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Solving the bra color Facebook puzzle

The world awoke Friday to discover that Davi’s bra is black. Janet’s is blue with bows. Kim’s is pink. And Susan’s is a “decadent beige.”

The colors were, at first at least, somewhat mystifyingly posted on thousands upon thousands of Facebook pages as their status updates, without any context. Just colors. “White .. for today anyway!” wrote Kerri.

By midday, the color craze had gone viral on the Internet and around the globe, as had the word that the colors were really bra colors. Almost immediately, cyber-arguments erupted about what it all meant. The blogosphere went wild. Was so openly and willingly posting something as intimate as one’s bra color an attempt to raise breast cancer awareness? Or was it all just another Facebook ‘send your friend a snowball’ or ‘take your celebrity boyfriend quiz’ silly game? A meme?

Whatever it is, its impact was immediate and dramatic: As bra colors went flying around the net, something strange happened at the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. After two years of intensive efforts to boost its profile through social networking, hiring two full-time people to do solely that, within two hours Friday morning, their fan base on Facebook exploded from 135 to 700.

"This would fall into the unprecedented category. We’ve never had a spike like this,” said spokesman John Hammerley. “We don’t care if it’s a $20 million campaign or a, what do you call it, a kind of electronic chain letter asking for your bra color. It’s fun. It gets people talking, and hopefully, it will lead folks to really getting a greater awareness of something that’s going to affect one in eight American women.”

New Facebook groups began popping up. Within hours, ‘Bra Color as My Status’ had 167 fans. ‘Not Posting the Color of Your Bra’ had 206. ‘We Don’t Want to Know Your Bra Color’ had 51.

Then the men weighed in. "Post your boxer color (Guys)" because “it’s about time guys got to proclaim the color of their undergarments too” had 21 fans.

No one could figure out who started it all. But they couldn’t stop talking about it.

As far as anyone can tell so far, the bra color craze started, in the United States at least, a few days ago with a chain letter email on Facebook that went viral. The email went something like this: “Some fun is going on ... just write the color of your bra in your status. Just the color, nothing else. It will be neat to see if this will spread the wings of breast cancer awareness. It will be fun to see how long it takes before people wonder why all the girls have a color in their status Haha.” Some versions of the message included gleeful mention of how confused boys would be by it.

But like anything that goes viral, what started as a trickle on Tuesday or Wednesday became a full-blown fad by week's end.

Davi McDonald saw the color in her aunt Judy’s status update on Facebook, asked her what was up, then posted her own bra color and sent the email along to her friends. One of those friends, Janice M. Shaddox Lee, posted her bra color “in honor and memory of my mother, who passed away from breast cancer 13 years ago, and in honor of my friend who is a breast cancer survivor. I also did it to bring awareness to others to get regular mammograms.”

By Friday afternoon, some people complained that solely posting a color, without linking to a breast cancer awareness website, or asking for a donation to a breast cancer research organization, was little more than a a silly game or crass attempt to get attention from men.

“I think the thing about posting your bra color was so incredibly dumb," said Tanya Alteras. “I have a friend who is in her late 20s, just had a double mastectomy, chemo, and is now going through radiation, and she was furious about this. How this raises awareness about breast cancer is beyond me. It’s all about making a silly inside joke, and trying to make it meaningful. When you have people posting 'Saran wrap' it just becomes offensive.”

Some breast cancer survivors blogged about the heart-wrenching decision of whether to post a bra color or not. “I wrote ‘None - in fact, I don’t even OWN one,’” blogged one survivor, who noted that many of her friends who’d had mastectomies began writing “Nude.” “Nothing.”

Shana Aucsmith initially deleted the chain letter she got. Just another Facebook fad, she thought. Another time-suck. But within hours of deleting it Friday morning, she began seeing bra colors pop up all over her friends’ Facebook pages from around the country. And some of these friends, she knew, had survived breast cancer.

“It was astounding how quickly the word had spread,” she said. “So, I decided to post my bra color to show support for them. I thought of writing black, because it sounds sexier, but I told the truth and wrote beige ... Now everyone knows how boring I am.”

Still, one mystery remains: Whose idea was this?

