Breast Cancer and the Warm Fuzzies

What do you think of when you think of the color pink? Something girlie? Cotton Candy? Pepto? Peppermint Disks in your Grandmother’s candy dish? There is a certain sentimentality that surrounds the color pink – it is unimposing and extremely marketable to women. Kay Thompson delightfully sings of its capitalistic potential in Funny Face above.

When you think of pink, do you think of breast cancer? Of course you do now because today we have tiny pink ribbons everywhere – trinkets from teddy bears to earrings, logos on cars, tee’s, NFL Jerseys, firearms… the list is infinite.

This is referred to as cause-marketing and it occurs when a company associates with another organization that people care about (i.e. breast cancer), to increase the company’s bottom line. We look to organizations like Susan G. Komen for the Cure the Avon Walk, EIF’s Revlon Run, Walk for Women and Estee Lauder who have raised over $2 billion dollars towards the cure for breast cancer with this type of pink marketing. Although these organizations raise breast cancer awareness and promote sisterhood, they do so through selling their products, acquiring donations, organized runs, walks, various forms of fundraising and an overall sensation of celebration.

When faced with cancer, bonding and kinship are vital to the individual suffering from disease and for the families supporting and suffering alongside them. No one is trying to take these experiences away.


Courtesy of Fifth World Art

But what happens after the run, walk, fundraiser, purchase of pink lipstick? Do we ask where the funds are going or how they will be used? The documentary Pink Ribbons examines how corporations have capitalized on the breast cancer foundation. Essentially, it shows how we have softened the ugliness and brutality of breast cancer by using the color pink within the structure of a huge marketing campaign of hope, togetherness, and celebration. Although these organizations provide is an essential positive message of hope, they are masking some of the traumatic realities of this disease.

This cheerful demeanor is all too familiar for the female population. Women are constantly pressured to be positive, happy, smiling, and controlled in society.

So what happens when we remove the veil of cheerfulness? Do we see the fine print? Do we see the hypocrisy of Revlon using carcinogenic ingredients in their products while raising millions, even billions of dollars to “fight” breast cancer”?  American women have been medicalized to the point where corporations can capitalize on their bodies.

So instead of supporting a corporation by buying a pink ribbon teddy bear, what are some other ways in which we can support the research and victims of breast cancer? I suggest that we politicize breast cancer. We need to show the faces and experiences of breast cancer, the people behind the pink ribbon, to honor those afflicted by the disease and to advocate for prevention. We need to allow room for suffering and death. We need to question these hypocritical organizations. We need to unmask the pink ribbon.