The Year of 'Pink Fatigue,' 'Depinkification,' 'Pinkwashing'

October is over. Phew. Not that the month itself is bad — I'd vote it the best in New England. It's the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month thing. Consider this month's O magazine: its glossy pages include a two-page breast-cancer spread for dressbarn and full page pink-ribboned ads by Ralph Lauren, Vera Bradley, Hanes, kmart and Ford's "warriors in pink."

Kind of...much. Then there was the whole KFC pink bucket thing, and the NFL halftime pink ribbon...

This year, though, even as the pink crescendoed, so did the backlash. Alicia Staley, a Boston-based blogger and health activist on WEGO Health, put up posts that included "Thinking Pink and Seeing Red" and a "Major Pinkification Alert" about a new Facebook game that touted itself as "Like Farmville — for boobs."

Mainstream media also called attention to the pink problem, from yesterday's Boston Globe column, "Turning Pink Into Green" to a New York Times blog, "Pink Ribbon Fatigue," which also mentions a new book, “Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women’s Health.”

I asked Alicia to sum up the problem. She replied:

Basically, the pink ribbon campaigns have been very successful, almost too successful.  We live in a fast-paced world, where everything happens at light speed.  Even our charitable efforts are in overdrive, and stripped down to the base essentials.  It's down to a click, or a purchase.  The proliferation of the pink ribbon only serves to reinforce this mindset.  "One click and I'm done with my charitable efforts"  We've been fooled into thinking that a simple click on the computer or the purchase of a bucket of fried chicken will cure cancer.  As a breast cancer survivor, it's hard to see efficacy in a campaign when we're still seeing breast cancer effect so many lives.

So have we reached a tipping point?


Yes, absolutely. I really think we've hit the tipping point for Breast Cancer Awareness month. I've heard from many people this month who feel the movement has lost its way. The breast cancer community needs to figure out what that next phase will be beyond awareness. What's the natural progression in this movement? Prevention? The next few years will be difficult as the community figures out how to move past awareness. There's still some very serious issues that need to be addressed - we need to make sure people have access to care and get proper treatment. Now that the majority of society is aware of breast cancer on some level, we need to get down to the difficult business of making some serious progress towards curing and ultimately, preventing this disease. We need to look around our own neigborhoods and communities and make sure we start helping each other toward some common goals - and health has to be the priority. I think the best thing announced during October this year was the National Breast Cancer Coalition's new initiative "The Breast Cancer Countdown" They've set a deadline to find the cure for breast cancer by 2020. This is an excellent idea and I think you'll hear more about this campaign.

I get alot of questions on how to honor breast cancer awareness month. Do you know someone who lost a mother, sister, wife, or daughter to the disease? Or even a husband, brother, or son? - Men get breast cancer too. Take time out during the month of October to send them a card, or send a small gift to their children - some small gesture to let them know you still think of the family member they lost to breast cancer. In some cases, that will mean much more than purchasing a bag of potato chips with a pink ribbon.

This program aired on November 1, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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Carey Goldberg Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.



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