By Brigid Schulte  | January 8, 2010; 2:51 PM ET
Categories:  Build-A-Story  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: The bra color craze
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It was funny, but we don't need multi articles from the Post about this stupid craze thing.....

Posted by: 4thFloor | January 8, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Well, thanks for explaining what that color thing was going on? Interesting. But mildly.

Posted by: isthisajoke | January 8, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

I guess the question is WHY this went viral. There are plenty of other appeals to raise awareness for various causes/illnesses. Why this?

Posted by: BrigidSchulte | January 8, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

My friend posted this as his status in response:

URGENT! FACEBOOK VIRUS ALERT. An email recently went out to women asking them to post the color of their bra. THIS IS A VIRUS.To fix it, you must remove your bra, then go to Settings>Enable Webcam> Record Movie. Please repost to your status.LMAO!!

Posted by: cleancut77 | January 8, 2010 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Always a joker out there

Posted by: BrigidSchulte | January 8, 2010 4:09 PM | Report abuse

I think the breast cancer awareness aspect was added later. The version of the message I received was just "let's play a silly game." It seems someone wanted to give the silly game a deeper meaning.

Posted by: lizgwiz | January 8, 2010 4:49 PM | Report abuse

Really? This made the Post?

Posted by: sarahabc | January 8, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

Guess what? It worked. If on purpose or as a game it morphed into something that got people's attention, at least briefly, on breast cancer awareness. And that is a good thing.

Posted by: JorgeGortex | January 8, 2010 5:51 PM | Report abuse

In my circle of friends, this prompted a discussion of breast cancer as it occurs in men. Someone mentioned that a male friend had breast cancer and it generated a string about how men should be aware of this as well. Our initial message mentioned not telling the "boys" and then messages ensued about the "boys" reactions. Then we talked about how they too should be aware. Prank or serious ad campaign, this did raise some awareness amongst my friends.

Posted by: wjul90 | January 8, 2010 6:06 PM | Report abuse

The world is now high school.

Posted by: mack1 | January 8, 2010 6:13 PM | Report abuse

Looking at it appears the color de jour is yellow.

Posted by: tuzoner | January 8, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

I don't care about bras. Boobs, yes.

Posted by: jethro1 | January 8, 2010 6:39 PM | Report abuse

mack is right. The world is a big high school.

I refrained from joining in. I'm glad Susan G. Komen has marginally more "fans" but I wonder if that will actually translate to more donations.

Posted by: chunche | January 8, 2010 7:11 PM | Report abuse

There are plenty of ways to raise awareness, sharing inappropriate details with my circle of friends--that include professional peers, colleagues, former classmates, and family--is not one of them.

Posted by: pseudonym1 | January 8, 2010 7:48 PM | Report abuse

The big story here is not the bra color. No, the big story is that SGK has had two full timers working on social networking for 2 years ...and they only have 700 fans. (just checked FB they now have 2000 fans)

This disgraceful. Those two workers should be replaced. SGK should have hundreds of thousands of fans by now. What could these people possibly be doing that netted them only 2000 fans. Anybody who does facebook knows this is embarrassing for such a prominent organization.

Posted by: nospam6 | January 8, 2010 7:53 PM | Report abuse

now they are asking women to post the real age they first lost their promote awareness of cervical cancer????

Lame and lascivious...

Posted by: las100 | January 8, 2010 8:05 PM | Report abuse

What about prostate cancer?

Posted by: jethro1 | January 8, 2010 9:22 PM | Report abuse

Count on the Post to put the really important news among the headlines on its net page.

Posted by: turningfool | January 8, 2010 9:59 PM | Report abuse

It's clear that from now on, women should all wear their bras, colors displayed to all, on the outside of their garments. The only excuse is that it's just too d4mn3d cold.

Look, ladies, if you're going to be advertising the color of your unmentionables in cause solidarity, why should only your BF/GF/SO know for sure? Tell the world!

What, you said Madonna is passe? Feh. You are just a pretentious poseur and don't actually care about the cause or you'd be wearing your inside on the outside.

Shame on you.


