What’s Wrong With the Pink Ribbon, Anyway?

Filed under blog

By Nancy Stordahl, BCAction member

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on Nancy’s blog, Nancy’s Point. Thank you, Nancy, for letting us reprint it here.

What’s wrong with the pink ribbon anyway?

I’ve been asked this question more than a few times. It seems like a fair question, so I thought I’d share some thoughts about why the pink ribbon has lost its appeal to many, including me.

There’s nothing wrong with pink. There’s nothing wrong with ribbons.

Pink is just a color and ribbons are just ribbons…

Of course the particular ribbon that has come under such intense scrutiny of late is the pink ribbon. I wonder if there is anyone who hasn’t at least seen the pink ribbon. It turns up almost everywhere these days and not just in the Breast Cancer Awareness Month of October anymore.

And this is part of the problem. It’s everywhere.

What may have been a good idea or symbol at one time quickly became overused and then misused.

It reminds me of when parents, coaches and yes, educators hand out ribbons to kids for everything.

In an overzealous attempt to make all kids feel good, sometimes there can be too many “ribbons” handed out, literally and figuratively.

When something is handed out too often, it loses meaning.

But back to the mother of all ribbons…

The problems with the pink ribbon continue to mount.

For starters, I compiled a list of ten problems.

1. The pink ribbon has lost its effectiveness becoming merely a marketing tool to sell stuff and I mean lots of stuff. Unless you’ve been house bound for awhile you probably don’t need any visuals, but just in case, here’s a rather all-inclusive collage.

And the very fact that breast cancer awareness is so literally “tied into” shopping, is in itself very questionable if not blatantly sexist.

2. When utilizing this pretty pink marketing tool, the intent is not only to sell a product, it’s to sell good will as well. Everyone is supposed to feel good about buying pink stuff with pink ribbons on it.

Pretty pink ribbon = good cause/good feelings for all.

Pink ribbons are too often used in an under-handed way to make consumers feel good about what they are buying and who they are buying from. In other words, pink ribbons boost profits and image for a corporation or organization at the same time.

Pretty good bang for your advertising buck wouldn’t you say?

3. However, pink ribbons can be and often are misleading. Sometimes the sale of a product with a pink ribbon on it results in not one dollar or even one penny going to breast cancer anything. Or sometimes there is a “cap” on how much will be donated no matter how many dollars get raked in.

4. Too often the product adorning the ribbon is questionable, or even actually “tied” to possibly contributing to cancer risk. Here are a few examples of controversial pink products.

5. Many find pink ribbons to be insulting as they seem to represent an attempt to “dress up” breast cancer and to portray it as the feminine, pretty, almost acceptable kind of cancer.

It’s a tidy way to “package” breast cancer.

6. And of course, pink ribbons represent females. Where does this leave the men who get breast cancer? As outcasts, that’s where.

7. Next, let’s not forget all that hope, faith and courage stuff. The pink ribbon is often used to represent hope, faith and courage; which is fine to a point. I’m not against hope. I’m certainly not against faith or courage either. No one is.

But when hope, faith and courage become entangled with a pink ribbon, are we unintentionally suggesting that women quietly and demurely sit back and accept their breast cancer and the lack of progress in prevention and treatment, much less a cure?

Is the message, even if unintentional, just remain hopeful and you’ll be fine?

Think about it. Is this really such a stretch?

Remember all that sugar and spice nonsense?

8. The pink ribbon has turned into the “bully of ribbons” by overshadowing all the rest of the ribbons.

What about all those other colored ribbons? What about all those other diseases?

I wonder how many people can name even one other colored ribbon and its “matching” disease. Don’t feel badly if you can’t. You are not alone. Here’s a chart to help you out.

9. And of course, there are too many to count lame attempts to make breast cancer awareness campaigns sexy or more light-hearted by adorning those sassy pink ribbons here, there and everywhere. Sexism is alive and well in breast cancer land.


