Breast Cancer®, the America's Sweetheart of deadly, disfiguring diseases that it is, inspires a deluge of pink junk for sale every October. Some of that pink junk, in addition to being ugly, cloying, and infantilizing, contains chemicals that have been linked to boobs full of tumors. No Awareness™ like the Awareness™ that comes with, uh, actually having Breast Cancer®, right? (swan dives onto subway tracks, directly in path of pink branded Breast Cancer® Awareness™ train.)
For years, Breast Cancer Action has valiantly stood up against pinkwashing, a term they coined to refer to insidious Breast Cancer® cause marketing that doesn't actually do anything but exploit people's good intentions to at best pad corporate pockets and at worst convince people to expose themselves to carcinogenic chemicals For The Cause. This year, BCAction is focusing its October campaign on pushing for more government regulation of carcinogenic products, and more testing of chemicals for consumer safety by updating the Toxic Substance Control Act, a law that hasn't been updated since 1976. Prevention! Sounds like a common-sense, helpful approach to fighting a disease that still affects millions of women in the US, right? EVERYONE WILL GO FOR THIS, RIGHT?!
Hahahahahahahhahahahahahahah (laughs ruefully until out of oxygen, takes deep breath)— No. Needless to say, BCAction is a bit of a David compared to the corporate and government Goliaths who stand to benefit from the free-for-all chemical status quo. Here are just a few of the dozens of exhausting examples of PINK products that hurt more than they help.
- Susan G. Komen For The Cure caught flack when they marketed Promise Me perfume 2 years ago. Promise Me, in addition to smelling like aerosolized sadness, contained coumarin, toluene, galaxolide, and oxybenzone, each of which is classified as a harmful chemical. Once word spread on the carcinogenic Cancer Perfume, Komen promised to reformulate. They didn't, however, pull existing stock from stores.
- Procter & Gamble and Walmart have formed an unholy union with the Cleaning for a Reason campaign, which markets pink limited edition Swiffer products. Swiffer cloths contain various chemicals that would be regulated under an updated TSCA.
- Step right, up, step right up, internet denizens, for a line of Estée Lauder makeup you can buy in support of A Cure without even leaving your fetid apartment. Unfortunately, Estée Lauder Pure Color lipstick contains BHT, which has been linked to cancer.
- This month, Danica Patrick is driving a special PINK car for AWARENESS. Car fumes have been linked to heart and lung cancer.
- Estée Lauder-owned brand Bobbi Brown is also promoting BREAST CANCER AWARENESS. That brand's Blush contains silica and titanium dioxide, which can cause cancer by inhalation.
- Chevrolet has promised to donate $10 from each tests drive on select dates in October and November to an American Cancer Society program. Problem is that many, many chemicals involved in the manufacture of cars demonstrably cause cancer. In fact, women who work in automobile manufacturing are much more likely to develop breast cancer than women who do not.
- Mike's Hard Lemonade has developed a special PINK flavor for Breast Cancer® Awareness month. Alcohol consumption can cause cancer.
- Clinque! Et tu?! A portion of profits from sales of Dramatically Different face lotion are being donated to a Breast Cancer® charity. Unfortunately, Dramatically Different contains propylparaben, a hormone disruptor (hormone disruptors, as a class of chemicals, have been linked to breast cancer).
- Italian fast/junk food purveyor Fazoli's has a special Breast Cancer® Awareness promotion going on right now. The link between obesity and breast cancer is well-established.
Ad nauseum. Ad infinitum. Companies have figured out a fail-proof formula to sell guilt back to consumers without being questioned, and it's hurting public health.
But confronting pinkwashing isn't easy. A source who works in breast cancer advocacy expressed dismay over the current state of pink shit saturation, saying that it's tough to take on an entity that masquerades as a charity because people really want to be helpful in the face of breast cancer's incomprehensible unfairness. They want the money they're donating to fix it. And telling people who just want to help that they're actually hurting isn't something that's generally well-received (for more on that see: my email inbox).
But the self esteem and feelings of the cancer free aren't worth the years breast cancer research has been set back by organizations that divert well-intentioned funds from organizations that could actually make a difference in preventing breast cancer. And the proof, as they say, is in the pudding.
Not only is the Breast Cancer® industry diverting funds from more useful organizations that focus on prevention rather than wildly swinging the constantly regenerating Medusa head of breast cancer, it's overshadowing other, equally as important causes that merit just as much attention. For example, did you know that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month? I didn't, until I read this piece by Ann Friedman at The Cut last week; thanks to the pink coating over all things October, people just go right on ignoring domestic violence, something that happens every day, right under our noses (it affects 1/3 of women globally, according to the World Health Organization). And did you know that heart disease kills five times as many women annually as breast cancer? And that in the years since the Susan G. Komen Foundation made Breast Cancer® into a big star, the organization has raised $1.5 billion "for breast cancer" and the rate of both breast cancer diagnosis and breast cancer death has barely budged?
Breast cancer is messy, complicated, confusing, and barely understood; there are several "types" and therefore no one "cure." But that hasn't stopped the Breast Cancer® industry from focusing disproportionately on treating and "curing" cancer rather than preventing it. The tinfoil hat-wearing off-the-grid-raised capitalism skeptic in me suspects that funneling people into expensive treatments is much more business-friendly than pushing for stricter government regulation on the chemicals that those corporations use to manufacture the products they sell. And how perfect a business model is one that sells both the cause of and the cure to a disease?
Maybe we should ask Nancy Brinker, erstwhile CEO of Susan G. Komen For The Cure. Last year, Nancy Brinker made $684,000, which is more than the CEO of the Red Cross — an organization 10 times larger than Komen — made. Awareness™!