Thursday, April 14, 2011

I Heart Boobies Controversy

Many of you know that a judge in Pennsylvania has determined that the popular "I Heart Boobies" bracelets worn by middle school students are a form of free speech intended to raise awareness of breast cancer and cannot be restricted by schools.

As much as I love a good double-entrendre (and I do), I find the entire situation to be sad, particularly the misinformed comments I've seen made by parents of teens.

I wrote about these bracelets back in June of 2010 when I worked in a middle school. Now I work in a high school, yet I still see these bracelets, worn by both boys and girls. At the high school level we don't bother taking them away - the dress code is much looser. But, at any grade, as I told you back then, they are merely a fashion statement and have nothing to do with cancer support.

Of course some kids do care about cancer. We have a Kids Against Cancer Club, who raised over $400 for the American Cancer Society.

Interestingly, none of those kids wear these bracelets.

The Cancer Club Kids had an idea to sell flowers and donate the profits to the ACS. They filled out the proper forms, they planned an event, they found a flower vendor, they sold the flowers at a higher cost and hand-delivered them to the purchaser. They set a goal, and convinced teachers to shave their heads when the goal was met - which it was. The students arranged for a salon to come out and do the head-shaving: made sure the electrical was set up, tables were in place, and all was in order. Finally, they sent all the proceeds to the American Cancer Society, which gives direct help to patients, a fact which I know because I was a recipient of that help.

They worked hard, made money and did good for society. Because of the efforts of those students, cancer patients will get free gas and wigs for their treatment.

The Bracelet Kids? They bought an overpriced and trendy product.


With this ruling, the judge has put these two groups on even footing. The judge affirmed that by doing nothing but following a fashion trend they are somehow supporting cancer patients.

I don't feel supported by this. Do you?

The company that makes the bracelets say their mission is "awareness," (because of course, nobody has ever heard of breast cancer). They make kids "aware" by selling high-profit rubber bracelets, of which they have sold millions. These bands cost pennies to make but they sell from $4.00 to $10.00 a bracelet. Yet, the Keep A Breast Foundation has given nothing to any researcher who can actually made inroads into the cure for breast cancer, nor do they support a breast cancer patient in her hour of need.

Out of the millions of dollars in profits they've made, to date they have given a whopping $100,000 in grants. For breast cancer, you ask? No. For environmental causes, such as providing "green" janitorial supplies.

The makers of this bracelet do nothing to support breast cancer research - nothing at all. They seem to be an anti-chemical, environmentalist, eco-rights organization. They just found a clever gimmick and jumped onto the pink bandwagon because of its huge market share and built-in publicity.

Even then, they probably give less than 1% to environmental causes.

What your children are funding when they buy these bracelets are the considerable expense accounts and travel costs for the founders of this group.

Schools want to say, "No, this is wrong, think about this. We don't want this kind of scam on our campus, we don't want women who have faced cancer to feel hurt. We want to teach 13 year old boys that it's sexist to reduce the idea of a woman to "hearting boobies." We don't want to field parent complaints about inappropriate clothing; we don't want girls in tears when another kid waves his bracelet at her and sneers, 'too bad you don't have any.' We want to tell our students that this is inappropriate to wear, that it's a fraud our school culture doesn't support. We want to set an example for hard work and true dedication to a cause, not shallow and empty gestures that really only titillate."

God forbid, schools want to educate students.

But the judge sent a clear message. "As long as you pretend that you are supporting a popular cause than it's okay to say anything no matter who it hurts. Education and truth don't matter and you certainly don't have to work to help people - just put some rubber on."

You parents who are okay with your children wearing these bracelets, or who support this lawsuit against the schools - those of you who believe your kids are actually helping the breast cancer cause, or are somehow expressing their "individuality" by wearing these bands, I call on you to think deeper.

What is the real lesson here?

If you want a child who cares about others, who will learn how to make a difference in the world, who doesn't just give lip-service to the idea of helping, than don't buy a rubber bracelet and pat yourself on the back about having a great child.

Remind them to sell some flowers.


I'll bet I've made a few people aware of breast cancer too. Since, apparently, that's all a person needs to do to get money, then here you go:

I like money. I might even give some to the American Cancer Society.


  1. I don't think that they ARE appropriate for school wear. The boys that are wearing them do love boobies. I don't think that they need to advertise this fact to everyone, number one, and number two, do you want your daughter sitting next to a boy with this bracelet and not being able to choose her response. If she says that he's being immature and sexist, his indignant response will be that he is talking about breast cancer, and what kind of dirty mind does SHE have?!! He's not. The bracelets just excuse him and his immaturity. It just confuses the issue.

  2. Ann - Thank for this post. I've been slugging this particular debate out all week on the Huffington Post along with Uneasy Pink and others. The BOOBIE force is strong to be sure, but it seems to me in this case that, enforcing one's right to free speech in the name of boobies bracelets is no substitute for good parenting.

    I've seen comments like "the bracelets make people FEEL like they are doing something to help." FEELING like you are doing something and ACTUALLY doing something are worlds apart. As you rightly point out this organization contributes nada to research, instead flogging millions of plastic bracelets all whilst touting a vague environmental platform somehow linked to Boobies. Something's very off here, and if we don't continue to express dissent, this is how the breast cancer movement is going to continue to fumble along - stuck in a rut of meaningless and misinformed "awareness" campaigns that do nothing to move the fight forward. I've had enough and intend to keep speaking out. Like you say where's the deeper questioning by each and every one of us?

    P.S. Here was my reaction when I was up to my ears in it on the Huff Post... ( Warning: Language may offend, just like "boobies" offends me.

  3. Thank you for this post! What a great POV you bring to this. I was in there with Anna this week slugging it out and, boy, people really don't like to have their assumptions questioned.


  4. Wonderful post that summarizes all that is wrong about the Boobie Brigade and their misleading campaigns. Thanks.

  5. Anna Rachel, you said clearly in your response what I was hoping to say in my post. Wearing a bracelet does not support cancer anything, and feeling like you are doing something when you aren't is the same as doing nothing, only with a lot of ego attached.

    I heard about the huffpost conversation and admire you all for slogging it out. I thought I might join you but frankly, there are just too many folks who are unable to see any POV but their own, and am not sure the argument is worth my time. Some are just going to frame it as a free speech issue when it really is not. There are thousands of things schools prevent kids from "saying" as part of anti-bullying, and this should be one of them.

    As I said in my original blog post, somebody should start a black "I heart Assholes" wristband to support colon cancer. That's free speech too, right?

  6. Having just signed the permission slip for my son to be able to participate in the "family health" unit at school (a whole other issue) I was taken with your unintentional phrasing "just put some rubber on"-- now THAT might raise some awareness and possibly prevent some cervical cancers!

  7. Thanks for sharing. It is incredible to me that this organization would not at least donate to breast cancer causes.

    I am trying to get my head around the freedom of speech issue, very interesting. I wonder if there are any prior cases that are similar. I do believe that that the judicial system should spend more time clarifying the guidelines for a situation such as this and take into account the intent of both the organization and the people who wear the item.

    Lots to think about.

  8. Ann,
    Well said. I'm glad you spoke up about this again.

  9. Ann, I think I'm as astounded as you are about people's responses to this judgement. I'm all for environmentalism if that what the foundation wants to do, but the "Awareness" campaign is supposed to be about breast cancer. Instead of awareness, the boobies campaigns are spreading UNawareness. There is no accurate, evidence-based information to be found. It's sexy, trivial, and fun for some people. But it's a far cry from awareness.

  10. Amen, Sisters!

    Squeeze the Charmin, not the Boobies…:

  11. That's odd. I couldn't find the "Keep a Breast Foundation" on the site. Is it a legitimate non-profit? I'd love to know how they rate.

  12. @Jeannette, I don't know why they aren't listed either. They said they only list companies that receive a million dollars in profit, so maybe my guess at millions in profits was way off. (I didn't research and was exaggerating). It's hard to believe though that they haven't made that much. These bracelets are everywhere - in every store, and on just about every wrist. Remember when the old yellow livestrong bracelets were everywhere? These are the same thing, only for the younger set.

    @carey, I had a rubber joke in there, but took it out thinking the post was getting too long. Great minds. :)

  13. Alacer (maker of Emergen-c)is a big KAB booster. Their Madison Ave. PR firm tells me:
    "...for every box of Emergen-C Pink sold, 20 cents is donated to fund breast cancer awareness, research, and prevention efforts (20 cents per box corresponds to 50 percent of the net profit to Alacer). Since its launch in 2007, Emergen-C Pink has donated more than $300,000 in funding. While KAB has been the main recipient of those funds, Alacer Corp. has and will continue to donate to other breast cancer organizations...

  14. Great post Ann. Thanks for looking into this organization and sharing this info with us. Breast cancer takes so much more from us than just a "boobie" (I REALLY hate that word!). I think these kids, and especially their parents, are very insensitive, and clueless.

  15. Really good post this is. I agree with you. Thanks for share your thoughts.

  16. I finished breast cancer treatment about a year ago. Hopefully, I'm done with it. My daughter is in 8th grade this year. She started seeing the bracelets in 7th grade. Every time she sees one, she tells the kid about me and about why those bracelets are offensive. The principal called me a couple of weeks ago to tell me that he hasn't seen a bracelet in weeks. I was so proud her. She's very quiet and shy but has spoken her mind regarding this.

  17. Thank you Susan for your comment. One of my thoughts exactly. The braclets were made for money. PERIOD. With no foresight, sensitivity, respect or giving a damn about what any breast cancer victim is undergoing.My mother also had and survived breast cancer and it would have been mortififing for her. How about the woman who just lost her breasts? Cute, comforting, right! Would "I LOVE BALLS" be appropriate to bring awareness to prostate cancer, how about I love butts for colon cancer. Sickening thought isn't it? I dont like my breasts referred to as boobies or tatas. The marketers should be ashamed. Just pure greed, using a disease as a quise to caring while hormonally charged kids were giving a green light to fully concetrate on there classmates breast. Show them pictures of diseased breasts and its not as cute anymore. So much propraganda. Good on you everyone who got vocal!

  18. According to their 2011 financial report they netted 1.2 million:

  19. I think it is WONDERFUL that they are giving to eco friendly organizations because so many people are ignorant of the fact that are bodies are constantly bombarded with harmful cancerous chemicals. Helping to rid our schools and youth from toxic exposure on the smallest level of any kind, is a way to DIRECTLY fight against cancer. Sadly, I have purchased expensive cosmetics which donated a percent to fight cancer, and their very product had cancer causing chemicals. What a joke, right...but not a very funny one. I'm glad they are so directly taking action against the source, which in the end is not about lifting spirits (which is also important) but about helping clean up our environment from harmful cancer causing chemicals. Got to start somewhere! Why not the janitorial closet? We all do our part, but perhaps at different starting points. As for the bracelets....yeah, I wont have my teen boy wearing one.


Thank you for commenting. If the post is over 14 days old, the comment will be moderated and will approved later. This is a spam prevention technique - but I love to hear from you!