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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