The problem with I Heart Boobies bracelets worn by middle school students

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, 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.

Yay.

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, then don’t buy a rubber bracelet and pat yourself on the back about having a great child.

Remind them to sell some flowers.

Ann Silberman is a breast cancer patient who blogs at But Doctor… I Hate Pink.

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  • Rick Pescatore

    I agree that there’s certainly a difference between raising money and wearing a bracelet, but I have trouble making the jump to condemning the kids for wearing some silly jewelry. Could the whole situation be better? Sure–but if one kid looks down, sees their pink bracelet, and decides to ask “what is this breast cancer thing, anyway?”–then I’ll put that one in the win column.

    Better overpriced breast cancer bracelets than the JNCO jeans and wallet chains of a decade ago.

    • http://edench.myopenid.com/ Ed

      Agree, Economically deceitful tactic should be exposed.  Teachers shaving heads is a serious and direct contribution, both in giving emotional wholeness to patients and in visible demonstration of support.

      Disagree that the funds the Cancer Club kids raise are “better.”  This is just charity and its from a small community toward a vast global problem.  It’s probably funds better directed elsewhere, but at best it subsidizes costs of a small number of cancer patients. That small cost shifting may be important, but it is not “better” than the meme of ‘cancer awareness’.  I’m also okay with the free enterprise of evil companies – if you want to start a competing one, that’s good, see kickstarter.com.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=558041620 Vikas Desai

    I think the kids don’t realize this and most likely feel the high price is because the majority of that money is going towards research.

    • http://twitter.com/ButDocIHatePink Ann Silberman

      I have asked the kids and they think the money goes to research.  

      Nobody is condemning the kids for wearing the bracelet.  And, trust me, kids are very well aware of breast cancer these days.The days of needing awareness campaigns are long, long over.  I see posts from 12 year old girls on the breast cancer forums, hysterical that normal body changes means they have breast cancer.  Awareness and it’s message of constant self-check, 1 in 8 will get it and other misleading stastistics are now merely money-raising tactics.  

      And, I work in public education but am for school vouchers.  However, it is not the schools that want to deal with crap like this – we want to educate kids.  It is the government forcing us to teach them to put condoms on, leave phony breast cancer bracelets alone and not tell teach them about scams, teach them about the historical contributions of gays (rather than the historical contribution of men and women).  Schools are as frustrated as the public on these matters. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000194802325 Erika Svenson

        I agree with you on the bracelets – no doubt, they’re useless; however, I disagree that they should necessarily be banned. If you simply outlaw them with no explanation as to why (ex, the scam) you are not educating them; but encouraging them. 

        On that note, I also disagree that teaching how to put condoms on or the historical achievements of gay is a negative thing. Quite the contrary, I find it to be positive. Abstinence-only education has been proven not to work, for one, and, for another, most people – not just kids – don’t know how to properly use condoms. Condoms are 99% effective when used correctly; however, the success rate is much lower because they are not. As for gays, kids already know the great things men and women have done: they learn and have learned about it for years in their history classes. They need to see that homosexuals – gays and lesbians – and transgender people are not the sinful, awful people their parents have told them about. They need to see they are contributing members of society who have fought long and hard for any sense of equal right. We teach children about the accomplishments of women and people of color (including the civil rights victories); the same needs to apply for the LGBT communities. 

  • Anonymous

    Is there anyone to give light about the Enagic Alkaline water ionizer being sold to the market that is gaining a lot of market share in the industry?  Can you also comment on its health benefits, i.e., it is used as a medical device in Japan?  Thank you.

    • http://www.facebook.com/brianpcurry Brian Curry

      Yeah, it’s crap.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2LRZNHDZS6DU45WQ567LPQ7CMI ninguem

    Sounds like argument number seven bazillion for school vouchers. Parents can spend the voucher to send their kinds to a school that has better things to do…….like, call me crazy……educate the children.

  • Anonymous

    This is an exceptional post. Thank you for your thoughtfulness and for pointing this out.

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