Think Before you Knit-a-Boob for Breast Cancer Awareness

via Bust Magazine blog, which announces that on May 6th, Oak Knit Studio (OKS), “a learning and making space devoted to textile arts in Brooklyn, NY, announces the first-ever “Knit-a-Boob” special event in partnership with Breastcancer.org. Knitters of all levels from novice to expert will gather on Friday, May 6th, to knit actual, wearable prosthetic breasts for patients and survivors of breast cancer, who have lost their breasts to the disease.

Breastcancer.org, the world’s leading online resource for breast health and breast cancer information, will lead live information sessions throughout the day, briefing participants on the latest in breast cancer treatment and prevention.  The organization will also be accepting the knitted prostheses, and will distribute the handcrafted boobs to those in need.”  The pattern for the boobs “was inspired by Beryl Tsang, a knitter who developed the pattern for herself while undergoing her own treatment. Beryl found her knitted prosthesis to be a much more comforting, and light-hearted alternative to other prostheses that she was offered, and it later inspired her to start the website www.titbits.ca, which offers custom knitted breasts.”

When I first saw the link to this on the Ms. Magazine blog I was all over it — I’m a knitter, I like nice yarn, I’m a feminist, I have boobs, what’s not to like?  If I hadn’t already planned to go up to Vermont to visit my Mom for Mother’s Day I’d be tempted to go (except that I also have piles of papers to grade — I hate it when work gets in the way of my hobbies!)

I still think this a worthwhile event since the boobs will be donated to survivors, but let’s reflect on what kind of “awareness” is being raised.  In a guest post at Breast Cancer Action‘s campaign  Think Before You Pink™, Anna Rachnel describes “The Dark Side of Pink Awareness”:

The color pink and the pink ribbon have become the ubiquitous and saleable trademarks of breast cancer awareness and the associated pink fundraising machine.

Through canny marketing, cutesy slogans, pink imagery, and campaign after campaign, we hear the pink awareness messages loud and clear.

Early detection saves lives.

Education saves lives.

Pink ribbons save lives.

BREAST CANCER AWARENESS SAVES LIVES.

But what is breast cancer awareness?

According to Wikipedia, breast cancer awareness is defined as

“an effort to raise awareness of breast cancer and reduce the disease’s stigma by educating people about its symptoms and treatment options. Supporters hope that greater knowledge will lead to earlier detection of breast cancer, which is associated with higher long-term survival rates, and that money raised for breast cancer will produce a reliable, permanent cure.”

Rachnel asks, “Is this the definition of breast cancer awareness the public learns about through pink ribbon awareness campaigns? ” Her reply is a resounding “no”:


Women and men with Stage IV breast cancer are not the happy-happy-joy-joy-Sheroic survivor stories portrayed in the popular pink culture.  As a community we continue to fight; not only for our lives, but for official recognition by a mainstream breast cancer movement caught in a dangerous rut of pink unawareness. We are tired of our deaths being used by marketers to sell emotionally charged displays of pink, designed to generate both fundraising dollars and profits. Fundraising that the metastatic breast cancer community continues NOT to benefit from.

Breast Cancer AWARENESS? I think not.”

She points out that “this nation’s largest breast cancer fundraising organization, which was largely responsible for the instigation and rise of the pink awareness machine, contributed less than 19% of its total resources to actual breast cancer research in 2010.”

I don’t know much about Breastcancer.org but if you click on their corporate sponsors link, you will find a long list of drug companies and shopping sites where you can buy pink stuff.   How much of the profits raised from pink consumption do these companies donate to breast cancer research?  Can a website so heavily supported by drug company marketing be considered a neutral source of information?  These are the questions we should be asking ourselves.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a bunch of prayer and comfort shawls I need to finish.


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2 Comments

  1. As a WNBA season ticket holder, at least once a season it’s “Pack the Place Pink” for breast cancer awareness. At half-time, some survivors step forward; we’re told how long they’ve been in remission and we all applaud.
    They survived this terrible disease through pluck, determination, positive thinking and willpower. So…what does that say about people who don’t survive? Or people who aren’t plucky and resilient and making god natured jokes about chemo? At one game, I saw a woman with no hair who looked gaunt and exhauster. Her T-shirt simply read “CANCER SUCKS.” Now that’s an attitude I can relate to.
    Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Bright-sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America” is worth a look. In your copious free time.

  2. I thought I left a comment, but it’s disappeared!
    Your post put me in mind of the “Pack the Place Pink” events at WNBA games. Survivors get up, some give their years in remission, and everyone applauds. Surviving cancer is a great accomplishment, to be sure, but these events make me feel uncomfortable, because the emphasis is on plucky resilience, positive thinking, and willpower. What does that say about people who don’t survive? Did they just not want it enough?
    Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Bright-sided: How Positive Thinking Is Ruining America” gets into this a bit.
    And don’t get me started on the marketing, the pink kitsch, the infantilization of patients: you have cancer! You need a stuffed toy! (Pink, of course.)
    So, with all the awareness and fund-raising…how about free mammograms for people in the high-risk, low-income demographic? Maybe they can set them up at Walgreens, where we all apparently get our pap smears!

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