Next Year, Let's Skip Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Mia Davis | GOOD
October 20, 2010
Can the pink ribbon be saved from corporate cause marketing, and actually mean something for women’s health?
I love autumn, in large part for the colors: orange-gold leaves, red apples, multi-colored squashes. In the past few years, though, it seems that pink has become the most prominent October hue. It shows up everywhere: NFL players’ chin guards, inflatable rafts for playing beer pong, buckets of KFC chicken, ads for cosmetics. Even the big diesel truck that delivers my home heating oil is painted an unmistakable pastel pink now synonymous with “breast cancer awareness.”
Companies and organizations put a lot of resources into “raising awareness.” And we shoppers want to show solidarity with women affected by breast cancer because we love them (or we are them), and we think that cancer sucks. But what are we aware of when we apply Kiss Goodbye to Breast Cancer promotional lipstick, or lob a ping-pong ball into our opponents’ beer cup? Are we aware that breast cancer is not necessarily inevitable for a certain number of women, as public discourse would lead us to believe? Or that pink-ribbon marketing can hugely increase sales for corporations which may donate only a fraction of sales to research, sometimes while actually using chemicals linked to cancer in their manufacturing?
Today, a woman in the United States has a one in eight chance of being diagnosed with the disease—a huge increase from my Grandmother’s generation, when about 1 in 20 women were diagnosed. Diagnostics have improved in the past few decades, thankfully, but that cannot fully account for the drastic increase in such a short time span. The question “why?” naturally follows. Cancer is complicated and can almost never be linked to one thing, but pink-ribbon campaigns are not encouraging this question. They usually stick to the partial explanation of genes, cigarettes, diet, and exercise—all of which should be discussed, but we shouldn’t stop there.
In the 50 years since my grandmother was my age, thousands of chemicals were put into commerce. Approximately 100,000 chemicals are on the market today, most of which have never been tested for long-term health effects. In the past 20 years, science has revealed that many chemicals in common consumer products like food-can linings, cosmetics, and yes, even in the plastics that may be used to make chin guards and beer pong rafts, are linked to cancer or hormone disruption (which can in turn lead to cancer and other serious health problems). And yet, most of companies that employ pink-ribbon marketing have not made public commitments to stop buying these chemicals, and make the switch to safer alternatives.