Seeing pink over cancer promotions

Hey, did you happen to notice that it’s Breast Cancer Awareness month? Yep — it’s practically a new holiday season, shuffling in pink trinkets and fuzzy survivor stories before the Christmas rush. All the major companies are encouraging us to fight cancer through commerce.

The thing is, I was aware of breast cancer before it became fashionably pink. My dad’s sister was diagnosed in the early ’90s, back when the death of Jackie O. was still stinging. Aunt Janet was incredibly brave throughout the whole ordeal, and every year she raises money for breast cancer research. Janet is collecting sponsors and walking 60 miles at the age of 60 for the cause. She had trained for months to physically and metaphorically win the breast cancer battle. Now that is the type of commitment that we should honor during Breast Cancer Awareness Month!

But it’s not easy to walk 60 miles or dredge up significant support pledges. As a result, companies are catering to our philanthropic desires with an increasing array of pink products. You can apply pink ribbon make-up, sport a pink Cartier watch or take home a pink Dyson vacuum cleaner for $399. Despite the mass appeal of these products, Time’s October 16 “Pink Ribbon Promises” article by Stacie Stukin, shows that companies often donate miniscule percentages of sales or set tight caps on “pink payouts.” seems like everyone has jumped on the bandwagon: gossip magazines are selling tight “Save the Tatas” T-shirts and Hooters is even sponsoring “Save Our Hooters” fundraisers. Pink marketing is the biggest gambit to hit the U.S. since Tickle-Me Elmo! And while participating in this Pepto-hued promotional craze may ease our minds, it will actually have detrimental long-term effects.

One problem with breast cancer merchandising is the sense of complacency it creates. Buying pink frou-frou houseslippers that include a $2 donation to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation may make you feel like a real do-gooder, but you’d make a significantly higher impact by wearing socks and writing a check directly to BCRF for the $40 price tag. And instead of sending in Yoplait’s pink yogurt lids for a 10 cent donation, why not send the 39 cents it would cost for a stamp directly to the Komen Foundation?

The most unsettling component of the breast cancer bandwagon is the inevitable backlash it will create. During a phone conversation last night, my best friend admitted that she was annoyed by all the breast cancer buzz. And though it makes us feel guilty, we can’t stand to buy another pale pink charm bracelet or keychain!

Public awareness is important, but we cannot allow marketing frivolities to distract us from the terrible reality of breast cancer. Not everyone lives. Some struggle through debilitating chemo sessions. Some lose their breasts and a very personal aspect of their femininity. We need to see beyond the stylish ads and realize that shopping doesn’t make us pink-ribbon heroines. But standing up to a harrowing disease and walking 60 miles at the age of 60 just might qualify.

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