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Pink Ribbon Blues

By Gayle Sulik, PhD

Wow! This is not an easy book to read. Wait! That doesn’t mean it’s not an important book to read, or that the author is not gifted. It means that the content is so thought-provoking, any woman who has or is dealing with breast cancer should put it on her must read list.

In Pink Ribbon Blues, author Gayle Sulik manages to convey a mesmerizing mix of scholarly information with a keen journalistic eye as she analyzes an enormous amount of information and opinion. Patient interviews thread their way through the text to give further relevance to her message.

When asked about just how invasive the ”pink culture” is in today’s society, Ms. Sulik is not shy about rocking the pink ribbon bandwagon, nor is she afraid to speak her mind. “In truth, the bulk of money raised and spent does not go to research. It goes to ‘awareness’ programs, marketing materials, and overhead. If you read the financial reports, you’d be surprised at how little money supports anything useful. In the meantime, the fledgling organizations that are trying to support their communities and fill gaps in care are left without adequate funds to do their work.

She continues, “Some of these programs even disseminate information that is inaccurate or incomplete. And it’s cast as ‘awareness.’ What are they aware of? Breast cancer exists. Be afraid. Feel your boobies. Have hope. Get your mammogram. Have courage. You’ll be fine. How can people make decisions based on sound bites and false information? This is not awareness.

“Also, pink consumption has been cast as the ONLY way to support the cause when, in fact, it does more to support the large organizations and partnering businesses than it does diagnosed women or women at risk. Some of the campaigns overtly trivialize the disease. Others sexualize it. I analyzed hundreds of breast cancer ads, and you cannot tell them apart from other marketing advertisements. There is a lot of skin, cleavage, fashion, beauty, sexual innuendo, empowerment rhetoric, and – keeping women in their traditional roles – cooking and cleaning products. Many fundraising events use these images too, and they often paint survivorship to be a triumphant and festive experience. Many of the diagnosed, especially those who have had recurrences, are marginalized from this culture.”

Sulik believes that in the process we have turned a complex social and medical issue into a popular item for public consumption, which may actually be impeding the progress in the war on breast cancer. She argues that the truth about breast cancer, so memorably voiced by its victims in the early 1990s, has now been “silenced in a cacophony of pink talk."

With breast cancer incidence rates rising, her call to “take a road less pink” is something each of us needs to consider. No, it isn’t an easy read, again, not because the writing isn’t wonderful and the subject matter isn’t interesting. It’s not an easy read because most of us feel we are being somehow disloyal to the cause if we too have had those moments where we question exactly what all of the pink hoopla is all about.

You may not agree with Ms. Sulik, but you should definitely hear what she has to say. Learn more at her website.