Sunday, June 6, 2010

I (heart) boobies

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.


  1. Great post! I agree that this type of thing - the I "heart" boobies bracelet - can be taken too far, and it is not appropriate for kids in middle school to wear.

    Love your last comment about colon cancer, too.

    Glad your school took appropriate action.

  2. Ann, I literally laughed out loud at your colon cancer statement!

    Dawn G

  3. Don't you mean, you HAD breast cancer?

  4. Ann, this is hilarious! The colon statement that is!! I live in Sacramento, and found your blog through my friend Julie Olsen's blog. I'm recovering from surgery right now, and it was nice to read something like this!! I have been following your blog for some time now, but have never commented, usually because I am on my iPhone with a two year old. Lol but I wanted to tell you I look often for new posts from you! Keep writing, you are really good at it.
    Peace and Love
    Katie Neves

  5. Thanks ladies. Julie, the tense I use when referring to cancer depends on what I hope to gain. :) 99% of the time I do say I "had" cancer because a) I believe it, and b) I prefer to express positivity to others. But, sometimes I have something to gain, as in this case, so wanted to use the more shocking tense.

    And, welcome to Katie, my fellow Sacramentan! Recovering from surgery with a 2 year old means you have super-human strength. And, I mean that even if your surgery was for removing a mole. :)

  6. Lol!!I had posted on facebook a little story regarding recovering with a two year old. I had major ankle/foot surgery involving hardware, and have to be non weight baring for a few weeks, meaning I am the owner of a shiny new walker! Emma, snuck into daddy's tool box, got the smallest screwdriver her little fingers could find, and daddy caught her undoing/loosening the screws on my walker!!! She is a little red head, and is a mischief is her middle name! Thanks for the welcome. I was wondering if you ever settled that mess with your ring at country club? That story made me furious!! Are you on fb? Add me, would love to chat further!! Have a great day!!
    Katie N

  7. Ann, I received Jane Green's book, Promises to Keep, yesterday! Thanks again for picking my name out of your hat ... I mean, your wig! :)

    I'm looking forward to starting it!

  8. As a BC survivor of 18 years with a 13-yr-old grandson, I have to agree with you about middle schoolers! Since most of them don't know how to lead, they'll follow anything as long as most of their friends are doing it. I think it'd be great if the PTA or school district would come up with something community related that the kids could sink their teeth into -- might give us better citizens in the future! Also, loved your colon cancer comment!

  9. Glad you got the book Karen!

    Some schools in our district require community service. My son is in 8th grade now and is in an IB program. He has had to do 10 hours of community service since 6th grade, 15 this year. In HS, it goes up into the hundreds of hours. But, that's a specialized program and most of the regular schools don't require it. We have had a kid wanting to collect towels for animal shelters, and we always do food drives over the holidays, etc. But mostly you are right - it's rare when a kid initiates anything. It's not that they don't care, they are just a bit young to figure out how. However, if somebody starts something they are willing to help.

  10. I'm a middle schooler, and all my friends have them. I asked my mom if i could have one, and she asked how they ACTUALLY help. I couldn't think of a reason, so i decided to do a walk instead :]

  11. Isn't your mom smart! And so are you. Thank you for doing the walk. That really does help.

  12. Right on! Not only that, what about all the other cancers? Don't they deserve funding and attention to? Where's the "I (heart) Prostate" bracelet? How much of the bracelet sales actually go to cancer research/funding etc?

  13. Oh, We have it worse. Every girl and boy who strives to achieve this fantasy they call "popularity" wears (or wore) at least 2-5 a day. In the annual talk from both principal and vice principal about the dress code, the carbon copies of girls behind me prompted one to ask the question: "Are these bracelets allowed?" she giggled. The principal asked for someone to pass one up. Another carbon copy did. The principal said "Okay, but only if you wear them inside-out. I thought this fair. Later, I overheard a girl stating "I will not turn it inside out because she doesn't control my life and I paid my allowance on them". They were soon banned due to some boys who were told to turn their bracelets inside out, did it in the presence of the teacher, and
    Turned it back about a mere 15 seconds later. All of the sane people know the reason these children wear them. As I said before, to be wanted is all they would like to achieve. I am a sixth grade girl, and I believe kids of our age shouldn't wear those vulgar bracelets.

  14. I am an 18 year survivor and I so agree with what you wrote! My 10 year old son came home with a couple of these bracelets last summer. At first I just rolled my eyes and then I banned them.

    I feel so strongly about this -- I wrote a post at where I guest blog - about the issue:

    Just discovered your blog -- wishing you all the best of health in the New Year -- I'll be following you. Joan

  15. With this back in the news because of Pennsylvania I read your post and totally agreed. Perspective is everything and our media sings about Whips and Chains, Sexting you down, pants around your ankles - PLEASE! Then they allow children to dress inappropriately. Trucks that are allowed to hang genetelia (balls) from their trucks, people display in public bumper stickers and shirts that say "B!tch, S#ck, F*ck" etc. No, I don't find the "boobies" to be offensive, especially in light of those other words above. Do note that in the Walks for Breast Cancer either here in Rhode Island (Gloria Gemma Foundation) or nationwide which is Susan B. Komen Foundation they have family walks and fundraisers which show worse things and children attend. I don't think it's the least bit offensive.

    WHAT IS PROBLEMATIC is that some of the braceletts themselves can be TOXIC. There are some that are not all silicone and are knockoffs.

    Thanks for the great post!


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