The Problem With Pink: Breast Cancer Awareness Month and PinkwashingCecily Kellogg
I died my hair pink for the first time somewhere around 1983 (it gets a bit fuzzy in my old age). Back then in Michigan the only thing to dye it was Kool-Aid, which meant my hair bled whenever it rained (and it rained a lot in Michigan). When I turned 40 I decided to celebrate by going pink once again, and I’ve loved it and kept it ever since.
But each October everywhere I go I get asked: did I dye my hair to raise awareness about breast cancer? The answer is no, I didn’t. I have it all the time (although I love the ladies that go pink for October).
But it makes me think, again, about pinkwashing.
Before I discuss this further, let me make one thing clear: I absolutely support fundraising for breast cancer research, and I’m aware that the adoption of the pink ribbon has revolutionized the attitudes toward breast cancer and that it’s highly likely that the successful fundraising efforts have contributed to the most recent breakthroughs in the science and treatment of breast cancer.
What I (and many others) object to is corporations and brands slapping a pink label on their products (like the infamous case of the gun pictured) and riding the coattails of the pink ribbon to an increase in sales. This is called pinkwashing.
In 2010, Dansko shoe company sold pink ribbon clogs. Consumers likely thought that a portion of their purchase of pink ribbon clogs went to a breast cancer program. However, purchase of the pink ribbon clogs was not connected to Dansko’s donation—none of the portion of the sales went toward their already set donation of $25,000to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. No matter whether or not you bought the clogs, their donation was the same.
Therein lies the rub, so to speak. Without any regulation or connection between a pink ribbon and an organization, we really have almost no way of knowing if your action actually contributes to a donation.
Today I got a press release from the clothing store dressbarn asking me to Paint the Country Pink. It said:
Simply select your state and swipe! dressbarn will donate $1 to the American Cancer Society (up to $100,000 in total). As more people paint a given state, the “pinker” it will become on the map and the more dressbarn contributes to this vital cause.
But the question remains: would dressbarn be giving this money to the American Cancer Society anyway, regardless of this campaign? How can we get that information; it’s not on the website anywhere. In addition, the American Cancer Society researches many other forms of cancer (rightly so); how much of that $100K is actually going just to breast cancer? In addition, the website is promoting “Ruby,” a stuffed dog that you can buy in the store with the proceeds going to the American Cancer Society to “support breast cancer initiatives.” So does this mean the site is ultimately designed to get us into the store?
Other pink shopping: don’t be afraid, just check the label and ask yourself a couple of simple questions like I do: How much of what I’m spending on this goes to charity? Is it a charity I recognize? Do the contents of this product contribute to cancer (check out these pages on Eli Lilly and Estee Lauder for examples)? And last am I buying this product just because it has a pink ribbon on it — and if so, wouldn’t it be better to just send a check directly? If the answer to the last question is yes, put it down, my friends, and send a check for that amount when you get home to the charity of your choice. Please.
This October, I hope you think before you pink. Although if you’re doing the pink hair thing, go for it. I promise it’s awesome.