Sunday, June 6, 2010
Maybe you heard the controversy a few months back about a middle school that reportedly banned students from wearing breast cancer awareness bracelets that say "I (heart) boobies." This happened when I was in the throes of chemo. I remember it because, not only do I have breast cancer, but I work in a middle school.
I snorted reading all the outraged comments online about the oppression of the evil school administrators in the face of these good-hearted 12-14 year olds who just wanted to combat breast cancer.
Speaking as somebody who works around hundreds of kids that age daily, I would like to impart this little secret to you: If a middle school boy is wearing a pink "I love boobies" bracelet, it is, in fact, because he loves boobies.
Or desperately hopes to.
It has about as much to do with cancer as my carrying a Coach bag has to do with supporting under-funded basketball programs.
Let me clue you in on the middle school brain. They are wearing these because:
a: Their friends are
b: It's subversive - they can openly say they love boobs and then when questioned, pretend to support a cause. (13 year old kids think that kind of thing is hilarious.)
c: Their friends are
d: They hope they'll get in trouble and maybe get on the news and all their friends will think they rock
f: Their friends are
Now, does that mean that middle school children are incapable of working on causes and feeling like they want to do something about an issue? Of course not! But, for the most part, this age group is intensely focused on their friends, their peers, their enemies, and their status within these groups. Most are not yet community-minded; it's not until high school that they developmentally begin to broaden their perspective.
After reading that controversy, I knew it wouldn't be long before these bracelets spread like wildfire throughout the country, and ended up at my school.
And, they have.
I recently saw one on a boy, and to test my theory, I asked him why he was wearing it. He said, as I expected, "to support breast cancer." I then asked him how wearing the bracelet did that. He paused. He couldn't come up with an answer. I prodded, "Did any of the money of the sale of the bracelet go to breast cancer research?" He said he didn't know. "Then, how does wearing that bracelet support breast cancer?" Silence. I asked him how much he'd paid for that bracelet, and he said, $8.00. (An astounding amount for a rubber bracelet.) I then told him that I have breast cancer, and next time he wanted to help somebody with the disease, I'd be happy to take his $8.00. Cancer treatment can be expensive.
Having me on his arm would, however, ruin his reputation as a playa who loves boobies.
The company that started the trend, Keep a Breast, says they are doing it to promote awareness among young teens about "toxic chemicals" in our environment that can cause breast cancer. Almost none of the money from the sale of these bracelets goes to any kind of cancer research; almost all of the profits are funneled back into awareness campaigns which, presumably, also include making more $8.00 bracelets.The last year they published their finances, out of $500,000, only $5,000 was given in grants to cancer research. The rest went to more bracelets, tee shirts and salary and travel costs.
Whether a 13 year old girl needs to be worried about self-checks for breast cancer is debatable - breast cancer is statistically unheard of in this age-group. I won't quibble with their idea though - girls should grow up knowing what feels normal in their breasts so they recognize the abnormal. However, a 13 year old is too young to even have a normal as they are still developing.
Because of that, I think that the "check your breasts" message should be reserved for older girls, high-schoolers perhaps. On breast cancer boards, I've seen many panicked posts from 13 year olds who are afraid normal adolescent changes are cancer-related, and I wonder if these early detection efforts are doing more harm than good.
I don't know that the science is there to declare our environment toxic enough to cause breast cancer either. And, if so, what is a girl that age supposed to do about it anyway? And, how does wearing a bracelet help, particularly when the money is funnelled back to "awareness" and not a fix?
In any event, the bracelets I'm seeing are knock-offs and not even the ones made by the Keep a Breast Foundation, so whether anybody agrees with their premise or not, these bracelets have just become a for-profit fashion statement.
That means, in the end, kids are walking around wearing clothing that says they love boobs without their being any tie-in to cancer.
So, what is our school doing about it? We do have a dress code and like all schools, we walk a fine line trying to cater to a diverse population. A section in the dress code says nothing deemed profane or sexually suggestive is allowed. Profane, admittedly, is in the eye of the beholder, and while I wouldn't consider the word "boobies" to be profane on its own, it can be argued that it is inappropriate for a 6th grader to wear, and that other 6th graders (and their parents) might find the statement "I love boobies" offensive or sexually suggestive.
So, on our morning annoucements, the school population was told that the purchase of these bracelets didn't support any kind of cancer cure research, that the wording was not appropriate for school or their age-group, and then they were told about alternative ways to support breast cancer research, including an upcoming event held by the Susan G Koman Foundation. One of our teachers is very involved in the American Cancer Society and the kids were told they could talk to her for ideas.
Now, when somebody sees the boobies bracelet, they take it to the office and the child can pick it up after school, as with any dress-code violation. It's not a high priority but we do have high standards that we hope our kids will live up to, both in behavior, grades and dress.
Middle school kids are fickle and by next year, this fad will be gone. I only hope a colon cancer awareness group doesn't jump on the trend with an "I (heart) assholes" bracelet.
But, if they did, I guarantee you it would be popular.
Posted by Ann aka ButDoctorIHatePink at 12:21 PM