. I’ve read opinions of those who think Komen “caved into bullies,” either mentioning Planned Parenthood or conservatives as the bullies.

But are these people really the bullies? I don’t think so. If anyone is the bully here, it is Komen. SGK has reminded us for years that THEY are the real deal when it comes to breast cancer research. This week they were angered over news of a pink breast cancer awareness gun that claimed to be sold to benefit the organization. Instead of focusing on pinkwashing, they announced immediately that they were going to seek legal advice.

It’s true that a lot of companies try to peddle breast-cancer awareness products and some even try to say profits will go toward Komen. This organization is well within its rights to protect its trademark, and with pink guns, that’s totally acceptable. But why has Komen trademarked the word “cure?” Should no one else aim to “cure” breast cancer? What about other diseases? That kind of bullying should be unacceptable.

Regardless of where you stand on the Planned Parenthood issue, keep this in mind: This is not about Planned Parenthood. This is about an organization that is trying to save face and keep corporate donors and partnerships. This organization is not being pro-life or pro-choice right now. It is being pro-profit, and it is doing whatever it can to drum up support.

What can you do? These are some steps you can take. The first one apply whether you decide to support a women’s health charity, a hunger charity, an animal-rights group or any other kind of organization. The last one is strictly about breast cancer.

1) Educate yourself. Don’t give to an organization because of what it says it does. Read reports on it. Look at it critically. Look at the pros, the cons, and most importantly, unbiased research from people who don’t have a dog in this fight. Read from all sources, not just the message boards or even what you read in this post. Search and read news stories from reliable sources. The Associated Press and Reuters are about as unbiased as you are going to get.

2)  Ask questions. What is the organization doing? What is its track record? Is it partnering with corporations that contribute to the problem you’re trying to solve?

If nothing else, take this with you:

3) Stop buying pink-ribbon stuff.  I have just avoided this marketing altogether by refusing to buy any products with pink ribbons on them – even if it’s from a brand I normally use. For instance, I buy Charmin, but I will go through the entire shelf before finding a package that doesn’t have a pink ribbon on it. I want companies to stop using the ribbon, and I do not want to contribute to any sales figures when they’re looking to see how many pink products they sold.

We need to stand together. This is not about pitting pro-choice against pro-life. This is about Komen vs. women. Nip it in the bud.

Good find on the web: Race for the Cure to being relevant (Gin and Tacos)

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  • a.eye
    February 5, 2012, 11:51 am

    I totally agree. I needed a pen yesterday and the only one in the brand I like was pink-ribbon connected.

    I am all about finding a cure for all ills, but I am also all about companies spending money to find the cure if that is what they say they are going to do. There are so many charities that use their donation money to pay huge salaries of staff. I understand that every one needs to get paid to live, but some non-profits are taking that really far.
    a.eye recently posted..Minimizing, but I love my skinny jeans…My Profile

    • Bellesouth
      February 5, 2012, 1:08 pm

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. I agree – it’s becoming increasingly difficult to determine who to trust these days.

  • Nikki February 5, 2012, 12:21 pm

    VERY interesting. Thank you for sharing.

  • Beth Anne
    February 21, 2012, 11:31 pm

    I agree! This was VERY bad PR for the company. I wouldn’t want to write to them for grant money they may change their minds half way through the year!
    Beth Anne recently posted..Lenten Meal Plan Monday Link-up – 1st Week of LentMy Profile

    • Bellesouth
      February 22, 2012, 3:41 am

      I know! That’s what upsets me the most. They seem to follow the money and NOT the path to a cure.


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