Posted by: thardman | January 8, 2010 10:24 PM | Report abuse

First ever comment from this 50-yo woman who's been reading the Post since age 12 (yes, since 1972!): this sure seems like more evidence of the incredible shrinking "real" newspaper and the increasingly inane online (and also print!) version. And while I'm all in favor of "awareness" (whatever that might mean) of all illnesses, maybe especially breast cancer for a variety of personal reasons, isn't there already quite a lot of "awareness" of that particular illness?


Posted by: skidge | January 8, 2010 10:28 PM | Report abuse

The FB message I received this morning didn't mention breast cancer at all and I didn't "play" to raise awareness either.

Posted by: PGirl | January 8, 2010 10:33 PM | Report abuse

Let's look at the facts and decide if this is a hoax:
1- Facebook has no idea who came up with the idea.
2- The Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation has no idea who came up with the idea.
3- Breast cancer awareness is pink and in October.
4- Ben Mezrich just came out with a book (with a red bra on the front cover) telling the tales of the founders of facebook.
5- A bra and women giving their bra color is sexual, breast cancer awareness is not.
6- The book telling of the founding of facebook involves a "tale of sex" etc. Mark Zuckerberg and his buddies who founded Facebook are portrayed as horny guys looking for chicks...
7- It's most likely a hoax from an inside joke of people who are involved with Mezrich or who have read the book...

Posted by: jeremyhulse | January 9, 2010 1:27 AM | Report abuse

I'm a young adult cancer patient and author of Everything Changes: The Insider's Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s. If people want to breathe some fun into a vicious disease - more power to them. But most people have defended this campaign as "it never hurts to raise awareness" or "it is great to get people talking". In fact, that's what most cancer activism is about these days. I think that’s setting the bar incredibly low.

We have done a fantastic job of raising awareness. I think our next big goals involve increasing access to care (such as mammograms and life saving drugs), and patients taking a more vocal role in helping to prioritize how funding is used so our research dollars go farther.

On my facebook page a lot of people defend this campaign saying "If just one young girl on facebook does a self breast exam (or one woman schedules her mammogram) that's enough.” This thinking is how we will continue to lose the war on cancer. There are a lot of smart, powerful, and passionate women in the breast cancer community. I know we can do better.

Posted by: KairolRosenthal | January 9, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse

The Charles Burch Breast Cancer Foundation™ Started This Campaign To Bring More Awareness To Breast Cancer

Posted by: virtuallinda | January 9, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

If people want to have fun on Facebook that's fine, but let's not pretend this is actually achieving anything productive. Raising "awareness" - as if anyone is not already "aware" of breast cancer - does nothing in the larger war against cancer. What matters is whether we are taking action that will help prevent, cure, or treat cancer in more than a completely random and haphazard fashion.

Five things that people could do that would actually be productive are:

1. Call your Congressperson and demand that they pass effective heath care reform that makes it affordable and accessible for women to get effective screening and appropriate treatment if they are diagnosed.

2. Register yourself on the bone marrow registry.

3. Donate to an effective cancer organization, like Breast Cancer Action.

4. Tell your general practicioner about how young adults can and do get cancer - 70,000 per year - as many general practicioners overlook the fact that young adult patients can get cancer.

5. Learn how to use so that you can be well-informed about the latest studies and research on how to prevent, diagnose, and treat cancer.

Perhaps someone can start a Facebook meme to promote these things, and then the Washington Post could cover it.

Posted by: ShannoF | January 9, 2010 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Now that we know that Charles Burch is claiming that he started this meme, the larger, more important question is: are memes like this just another example of slacktivism or is it the start of social movement? Posters here have made some excellent suggestions on how to move beyond awareness toward action. I have a few others on my post.

Posted by: annemai | January 11, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

This article quoted SGK totally wrong. I am a fan of SGK on FB and have been for 2 years now, and when I visited their page last week trying to figure out the point of this meme, they had around 134,000 fans. When I went back today, they have over 145,000 fans, and still growing. Check the page yourself:

@nospam6: since you're rude enough to say that those 2 FTE who run social media for SGK need to be fired for their "lack of social media skills", get your facts straight before you go judging them. Do they go to your job and knock the d*cks out of your mouth? Don't think so.

Posted by: digs80 | January 11, 2010 11:51 PM | Report abuse

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