Guest Blog: Pink Intentions

Today’s guest blog post comes from Katie Ford Hall, author of the Uneasy Pink blog.  As we come to the end of breast cancer awareness month, her post ties in nicely with discussions on this blog about the pinkification of this month. I know you will enjoy reading Katie’s balanced take on the debate.

It’s Breast Cancer Awareness month, but I guess you already knew that. This year more than any other, I have noticed people are speaking out about pinkwashing, the use of pink ribbons to sell products and questioning the effectiveness of awareness at all. I’m one of those people. 

 I’ll be honest with you. I’ve never been a fan of pink. In my entire adult life, I think I have only owned one pink sweater and one pink pair of shoes, and that was back in the 1980s when pink and black were sort of cool. I’m reluctant to join groups too; sororities and support groups never appealed to me. So the idea that I became a member of the sisterhood of the pink ribbon was immediately suspicious to me.

But in 2008, my breast cancer diagnosis sent shock waves through me, my family and friends. There is a feeling of helplessness that comes to the community; no one knows the best way to show support. Once I was diagnosed, the pink ribbon gifts started arriving. I got purses and backpacks, lapel pins and socks, jewelry and pens. I recognized that the gifts were gestures of love and solidarity even if they made me a little uneasy. Plus, at the time I focused my energy on evicting cancer from my body.

A year later, after my treatment was finished, I devoted some time to researching the pink phenomenon. Organizations like Breast Cancer Action and the National Breast Cancer Coalition opened my eyes. I learned about companies that put pink ribbons on products that might actually increase the risk of breast cancer and how astonishing little progress we’ve made toward curing and preventing breast cancer.

Once I looked behind that curtain I became increasingly jaded, eyeing every pink ribbon with suspicion. At the same time, I had an impressive collection of pink ribbon products, purchased and given to me as an expression of nothing but love. The more I thought about my quandary, the angrier I became with companies who exploit our fears and feelings of helplessness. But what to do with these items? 

Just recently, my brother told me that he donated all of his airline miles to a breast cancer organization that helps transport patients to treatment centers. He made the donation in my honor. My heart went to battle with my head. My soured outlook wanted to know what organization was doing this, how the miles are being used and who is actually benefitting. I gently asked what organization it was. He didn’t know and seemed to bristle slightly at what might have appeared to be a lack of gratitude. 

I realized then that it really didn’t matter. Our modern world seems to push us toward taking sides, but I like to live in the gray middle. Yes, I will continue to fight for some pink ribbon sanity but my principles are just that, my own chosen battle. There’s more to life and sometimes it’s just better to say “thank you.” It’s more than just the adage of “it’s the thought that counts.” Gratitude is a choice. Sometimes it’s better to put down the weapons and dwell in the generosity and love you are blessed enough to receive.