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In recent decades, breast cancer has become increasingly visible in mainstream culture.  We are surrounded by pink ribbons and other items that advocate awareness of breast cancer.  But what sort of awareness is it?

Some celebrate pink trinkets as a way to support individuals and families affected by breast cancer.  But there are others who find that the pink ribbon is tied too tightly.  It can cut off circulation, making it hard to breathe, to speak openly and honestly.  The hyper-saturation of pink certainly reminds us that breast cancer exists, but it can encourage denial of, rather than attention to, the harrowing reality of life-threatening illness.  The ribbon gives cancer a makeover, re-painting tumors and scars in shades that look like nail polish or baby clothes.  Or Pepto-Bismol™.

Despite its claim of advocating awareness, the pink ribbon has constrained the discussion of and understanding of breast cancer.  Women’s health concerns are increasingly commodified and sexualized, and the cosmetic aspects of breast cancer treatment sometimes overshadow attention to urgent medical matters.  The real-life experience of cancer is hidden behind a display of incongruous products such as donuts, tissues, dishwashing liquid—even airplanes.  Pink is tangled up, too, with commercial interests, and companies are lauded for their virtue in going pink, but corporations’ role in breast cancer awareness is unclear.  Some ask, where does the money go?  How much has it done to help to improve treatment and save lives?   How much real understanding and healing has the pink ribbon fostered?

In “our” “culture,” reservations and questions about the pink ribbon are often unwelcome, met not only with resistance but sometimes with outright hostility.  But some questions that call out to be asked. Otherwise, we risk trivializing the experience of those living with a life-threatening illness as well as hindering medical understanding for all.

“Please Pay Attention To The Woman Behind The Ribbon” is a forum for women living beyond breast cancer—and for our allies—to share our experiences.  Initial posts include first-person accounts, artworks, and links to useful writings; we aim to include as many voices as possible.

Who is behind the pink ribbon?  We are.  We are real women.  We invite you to pay attention and to participate in the post-pink discussion.

Awareness comes in all colors.

—Rosie Untied

Would you like to untie a ribbon?  Click here for submissions information.

Please distribute widely and with abandon.