February 24, 2017

Why I Don’t Like Breast Cancer Awareness.

I have many tenderhearted friends in my social media life.

We connect and support each other in raising consciousness about everything from women’s reproductive rights to racism. We lift each other up when the global news or our personal struggles feel discouraging, and we enjoy each other’s successes.

Sometimes though, I receive personal Facebook messages from some of these friends that raise my ire—in particular, the messages that ask me to participate in “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” or fundraising events for breast cancer awareness.

I have not personally suffered through the often grueling ordeal that is cancer, though I know a number of people who have. I do know firsthand that the loved ones of cancer survivors also struggle with feelings of frustration and powerlessness, because there isn’t some magical way to stop the epidemic of cancer or to alleviate the suffering associated with cancer treatments that can be even more damaging than the disease itself.

However, there is more to the breast cancer awareness message than may be initially apparent. What I see in the breast cancer awareness trope are the toxic meta-messages that underlie them. So when I am asked to post a pink ribbon or a secret phrase on my Facebook status (eventually to be revealed as a breast cancer message), I won’t do it.

I have a built-in alarm system that says, “Be really discerning about this,” when I see corporate involvement (especially with a retail tie-in) with a seemingly benign cause—and so I feel chagrinned when my kindhearted Facebook friends share these messages.

Instead of re-writing my feelings about this every time one of these messages appears in my inbox, I wrote a boilerplate reply a while back, which I’d like to share with you.

Here is my reply to these messages:

Dear ______,

Thank you for your well-intentioned message. I know you shared this message with me in the spirit of kindness and wanting to help. But I want to share with you that I see the subject differently.

I don’t like or agree with “breast cancer awareness.” To me, this is an intimidation tactic veiled in pink ribbons, smiley faces and hearts that has been used to inculcate women and girls in a hateful loathing of their female bodies.

Every day, women and young girls hear the words “breast cancer, breast cancer,” and we see corporate profit-making pink ribbons on products from perfume to Kentucky Fried Chicken. (And many of these pink-ribboned items are, ironically, carcinogenic.)

I believe we have more than enough “awareness” about breast cancer to the point that numerous girls and young women live in a state of dread and fear of it on a daily basis.

I choose not to support this kind of anti-female messaging.

Here are some other, more effective ways to help:

>> Teach girls and young women to love, respect and be attuned with themselves and their bodies. This includes encouraging them to be discerning in their choices in sexual, social and romantic companionship.

>> Support girls and women in eating well. Encourage them to dance, hike or be active in other ways, and to enjoy their bodies in ways that are empowering.

>> Help girls and young women to use their critical thinking skills to dismantle the constant corporate and political messaging they receive about how their bodies, their sexuality and their humanity are shameful and dangerous.

>> Encourage the girls and women in your life to attend to and heal emotional trauma (often related to impaired self-worth) that can impact their immune systems.

>> Apply all of the above to yourself first and then to others.

When a woman loves herself, she loves her body, and she cares for it. When a woman loves herself, she is aware—not of breast cancer, but of her power and responsibility to love the temple that is her body and her spirit.

Let’s focus on what we want to create, not on what we have been taught we should fear.

Once again, I know that you shared this message with me in a spirit of love and compassion. I just see it differently.



Author: Luisa Kolker

Image: Used with permission from Jennifer Esperanza

Editor: Callie Rushton

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Luisa Kolker