My childhood friend Donna would be in her early 70s by now. Donna was the daughter of one of my mother’s best friends — someone years older whom I admired. I often wonder what she would have done with her life had she lived. Donna was one of the first people — and at 37 years old, the first young woman — I knew to die from breast cancer. I pay tribute to her every October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, by pulling the curtain on the crass and silly pinkatization of a serious movement to eliminate a deadly disease.
Breast Cancer Awareness has always been an urgent mission. And it’s even more urgent this year because a recent study shows breast cancer is on the rise in young women under 50. The ten-year study was published in the medical journal JAMA Network Open.
In 1991, breast cancer survivor Charlotte Haley was disturbed about the lack of public knowledge about breast cancer. Haley created a public campaign and a salmon-colored ribbon to symbolize the movement for a cure. Her handmade ribbon and grassroots effort gave way to a pink ribbon when the cosmetics company Estee Lauder took over the campaign using its corporate power to elevate the cause and boost fundraising.
All good until the commemorative merchandising blew up into today’s overwhelmingly commercialized "Pinktober." Breast Cancer Awareness Month has become a behemoth of pink merchandise — of which just a small percentage of sales is donated for research and treatment. Products can also serve as a pink fig leaf for companies covering up their involvement in cancer-causing industries. Companies like 3M called out by the Breast Cancer Action advocacy group for “pink-washing” its use of PFAS chemicals by marketing pink stethoscopes.
Typically, during this month, I point out the spectrum of blush- and fuchsia-colored ridiculous products sold for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. No more — I’ve adopted a new strategy. I’m only highlighting items from companies that donate 100% of sales to research diagnosis and treatment.
I’m pleased this year to discover more 100 percenters, including Tom Ford’s $60 pink-brown lipstick, Apaya's $300 Anastasia Pink handbag, and jewelry designer Paula Rosen’s Pink is an Attitude three-piece necklace collection with 100% of the $220 sales price going to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, which provides early detection screenings including mammograms.
I’m all too aware that one in eight women will get breast cancer in their lifetime — a stubbornly fixed statistic that now includes more women in their 30s. I want Breast Cancer Month’s fundamental mission to raise money for a cure to be successful. But I’m sick of the annual pink palooza of products that don’t serve the cause. Let’s stop it. We can all make sure we only donate to the researchers, organizations, and yes retailers that have documented support. Think Before You Pink.