10. Finally, the pink ribbon has been around for decades now and the results just are not good enough.

If you measure results in the only way that truly matters, fewer deaths from breast cancer, this has not been the outcome from all that ribboning. (Is that a word?) Every year breast cancer continues to claim about 40,000 lives in the United States alone.

So there you have it, my list of ten things wrong with the pink ribbon. I’m sure I’ve missed a few.

It’s time to untie, retie, throw out or at least get the knots out of this pink ribbon don’t you agree?

This October (and all year long) be a savvy shopper and follow these tips from Breast Cancer Action’s Think Before You Pink campaign.

Do you feel the pink ribbon has lost its effectiveness?

Do you buy products with pink ribbons on them?

What would you add to this list?


  1. Zain
    Posted October 12, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    Here’s my blunt take on the subject of Big Pink: http://www.hippiethrasher.com/breast-cancer-awareness-versus-action-2.html

  2. Colleen
    Posted October 14, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    I understand the Think before you (fill in ribbon color) campaign. I also know seeing all that pink reminds me to get my yearly mammo. What is tied to Oct for me is that. My mom had BC and my sister is a recent survivor. Sure, govt should do more but they don’t. This empowers women in local ways to support a worthy cause and each other. Is it all a bit much? Yes. What are the alternatives? In an imperfect world, it raises awareness. And no, I do not buy all things pink. Frankly, turning American consumerism into fundraising makes as much sense as anything in a world where things that matter are chronically underfunded.

  3. Lisa Bedard
    Posted October 16, 2012 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    Thank you – I have always thought that this Pink Ribbon Campaign is a smokescreen. If we “feel good” about buying pink – we have done our part. Think of the March of Dimes started with FDR’s assistance against polio. Would they have been happy with simply better treatments and better braces for polio patients? No – the money found a vaccine – the vaccine was the cure.
    Now when I see “Pink” – I see red – and I go out of my way to avoid the product and the manufacturer pushing pink.

  4. Posted October 16, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Excellent post, Nancy! Thank you for such a thought-provoking discussion, and I agree that the pinkification of our society is harmful. And I try my best to avoid all pink products.

  5. Doug
    Posted October 17, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    for real, its so ironic how they sell ice cream and cookies with pink ribbons when dairy products are one of the most potent carcinogens around and sugar feeds cancer cells 7 times more than it does normal cells

  6. Diana Lessner
    Posted October 17, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    Nancy, thank you for articulating my feelings.

    And here’s more… after an especially horrible radiation treatment, I stopped at the grocery store, the clerk asked if I would like to donate $1 so pink cancer patients could get a pink football shaped balloon. I do not support football, and why on earth would I want a balloon?

  7. Guy
    Posted October 18, 2012 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Great article. I’ve been annoyed by this ‘awareness’ month for a few years, but I’ve never really looked into it. It just never made sense to me, because does it make people go and donate money to cancer? No, it’s just making everyone go, “oh, I guess its breast cancer awareness month. I’ll go wear pink because I support breast cancer… awareness!” I agree with what I’ve seen, why isn’t it called prevention/cure month? Makes no sense. Will black history month be called ‘black awareness’ month soon?

  8. Jennifer
    Posted October 18, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    I think we should remember that lung cancer will kill 33,000 more women than breast cancer in 2012. Lung cancer is the no. 1 cancer killer in the United States. Half of those persons that are diagnosed with lung cancer are never smokers or former smokers. No one deserves to get lung cancer…we all have lungs…we all are at risk. Where is the big funding for lung cancer? It breaks my heart. My mom died from lung cancer at the age of 50 years old. She lived for 2 weeks after her diagnosis. For several months prior, she was sick as a dog…but she did have mammogram….which of course was negative….

