Breast Cancer Awareness Bacon (Pinkwashing for Profit)


Would you like some cancer with your good deed?

My mother died of brain cancer almost 8 years ago.  I spent 18 months as her caregiver, researching treatments, flying her around the country for the best possible care, fighting with doctors, and just being there as she faced death on a daily basis and struggled to “get her affairs in order.”  During that time I learned something.  Cancer sucks.  It’s horrible and destructive.  There is nothing cute, fun, or trendy about it.

I think that’s why when I see pink ribbons covering everything from oil change advertisements to nitrate-laden meat products, to BPA-infused water bottles, to make-up, it’s always felt a little wrong to me.  But I told myself, if this is what it takes to “raise awareness” and money, than so be it!  But is that what pinkwasing does?

Yes, it turns out pinkwashing raises lots of money… for corporations.  Pinkwashing is the practice of utilizing pink ribbons and other breast-cancer paraphernalia to demonstrate support for breast cancer “awareness.”  I think when most of us see those ribbons, we think it signals that buying this product will help support breast cancer research, hopefully bringing us closer to a cure.  But that is not the reason for pinkwashing.

Pinkwashing has become so ubiquitous, not because so many corporations care so much about breast cancer, but because it sells.  It sells because it gives us something we all want – the feeling that we are doing good.  But the feeling that we are doing good doesn’t cure cancer. Check out the trailer for Pink Ribbons, Inc., which documents how little, if anything, these corporations are actually doing to “fight” breast cancer.  You gotta at least check out the breast cancer bacon part – priceless – you’d better hope they find a cure after ingesting all those nitrates in your bacon with the pretty pink ribbon on it!

Okay, so maybe bacon’s part of the problem, but at least it’s raising awareness, right?  But what is “raising awareness?”  Does it actually help anyone?   I mean, aren’t we all aware of breast cancer?  And making us feel warm and fuzzy and like we did some good, does that actually fund research?  Does that do anything for women who are dying of or fighting breast cancer?

I would argue it could actually do the opposite.  It can lull us into a false sense of “awareness” or even thinking look at all those people “walking for the cure.”  They’ve got this.  Look at all these companies donating, breast cancer research must be well-funded!  Making cancer bright and fun, doesn’t make us want to write checks for research, it makes us feel like everything is cool.

But isn’t companies donating even a little better than nothing?   I used to assume “pink” products cost more because the extra was being donated.  I figured maybe companies hoped you might pick their product because they were doing some good.  Turns out pinkwashing is, for the most part, a marketing strategy.  Turns out, we ARE more willing to buy something pinkwashed, and we are willing to pay more.  These products cost more not because of how much is being donated, but simply because we are willing to pay more for them.  We are willing to pay to feel good, and for that “they’ve got this” feeling.

Smoke and mirrors doesn’t cure cancer, and neither does watching porn (this amazing pinkwashed porn site was spotted by on the Rosie Says blog).   Slapping a pink bracelet on something in itself  doesn’t fund cancer research.  But, you say, isn’t it good that they’re donating something to cancer, even if it’s a teeeeny tiny amount?  Even if it’s on a porn site?  Actually, no.  If we are all paying way more for these products, and the net gain to research is minute, wouldn’t we be better off buying the cheaper, non-pinkwashed products (assuming we can find any), and then taking the money we save and sending it directly to cancer research?  Yes, we would.

Pinkwashing doesn’t cure cancer, it just takes our money.  And it certainly doesn’t atone for causing cancer.  I am awe-stricken by the number of pinkwashed products I’ve seen that actually cause cancer.  Like in this ridiculous product above, the BPA-laden can of soup!  How many folks are actually going to redeem the LID in order for a donation to actually be made!!  But a lot of folks will buy that overpriced soup, drink down that BPA, and feel like they are doing something good.

The question is are we satisfied with just feeling like we are doing something, or do we want to really do something?  I’d rather take my money and send it right to the labs.  If companies really cared about cancer, they wouldn’t be giving it to us, while subtly emptying our pockets, all the while convincing us they are really socially concerned and altruistic.  Bunk.  Processed meats, plastics of most kinds, including bottled waters, most make-up and personal care products, any food product with pesticides among many others have no business going pink.

The sad thing is, breast cancer research actually is well-funded compared to other cancers, despite all this nonsense.  Why is that?  Sure, it may be in part due to “raising awareness,” but I’d argue it’s more likely because so many women get breast cancer.  About 1 in 8.  Breast cancer needs a lot of funding because so many women get it, but also keep in mind, many of those women survive to fight, to walk, to raise money, and even to speak out against Susan B. Komen and the rest of the Pinkwashing Industrial Complex.

When my mom was being treated, I was shocked by how little they could do for her.  Brain cancer is hard to treat for obvious reasons (you can’t just remove a part of the brain), but it also occurred to me that brain cancer victims were getting surgery, suffering through radiation and chemo, and then dying.  I didn’t make it to a brain cancer walk until mom was long dead, and let me tell you, there weren’t very many survivors there.  There isn’t anybody left to raise money.

So companies are trying to fight a disease that impacts a lot of people.  That’s noble, right?  Except it’s not.  Marketers know that if 1 in 8 women have had breast cancer, than everyone knows someone who’s had breast cancer, thus everyone is conceivably likely to be drawn to pink.  Furthermore, marketers know women tend to do a lot of the buying for households.  Really, breast cancer tic tacs?  Artificially flavored?  Stuff that makes food PINK – not good for you!  Breast cancer nail polish, now there’s a fine natural product for you!   What do you suppose is in this lip gloss that will supposedly allow teenage girls to “give cancer the kiss off!”  And don’t even get me started on the use of the color pink itself, please people!

This is not at all to say breast cancer should not be well-funded.  I think we need to stop blindly buying pink and instead educate ourselves more about cancer and the bill we are being sold.  We need to demand to know what proportion of that up-charge a company is actually donating, if anything.  We need to start reading the find print, or at the very least, take the money we save buying pink, and send it elsewhere.  The work has been done for us.  Charity Navigator rates charities of every kind you can imagine, including cancer research and support.  You can make an online donation faster than you can say “save the ta-tas.”

I used to feel guilty for not be swayed by pink, and for feeling mildly annoyed when products were “pink for breast-cancer awareness.”  I now realize my vague irritation was warranted, because I was being duped.  We all are.  I was feeling guilt for not paying for pink like it’s my civic duty or something.  But that’s what they want us to believe, isn’t it?

Copyright 2012,, All Rights Reserved.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Lyla Cicero

One thought on “Breast Cancer Awareness Bacon (Pinkwashing for Profit)

  1. Pingback: On the radio « Speaker's Corner in the ATX (scATX)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *