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.
You are right! What a terrrifically balanced piece – loved it!
Excellent post! To be honest, I had never given it much thought until now, but reading this has forced me to reevaluate the whole issue.
I’ve always had mixed feelings about the pink ribbon over commercialization and yet I wouldn’t be a vociferous opponent – your post pretty much sums up my own feelings on it all 🙂
I think the key thing is to be mindful of why the ribbons exist in the first place. Whatever criticism we level at it, the fact remains that the pink ribbon movement has done a lot to lift the taboo on breast cancer. Fifty years ago we would not have been having this discussion!
I also believe that there is a perception that breast cancer is overfunded. Maybe it is time for more focus on prostate and other underfunded cancers?
I have pancreatic cancer and I only wish this much attention were given to that deadly disease too!
I don’t have a problem with wearing pink but I do have a problem with however, is so many products using an image of a pink ribbon to increase their profits. How do we know how much if any of the proceeds they claim are going to bc research actually do? More accountability and transparency is called for.
Demanding some accountability and questioning the status quo is the only way we can move the fight forward. Pink was good when we needed to start the conversation, but I think the messaging has gone off course. Concrete results that will help those people living with the disease, and prevention are what’s needed now and that goes for ALL cancers. Success shouldn’t come from savvy marketing alone.
Thank you everyone for your kind words! To me, the most disturbing part about all this pink is the lack of actual progress that has been made on this wretched disease. In 1991, 43,000 American women died from it. This year, about 40,000 women will. Is that enough progress for all of the attention given to it? I certainly don’t think so.
However, who can blame a brother for donating his airline miles! That’s pure gold!
Katie, lovely piece.
Sometimes we just need to let go, if even for the sake of our own sanity. I would be of the suspicious mind also, questioning morals and intentions like you mention, but fair play to you deciding to leave well alone.
Worry causes stress, stress causes illness. I commend you on your decision to let be, when someone decides to show their solidarity, and also let be when the alternative is to embark on a path of accusations and blame, which could manifest into a tirade of looking for something to take frustrations out on.
Thank you and to Marie for sharing this
This is a well-thought out post that reminds us to not get too caught up in the “taking of sides” lest we lose sight of what is really important, working together to cure cancer.
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Thanks for this article Katie. I find myself grinding my teeth whenever I see the kleenex box with pink high heels and lipstick kisses patting itself on the back for supporting breast cancer something or other. I think you hit just the right tone of thoughtfulness while maintaining a graciousness about people’s intention. I’m going to put a link to this article on my blog tonight.
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