It’s that time of year again — time for my annual review of the pink commercial explosion created in the name of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We’re midway through “Pinktober” when retailers of all kinds are inspired to drown us in a sea of pink hued products. Products that are too often only tangentially connected to the cause, and others that are just plain absurd. Worse, every year there seems to be more blush colored merchandising that is little more than a scam; products created for the sole purpose of riding the annual pink wave all the way to the bank — dropping a few coins in the kitty as cover.
It was never supposed to be this way. Originally — back in 1991— 68-year-old Charlotte Haley, a breast cancer survivor, crafted peach colored ribbons which she attached to notes soliciting donations to the National Cancer Institute. She turned down efforts to commercialize her very personal effort. But it happened anyway when Self Magazine editor Alexandra Penney partnered with Estee Lauder’s Evelyn Lauder to create the first nationwide pink ribbon campaign featuring a bright pink ribbon. Now more than 25 years later, the focus of Breast Cancer Awareness Month is overshadowed by Pinktober merchandising.
Crowding retail shelves this year is the full array of pink bracelets, pins, and tee-shirts, and of course ribbons. Also available — several high end products from retailers pledging to donate a specific percentage of profits. For example, Nina Runsdorf’s Pink Topaz and diamond flip ring sells for nearly$4,000. 15 percent of each purchase is donated. 25 percent from pink related Ralph Lauren items including hats, crew neck sweaters and a $798 Pink Moto Jacket all part of Lauren’s Pink Pony campaign.
What really bothers me are those companies that use Breast Cancer Awareness Month to polish up their image — even publicly supporting the fight against breast cancer while making products that cause cancer. It’s a phenomenon the organization Breast Cancer Action calls “pinkwashing”.
So, this year I went looking for organizations whose pink product donations are targeted and specific and might really do some good. The regional fundraising effort called Bakes for Breast Cancer, now in its 5th year of sponsoring a month-long fundraiser. Bakes works like an old-fashioned bake sale — area companies agree to allow workers to bring in baked goods that their colleagues purchase by dropping donations in a collection jar. This October, all the money raised by Bakes for Breast Cancer will support one breast cancer researcher, Dr. Shom Goel at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
There have been some great strides in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, but it remains the second leading cause of cancer death among women. The ubiquitous pink merchandise seems disconnected from that reality. Support breast cancer awareness and the research that can make a difference, but think before you pink.