An Open Letter to the Gal in the Pinktober Bra


Dear Girlfriend,

I hope you’ll excuse me calling you that even though we’ve never met.  I’m speaking to you in the spirit of solidarity – woman to woman.

Last year I was having lunch with a friend, enjoying good food and good conversation following a fun shopping excursion on a beautiful October day, when I happened to glance towards a table to my left and spotted something which made me do a double-take.

You and a couple of other women wearing hot pink bras outside their shirts.

After a moment I realized that it must be in support of breast cancer, and I felt a momentary compassion for you as I realized you might well be a survivor of the disease, or even currently battling it.  But I was still a little put out.

Because we were in public.  And I may be old-school, but I wasn’t raised to wear my underwear in public, for any reason, once I passed the age of oh, say, three.

Look, I understand that breast cancer awareness is a serious matter.  Breasts are a serious matter.  I don’t know if you still possessed both of yours or were wearing a prosthetic, but that wasn’t my business anyway.

I’m a fan of both breasts and cancer awareness, but I’m also a fan of modesty.  And I don’t think that choosing to keep your neon pink brassiere under your blouse would have made either of us prudes.  Rather, I was thinking of the mother with young children who probably didn’t relish trying to explain why that lady across the room was wearing her underwear outside like that; of the teenage boys who I doubted would suddenly be stricken with awareness so much as a desire to gawk even more openly.  Of the men who make a daily effort to not objectify women’s body parts.  I thought of all the women who complain so loudly and frequently about men staring at their chests, and wondered why, one month or even one day out of the year, any woman would wish to so blatantly invite the general public to do so.  As a t-shirt I saw in a Key West shop window said:  “Would you please tell your boobs to stop staring at my eyes?”

I’m not sure what else you could have realistically expected that day.

I wondered if you would have worn your pink bra to a social function, or a house of worship, or even your place of employment.  In a little over three decades of office work, I know any company that’s ever hired me, no matter how relaxed their dress code, would have shown me the door pretty quickly if I’d showed up as you did, with polite but firm instructions to change.

And I wondered how much more aware we can possibly be that breast cancer is a horrific epidemic that has in some way touched the life of pretty much everyone we know.  I have friends who’ve endured lumpectomies, mastectomies, or just plain scary mammograms.  I’ve been scared for them.  Prayed for them. Rejoiced with them when it turned out to be a false alarm.

But if I’d seen them wearing a hot pink bra in public, I would have been embarrassed for them, much as I would have felt embarrassed by the sight of a man battling testicular cancer with an orchid-colored thong strung over his jeans.

Your bra, pretty as it was, didn’t urge me to schedule a mammogram at the next available opportunity.  Nor did it make me scrounge in my wallet for a donation to the cause.  I don’t get those urges when I see pink ribbon-shaped bagels at Panera Bread, or a container of yogurt with a pink lid, or women with pink hair extensions.

When I choose to show my support for the men, women and children who have been scarred by this terrible disease, I’ll reach for a method that I feel accomplishes something tangible.

Perhaps you think I’m being too harsh, or even that I lack a sense of humor.  I can assure you I have a very broad one, but breast cancer isn’t something I’ll ever find amusing, or trivial…and hot pink bras at a restaurant do little for me other than to trivialize not just a disease, but a woman’s God-given beauty.

Dear lady whom I hope is alive and healthy as I write this, whether you still have your breasts or not, you’re so much more than your illness.  You’re more than a statistic.  More than a body part.

You’re a person.  And you deserve better.

* * * * *

How about you?  Have you or would you wear a pink bra in public to support breast cancer?  Has the disease touched you personally?  Has “Pinktober” gone overboard?  I’d love to hear your story.


6 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the Gal in the Pinktober Bra

  1. Wow, very interesting thoughts.

    My first thought was this: if I had seen this, I would have had a silent moment of , hmm. Good for you.

    But then I probably would have thought . . . really?

    I’m not sure how I would have responded to this, to be honest. I think a mixture of both. Citing reasons like the little children, the teenagers, etc. That would make me turn away from it. Would I ever do this myself? No. Definitely not. But it does make me wonder.

    Thanks for sharing. It’s a very insightful, well-thought-out letter.

  2. It’s not something I think I could bring myself to do, but I think it’s a harmless enough way to make a statement about a sensitive subject. I’m from the generation that still has a hard time saying the word “breast” (much less “testicular”). So maybe we need to desensitize the whole topic. Good article — made me think!

  3. I think the goal – to get you thinking about breast cancer – was accomplished. But because this disease is about so much more than awareness that it, in fact, exists, therein lies the problem.

    Nowhere in those “Think Pink!” “Save the Ta-Tas!” or “Race for the Cure!” campaigns do you ever get the impression that breast cancer actually KILLS people. BC is not cute, pink or “the good cancer” to get at all, because, despite all the gobs of money raised via the races and pink vacuum cleaners, there still is NO CURE for this disease. Early detection – which is what that awareness machine is trying to sell – is not the same thing as a cure. No one is sure what cause the disease and why some folks get it, have treatment and never deal with it again while others go through treatment and have to deal with it again soon after. Those of us who have tangled with it are never “in remission” – we only get NED – No Evidence of Disease status until it comes back. Women who die from BC die from it moving to other organs (metastasis) yet only 2% of the funds collected for research actually go toward helping women who are Stage IV. It’s pathetic, really – because that’s not the story the pink ribbons tell.

    So while I might not have worn my bra outside of my shirt to get you talking about it, we do something to right this very lop-sided (pun most definitely intended) marketing of what BC is. If that’s what it takes to get people to make sure the money they donate gets to the research needed to make this crap go the way of the dinosaur already, then so be it.

    Please get past the idea that breasts and the bras they support need to be hidden. Instead of worrying about explaining the pink bras to your children, try explaining why 148,000 American women died last year from a disease so many think is a piece of cake to get and cure. Breast are not all a woman is – because sometimes those breast try to freaking kill you.

    I see no need to be polite when it comes to this at all. In fact, I won’t and just say this instead: Enough with the pink sh*t. CURE this B*tch already!

  4. I share some of your feelings….I also struggle with some of the supposedly “cute” sayings in support of breast cancer awareness…save the tatas and the like.
    Seems like we have a split personality when it comes to the female body…as women we want to be known for being more than a pretty face and a perfect body, but obsess over losing a breast….not to minimize breast cancer. But “saving” the breast should not be the first priority, should it?

  5. Thank you for this post. Pinktober never really bothered me before the day I heard those words, “You have an invasive, aggressive breast cancer.” Funny how those 7 words (and the hellish treatment that follows them) chance a person’s perspective. I no longer find the pink bras, the ta-ta’s, saving second base, etc…a laughing matter–the world is aware of breast cancer–and instead of spending money on the gimmicks and pink gadgets–perhaps donating the money to research or to organizations where the funding is giving to patients/families undergoing treatment would be a better choice. Thanks again for this well written post.

  6. Lucie I guess if it was me I would prefer to donate and wear a pink ribbon. You won’t do much wearing a pink bra other than bringing attention and awareness I guess, but I think we have come a long way in awareness and understanding the devastation it leaves on a woman and her family. Also early detection. I can’t say I would want to wear the bra when we have a perfectly good pink ribbon which is the universal sign for breast cancer. Loved your post by the way.

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