Pink Ribbons and Breast Cancer Awareness 

On Wednesday, October 27th, Fairmont State University held its second to last Women’s & Gender Studies Colloquium. The presentation was hosted by Dr. Nina Slota, the Assistant Professor of Psychology at Fairmont State, and was about ribbons and awareness months. This is a particularly relevant topic for the month of October, as it is the month for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  

Dr. Slota shared that she would be taking a look into the topic from more of a pop culture perspective than an academic look. She wanted to give listeners a look into both the history and impact of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the pink ribbons worn and displayed to honor survivors, those lost to the disease, and to support the progress we are making to defeat breast cancer. She said about the colloquium, “The presentation is about ribbons, months, culture, and a little bit of everything. I also want to share that though these awareness campaigns can do a lot of good, they can also do harm, and I want to talk about both today.” 

Dr. Slota explained the history of ribbons being used to represent sickness and help. The ribbon has a long history of being used for this purpose. In the Victorian days if one was in mourning, you would put a ribbon on your house to signify it. Self magazine invented the ribbon we see today that represents the fight against breast cancer, including both the bright pink color and shape of the ribbon. What spread the ribbon to the prevalence we see today was Self having Estee Lauder give out pink ribbons at cosmetic counters, which was how most women found out about the ribbon and the cause it represented.  

One of the controversies of the pink ribbon that Dr. Slota shared was the debate over whether the bubble gum pink color of the ribbon is a good color to talk about a fatal disease. There is an argument against the color as breast cancer is a women’s disease, and the pink color of the ribbon is too childish for some. They believe the color of the ribbon does not suit the cause it represents. There is also the debate of the pink ribbons also having to represent the men who get breast cancer, who may be alienated by the color of the ribbon. 

Despite its controversies, there is no question of the popularity and influence of the ribbon and its pink color. Dr. Slota explained that this popularity is where we can be led astray. One may believe they are helping the cause by purchasing pink items when in reality, the company one is buying from is doing nothing to help breast cancer survivors. Dr. Slota says about this problem, “When we are buying these products we need to think about whether the company is sending money back to foundations. Many of these businesses give the perception they are donating money and you are helping people going through treatment when in reality, they are doing nothing.”  

This is the effect of so many pink products being produced by companies to make a product seem good. Dr. Slota shared that Yoplait, a company that sold yogurt with a pink lid to raise money for breast cancer, actually had a growth hormone in its yogurt that caused breast cancer. Even though the company was putting out a product that was supposed to help combat breast cancer, the product itself was helping cause breast cancer. Even if a product appears to be doing good, in reality, this may not be the case. It is important to keep an eye on the pink products one buys, as even though it may have the ribbon on it, it may not be helping to fight against breast cancer in any way, and in some cases, even prolonging the fight.