Should we think before we pink?

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Most of us are aware that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It is virtually impossible to NOT see pink these days. Interestingly, the pink campaign is far removed from its origins in the early 1990’s, when Charlotte Haley used a peach-coloured ribbon to protest the glaring lack of research into cancer prevention. The cosmetics conglomerate Estée Lauder saw a marketing opportunity, and tried to buy the rights to use Haley’s ribbon, but she refused, having created the ribbon to inspire women to become politically active, not to sell products. The peach turned pink, and now we have thousands of pink products to choose from, including breath mints, footballs, perfume, vodka, and KFC. One night recently Estée Lauder bathed Parliament Hill in pink light as part of their Global Illuminations Initiative to raise money for breast cancer research, and Laureen Harper, our Prime Minister’s wife, was the company’s Pink Ribbon Ambassador.

On the face of it, purchasing pink might seem like a noble way to support a good cause. But growing numbers of people – including cancer prevention groups – are alarmed at this pink tidal wave of merchandise and they question whether buying pink actually works. They are saying, as Breast Cancer Action Montreal (BCAM) stated when launching their Alternatives to Pink campaign:  “It's time to move past pink-ribbon shopping to prevent breast cancer.”

Some of the critics argue that sponsoring companies may be pinkwashing – purporting to care about breast cancer, while their pink-ribboned products, such as cosmetics and deep fried chicken, are possibly linked to causes of cancer. They also note that buyers should beware: not all of their money spent on pink products is actually donated to cancer organizations. They urge people to ask critical questions before they buy pink products, such as what research, treatment, or prevention the money is going to, and what kinds of products they really want to support.

BCAM and other groups maintain that the pink campaigns have been too focussed on detection and have resulted in only minimally fewer deaths than before. They argue there should be much more focus on breast cancer prevention, and that people who want to support breast cancer research would be better off donating directly to prevention-focussed organizations.

For more information on critiques of the pink ribbon campaigns, look at the following links:

News and commentary

The pink-ribbon backlash (Globe and Mail)

The downside of awareness campaigns (L.A. Times)

Breast cancer a disease - Not a market opportunity (New Brunswick Media Co-op)

Welcome to Cancerland by Barbara Ehrenreich (Harper’s Magazine)

Pink-washing (CBC radio)

Interview with Samantha King, author of 'Pink Ribbons, Inc.' (Maclean’s)

Pink Ribbon Fatigue (NY Times)

Pink Washing the Dangers of Bottled Water (Huffington Post)

How "Breast Cancer Awareness" Campaigns Hurt  (Center for Media and Democracy)

Pinkwashing Blog



Alternatives to Pink (Breast Cancer Action Montreal)

Take Action! Ask Avon to Sign the Compact for Safe Cosmetics! (FemmeToxic)

Think Before You Pink (Breast Cancer Action San Francisco)


Some organizations focused on breast cancer prevention

Breast Cancer Action Montreal

Prevent Cancer Now

Breast Cancer Action San Francisco

Breast Cancer Fund