I think the time has come for me to really weigh in on the subject of Pinktober. What is Pinktober exactly? It’s a time during Breast Cancer Awareness Month when the world turns pink, supposedly in support of breast cancer awareness and research. You can go into stores and get everything from pink t-shirts, bags and lotions to cars and buckets of fried chicken. The idea is that when you purchase these items, not only are you helping to spread awareness about the disease, your money is going to help the cause. At least, this is what everyone thinks.
Sometimes it is the case. There are products from companies where they are dedicated to the cause and contributing large sums of money to worthy breast cancer organizations and researchers. But oftentimes, it is simply a way for companies to profit off an idea that has become fashionable, rather than a life altering disease that affects 1 in 8 women and kills more than 40,000 each year in the United States alone.
But how did this all happen? How did breast cancer become synonymous with pink products, pink ribbons and pink parties? According to thinkbeforeyoupink.org, it began with the yellow ribbon that was tied to a tree by the wife of a man being held hostage in Iran in 1979. She tied the ribbon was to help bring awareness and to signify her hopes of seeing her husband again. So successful was this act that 11 years later the AIDS movement adopted the same strategy, using red ribbons to spread awareness of the disease and garner support for research and programming.
So successful were these campaigns, suddenly everyone was on the “ribbon” bandwagon. Susan G. Komen was first on the scene to bring the ribbon to breast cancer awareness, handing it out to every participant in their race for the cure in 1991. In 1992, seeing the popularity (and possibly dollar signs), Estee Lauder in collaboration with Self magazine worked to spread the word about BCAM and put the pink ribbon symbol in every Estee Lauder counter in the country.
At the same time, a woman named Charlotte Haley, the granddaughter, mother and sister of women who had breast cancer, was already distributing peach ribbons to cards that said, “The National Cancer Institute annual budget is $1.8 billion, only 5 percent goes for cancer prevention.Help us wake up our legislators and America by wearing this ribbon.”
Self magazine and Estee Lauder approached Haley to collaborate which Haley declined because they were too corporate and not grassroots enough. But did that stop them? Of course not!!! This ribbon thing was gold so they contacted their lawyers who said, “just don’t choose peach” and the pink ribbon was born. Estee Lauder and many other organizations began using the symbol on and to sell their products. This is now why, in October, everything is pink.
For some, this show of pink is uplifting and empowering while for others it trivializes the experience of having cancer. What do I think? I think if wrapping yourself in a pink feather boa as you march down the streets in your pink lipstick, pink t-shirt and pink sneakers on brings you joy and makes you feel good, do it!!! Hell, whatever makes you smile, laugh and give cancer the great, big, pink middle finger, go for it! But I do think that there is a way to buy pink responsibly. When buying an item that claims to donate proceeds to a breast cancer organization, make sure you know which organization that is and just how much is being donated? Do you support the organization that the product is donating toward? Do the fund research and programs for those who are going through cancer treatment? Would you donate your own money to that organization? Why or why on?
For me, all of this pink is meaningless. It’s a color and nothing more. Seeing people wearing it doesn’t make me feel more supported. I wish, that instead of buying a lipstick where a fraction of the asking price was donated, that people actually donated to a breast cancer organization that they support, hopefully to one that spends its funds on research. Because, let’s face it, that pink lipstick is pointless if you don’t have that loved one to kiss anymore.
What I wish most of all is that companies would quit turning breast cancer into a party or something kitschy and cute. I haven’t felt much like celebrating this year and I certainly haven’t felt cute. I wish they would stop over sexualizing the disease because, speaking from experience, I have never felt less sexy in my life. There’s nothing like having a breast amputated and to have estrogen medically eradicated from your body to get the sex drive knocked out of you.
If we are going to raise awareness, let’s just deal with the cold, hard facts. They are ugly, depressing and scary but they are real and honest. No more dogs in bras. No more freeing the ta-tas. Please….PLEASE put your bra back on! If I could wear a real one, I would! So there’s no reason to take yours off. It doesn’t change my experience or circumstances. Let’s instead focus our attention to how we can finally ensure that stage IV metastatic breast cancer is no longer a death sentence. Let’s find out why breast cancer spreads beyond the breast and into our vital organs, bones and brains and stop it it’s tracks. Because that is what finding a cure really means. A cure means we don’t let one more woman die of this disease!
How do you feel about Pinktober? Does it empower you? Make you smile? Or does it anger you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
*The opinions above are my own. I respect all positions on this subject and don’t mean to demonize any side. I only mean to demonize cancer and the corporations/companies who profit from and exploit our experiences.