More on Raising Awareness for Cancer: Pink Ribbons, Inc.

This post will add to the comments made by tjwalton in a previous post regarding “Raising Awareness for Cancer.”


 Supporting breast cancer through fashion? “When you buy a garment from the Narciso Rodriguez Pink Ribbon Campaign, we will donate 10 % of the sale price directly to the Cancer Foundation.”

In my undergraduate degree, I took an interesting class with Professor Dr. Samantha King, author of “Pink Ribbons, Inc.,” which I recently discovered has been turned into a film.


Pink Ribbons, Inc: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy.
By Dr. Samantha King.

In her book, Dr. King discusses the “dark side” of breast cancer philanthropy, highlighting that many corporations use “pinkwashing” to improve their public image – while they may not be contributing very much to the cause.   

Where do the millions of dollars go that are raised by the Pink Ribbon campaign?

According to Dr. King in an interview with Breast Cancer Consortium: “The short answer is we don’t know.” 

The book argues that breast cancer advocacy is mostly focused on fundraising, charity events, and the sale of commercial products, while the distribution of funds lacks coordination.

Where did the pink ribbon come from?

It was originally a peach-coloured ribbon designed by Charlotte Hayley, a grassroots activist who had battled breast cancer. She refused a proposal from the editor of “Self” Magazine to work with them, since she didn’t want to make it “too commercial.” So, the colour was changed and a “pink ribbon” was marketed. To learn more about the History of the Pink Ribbon, read the blog post on Think Before You Pink.

Dr. King hopes that “more individuals and organizations begin to acknowledge that the cure-oriented, mega fundraising approach to breast cancer has failed and that a fundamental transformation in how we understand the problem of breast cancer is required.” 

I urge you all to read the book, watch the film, and ask the important question as you begin your career as health communicators: how are fundraising, media, marketing and health advocacy linked? What will your role be?

Watch the trailer for the National Film Board of Canada film Pink Ribbons Inc at the following link:


More Resources:

Breast Cancer Action (Advocacy Group):

Globe and Mail Article on “Pinkwashing:”


Run for the Cure Supporters: A Scene from Pink Ribbons Inc


One response to “More on Raising Awareness for Cancer: Pink Ribbons, Inc.”

  1. kaitlaurid says :

    I am a self admitted past supporter of the Run of the Cure. Yes I have taken to the streets, dressed head to toe in pink, happy to be one of many in the wave of pink that washed a city. With no second thoughts, I would always donate money to the Run for the Cure, having lost a close family member to breast cancer. Year after year though I watched as people’s signs during the race began to change from 1 in 20, to 1 in 8, to 1 in 5, the number of women expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Why were the numbers getting worse when research money was at an ultimate high, awareness and education campaigns were rampent? So I started to think…and then a film came into my life that provided some answers and a necessary wake-up call:

    The film Pink Ribbons Inc., is a fascinating film into the other side of the “pink ribbon” campaign. The film caused me to stop and really think about the impact of such large scale branding and marketing of the campaign. How ironic is is that corperations who sell products containing carcinogens paint their product pink and announce they will donate X amount of dollars to the campaign for buying their product! Pink is a strategic colour. It is nice, it is pretty – everything breast cancer is not. By turning breast cancer into a marketing strategy, it normalizes the disease and mitigrates the tremendous severity, hurt, and pain it causes for realy people in their daily lives.

    In addition to the point made above in regards to the utter lack of transparency to where all the money raised from fundraising campaigns, what else the film highlighted was a critique of the language used around marketing the pink ribbon and how breast cancer has been framed in the media. The predominant language surrounding the pink ribbon campaign is that of “survivor”. Survivors become the focus, highlighted by nominating “survivors of the year”. What message does this send to woman who do not survive the disease? Were they not “survivors” then. We know not all types of breast cancer are the same, and your stage of breast cancer greatly impacts your chances for recovery. There is great harm in using the language of survivor, because who does that leave out – the most vulnerable.

    So before you lace up your pink shoes for your next run, think about how is it okay that a disease is being used for profit? Where exactly are your funds going? Are they simply feeding back into industry that is causing the high rates of breast cancer in our society?

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