(artwork via http://www.moetleh.com/)
We all know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s hard to miss considering everything from detergent to NFL uniforms to Mike’s Hard Lemonade is Pepto-Bismal pink and sporting the (in)famous pink ribbon. I wish I could commend these breast awareness-raising campaigns and purported commitment to women’s health and the elimination of breast cancer but it is often misleading and disingenuous.
The documentary, Pink Ribbons Inc., directly addresses the “pink-washing” of essentially every part of our culture during the month of October and how very little of the proceeds of these pink products actually go to supporting breast cancer research. Pink Ribbons, Inc. breaks down everything from the “Race for the Cure” to well-intentioned “survivor” language to the manipulation of people’s pain for corporate gain. Did you know that the idea of the pink ribbon was stolen from a grassroots breast cancer awareness organizer and then patented by a corporation? They interview breast cancer research experts about where the money we raise is actually going (spoiler: we often don’t really know), along with women who are have stage IV breast cancer who are put off by companies capitalizing on their illness and language that makes them feel like failures since they likely won’t “beat” the disease. The film also points out that many of the products being sold with pink ribbons on them are full of cancer-causing agents. Make-up is one example (see the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics for more details), along with fried chicken and chemical-laden cleaning products. The full documentary is available on Netflix so you can draw your own conclusions.
Another piece that’s often missing from these breast cancer awareness campaigns is story-telling. I mean authentic story-telling, not corporate sponsored publicity. One amazing sister candidly shares her experience with breast cancer from diagnosis to chemotherapy in a 4-part series on Cosmo Latina. Meet author, filmmaker and educator Sofia Quintero. She talks about how her relationships with herself, her family, her appearance and many others transformed and evolved throughout this journey. Quintero explains how tending to her mastectomy scar has become a ritual of self-love. She is honest and courageous and expresses a complex reality that goes beyond sound bites and packaged news stories.
Note that although I am distrustful of the motives of major corporations and some “awareness” campaigns, I will not denounce them all. There is real action and consciousness-raising along with legitimate research happening to fight the spread of breast cancer. One example is Breast Cancer Action (BCA), a non-profit grassroots education and advocacy organization working to end the breast cancer epidemic. They are the creators of the “Think Before You Pink” campaign and illuminate the various issues that contribute to high breast cancer rates such as environmental contagions and social injustices. Instead of focusing on “the cure,” BCA is looking at the bigger intersectional picture around breast cancer and health disparities.
It is important that we as a global community share information about breast cancer and encourage each other to take care of our health. However, we must use a critical eye in analyzing where we are putting our energy and money to make sure that we are supporting efforts that truly help women instead of lining big business’s pockets.