Gayle A. Sulik M.A., Ph.D.

Pink Ribbon Blues

Pink Ribbon Purge

A Personal Case for De-Cluttering

Posted May 03, 2015

This post was republished on Feminist Reflections, on The Society Pages.

I’m not a hoarder. But I’ve been known, on occasion, to keep things long after they outlived their usefulness or meaning. Like that colorful, Italian bowl with the chipped edge that would be perfect for a huge pasta salad but never sees the light of day. At least I don’t hate it.

Other keepsakes, I despise. Those finely carved mahogany sculptures I bought 20 years ago are still scattered throughout my house or in the back of a closet. I have nothing against them really, but tastes change. Those books from graduate school, taking up prime real estate on my shelf, are out of date. Unlike my old, yellowed copy of Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, ever reminding me that I am a writer, these objects no longer contribute to my well-being.

I usually realize when I’ve been surreptitiously loathing my stuff. I come to my senses and the purging begins, sometimes immediately. It wasn't so easy to come to grips with all of the pink ribbon paraphernalia I've collected over the years.

I’ve been researching and writing about breast cancer for so long that I’ve accumulated a plethora of pink-ribbon-themed items: awareness magazines, newspapers, advertisements, jewelry, cleaning supplies, teddy bears, M&M bags (contents consumed), and more. Some of these items were gifts to inspire me to keep going with my research. Many of them were gifted to others then bequeathed to me because they didn’t want reminders of their cancer around, or because they too hated the idea of pink ribbon commercialization.

Photo by Gayle Sulik
Part of the Pink Ribbon Collection.
Source: Photo by Gayle Sulik

My collection grew large enough that I considered creating an exhibit on the pink ribbon industry. In addition to my own items and others that would be donated, I imagined a 10-foot in diameter gumball machine filled with pink “I heart boobies” bracelets and a life size replica of “Miss Pink Elegance” from the Thomas Kinkade collection. We’d have posters calculating the profit margins of fundraising campaigns juxtaposed against pie charts of budget allocations from charities, themes in awareness campaigns, and the state of misinformation surrounding the disease. It was a good idea.

But since then, bloggers have taken it upon themselves to reveal, quickly and skillfully, the hypocrisy of the pink ribbon marketplace. Journalists have sunk their teeth into investigative reports about fundraising and other controversies. The Canadian documentary "Pink Ribbons, Inc." gave audiences the visual and narrative content to illustrate key themes within pink ribbon culture and the industry that surrounds it. Breast cancer organizations that have been resisting the status quo for years gained new traction. Even some of the most contentious scientific controversies entered public discussion with renewed vigor and solid evidence. Pink Ribbon Blues served its purpose.

There remains much to be done with the topic of breast cancer, and I’m glad to do it. But I’m finished with the pink ribbon baggage. It will no longer take up valuable space in my closets, on my shelves, or in my life. I feel lighter already. Taking control of your surroundings can be very freeing!

Photo by Gayle Sulik
What's left of the Pink Ribbon Collection.
Source: Photo by Gayle Sulik

There are two pinked items I’m keeping though. My very own Miss Pink Elegance, given to me by my dear friend Rachel Cheetham Moro, stands proudly above a pink tennis ball signed by sociologists Phil Brown, Kathy Charmaz, Barbara Katz Rothman, and Heather Laube to honor my book’s “Author Meets Critics” session at the American Sociological Association in 2012. These items represent a different kind of breast cancer awareness to me, along with a sense of connection to those who have supported me in this research all along. That’s enough.

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Dr. Gayle Sulik is the author of Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women's Health. More information is available on her website.

© 2015 Gayle Sulik, PhD ♦ Pink Ribbon Blues on Psychology Today

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