  9. Mary Kay
    Posted October 18, 2012 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    I APPLAUD YOU FOR HONEST EDUCATION. I was into the Pink Thing a few years back. Then, I had a lump, an excision, many more mammograms, ultrasounds and the bills kept coming in. I took my health into my own hands and started eating properly omitting packaged foods that supported the Pink Campaign which were generally unhealthy. I started emulsifying my food using NutriBullet’s amazing little machine and thinking differently. I don’t fear anything with regard to my health and while I know that doctors do serve a purpose, I am not in bondage to any health concerns caused by Big Pharma or campaigns which steal (money and peace) from the consciences of women. This campaign and others like it truly put people in bondage to fear! How free are we then? Ask for a financial report on any of these big commercial campaigns and look at the administrative costs and the actual funds that are appropriated toward finding a cure-THEY DON’T WANT TO FIND A CURE-THERE IS NO MONEY IN THAT! Be Smart-Eat the right foods (fresh is best), Exercise, Think positively and stop listening to foolish campaigns designed to make you poor and others rich! More importantly-remember Who created your body and Who is in charge! Be at peace beautiful women-stop listening to the lies. More importantly, listen to your own spirit!

  10. Posted October 18, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink


    Thank you for publishing this. I am a photographer starting a breast cancer awareness project where a substantial portion of proceeds from sale of my art objects will go towards a breast cancer charity. I am in the process of picking the right charity and trying to see how much can I afford to donate since manufacturing and retail costs vary (incl. with quantity).

    Can you suggest some great charities and also what percentage donation from a self-supported campaign (meaning, excluding “loss leader” fully sponsored or limited campaigns by major brands) would be considered “among the highest”.

  11. Amber in Albuquerque
    Posted October 24, 2012 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    Just adding another voice to the chorus of “thank yous.” Sometimes it’s enough to know I’m not alone in being completely crabby about this.

  12. george in hawaii
    Posted October 24, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    “4. Too often the product adorning the ribbon is questionable, or even actually “tied” to possibly contributing to cancer risk. Here are a few examples of controversial pink products.”

    I don’t a list or a link. Could you correct the omission? I’d like to see how extensive your list is.

    Thanks for the whole article. Any thoughts on the number of women who die from heart disease annually compared to breast cancer and the lack of “awareness” of the risk factors involved (i.e. lifestyle dietary and exercise choices)?

  13. george in hawaii
    Posted October 24, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    correction: “I don’t SEE a list or a link.”

  14. caitlin
    Posted October 24, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, George, for catching that. We added the link.

  15. Theodora
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Great comments! Instead of focusing on pink ribbons and finding a cure (which would, of course, be wonderful!), I think it’s time we find the CAUSE of breast cancer – and how about ALL cancers? Yes, I know the solutions are overwhelming and they too are based on the idea that money overrules everything. Take for instance, the poisoning of California water by various water agencies in the Central Valley – with the outright approval of the SWRCB. This is the same group that brought us the Kesterson debacle where water birds were poisoned and deformations were suffered by fowl, wildlife and people due to the contamination of the water. And do you think it was stopped by the State? NOPE! The contamination continues and the water is sold to LA County as drinking water!!! A pink ribbon isn’t going to stop this multi-billion dollar business. And you can thank the Resnicks (who own Westlands farms and water district and Pom and Cuties, etc.) cause they make their own personal billions paying very little for OUR WATER and then sell the poisoned stuff right back to us for hundreds of times the price they paid for it. DISGUSTING!!!!!!!!!! TIME TO STOP THIS TERRIBLE AND PERSISTENT CRIME!!!!!

  16. Laurie
    Posted May 10, 2016 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    My understanding is that the pink ribbon was never registered as a symbol of breast cancer by any breast cancer organization–it took on a life of its own, and its sale often (usually? I have no statistics) gives not one cent to the study or prevention of breast cancer. That is truly sad.

  17. Steve
    Posted October 6, 2018 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    The biggest problem w the pink ribbon campaign is that they are funded by the very same industries causing cancer. Primarily the dairy industry which has been a leading cause of breast cancer. But they just want the money. Trace where the money comes from and you will almost always find the truth. Sad but true.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *