Breast cancer survivor criticises ‘fluffy’ pink charity ribbons: ‘Cancer isn’t fun, pretty, sexy or pink’

Olivia Petter
Getty Images for BCRF

A breast cancer survivor and charity founder says pink ribbons should not be used to symbolise the disease because there is nothing “fun, pretty, sexy or pink” about it.

Audrey Birt, who founded Breakthrough Breast Cancer in Scotland, said the pink ribbon misrepresents the impact the disease has on patients.

“If you talk about breast cancer it has to be about pink and fluffy,” she told The Times.

“You feel you have to dress like a fairy. Whereas people recovering from breast cancer, living with it, and for those whose disease has spread, it does not represent their lives.”

The pink ribbon was launched as a logo for breast cancer awareness in 1992 by cosmetics conglomerate Estée Lauder.

Birt, whose charity funds research and provides care to people affected by breast cancer, described her experience of having the disease.

“Cancer is a physically exhausting and emotionally draining disease that screws your mind, takes you to the darkest places and, like a nuclear bomb, has long-term fallout,” the 63-year-old said. “It’s lonely, isolating and bloody scary at best. At worst it’s a killer.

“That pink ribbon represents what many people would like me and other patients to be – pretending that it’s all OK. That we’re not worried every time we feel a random pain that it’s returned. That we don’t mourn our lost health. A pink ribbon infantilises and diminishes one of the hardest things anyone will ever deal with.”

Birt continued: “Pink is for princesses, Barbie, little girls, underwear and marketing organisations. Cancer isn’t fun, pretty, sexy or pink.”

The campaigner went on to credit Breast Cancer Now, the UK charity that has evolved from Breakthrough Breast Cancer and recently revealed its new pink, orange, yellow and purple branding.

In response to Birt’s comments, a spokeswoman for the Estée Lauder Companies told The Independent: “The pink ribbon sparked a global movement, galvanising communities everywhere to drive awareness and action, including the funding of vital scientific research and education. Today five-year survival rates are better than 90 per cent with early detection and the pink ribbon continues to inspire hope and drive action for a breast cancer-free world.”

Birt is not the first person to call for the ribbon to be replaced: other patients and campaign groups have also said the colour should be updated and a different symbol adopted.

In an article for The Independent in 2014, Catherine Pepinster said: "Since I was diagnosed with breast cancer I am bombarded by pink. Pink ribbons, pink logos, pink arm bands.

"I don't want my world coloured pink. Yet because of my diagnosis, that is exactly what is happening."

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