It’s Pinktober, and the pink product pushing is in full swing — products associated with the once-a-year national campaign, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. 2020’s new pink goods, readily available in stores and online, once again go beyond the traditional T-shirts, hats, and the ubiquitous pink ribbons.
The first ribbons were salmon-colored, handmade by 68-year-old breast cancer survivor Charlotte Haley back in 1991. She attached the ribbons to notes asking for donations to the National Cancer Institute. Now that ribbon is bright pink, and the official symbol for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Charlotte Haley’s grassroots campaign is today a corporate-led effort complete with mass-market pink-themed merchandising, from which there is no escape in October.
And there is increasing evidence that too little of the profits from the blush-hued booty ends up funding breast cancer research or researchers. Hence my annual rant about pinkwashing, a term coined by the advocacy group Breast Cancer Action, to describe companies using their pink marketing as a way to burnish their image.
I wondered if a global pandemic would be enough to stop the shameless merchandising. All together, now: Nah.
Perhaps most of the 2020 items are not as cringe-worthy as past products, like the tacky Kentucky Fried pink chicken buckets, or the crass Pepto Bismol-painted pink drill bits used in fracking. You can’t make this stuff up. By contrast, this year’s Pinktober merchandising seems a bit more subdued, even featuring useful products like COVID-19 masks, available, of course, in every shade along the pink spectrum.
But, there’s also a slew of pink beauty products — cosmetics millions of women say they are not wearing because they are working from home. Just as well, because Breast Cancer Action warns some of the ingredients in the products are cancer-causing.
I’m sick of the pink product grifters, but I also recognize the even greater need for donations to organizations like The Pink Fund, which supports women living with breast cancer — critical at a time when many have lost their jobs and health insurance because of the pandemic. And worse, millions of women have also postponed mammograms, breast ultrasounds, and MRIs and diagnostic biopsies because of the virus — leading to delayed cancer diagnoses.
So, I’m highlighting companies like Ralph Lauren. One hundred percent of its profits from the Live Love T-shirt goes into its Pink Pony Fund, with donations to international cancer charities. Clothing retailer Aerie is also donating 100% of the profits from a limited-edition T-shirt going to Bright Pink, a top-rated nonprofit focusing on prevention and early detection in young women.
One in eight women will get breast cancer during their lives. Funding the fight for the cause is critical to saving lives. But, stop the pink shilling in October. Think Before You Pink.