The Harm of Pinkwashing

BY Anni Aluise


Every October there is an influx of pink ribbon themed products that line shelves in stores far and wide. Everything from pizza boxes, to car dealerships, to entire professional sports teams are decked out in pink ribbons during the Pinktober fest. The start of October 1st can often bring pain and dread for many women living with breast cancer, and for the families of those who have lost people due to breast cancer. The pink ribbon embodies the survivor, and hope for a cure. Sadly, many women living with breast cancer do not fit into this mold, nor will they live to see a cure.

When the pink ribbon was first formed by the Komen foundation in the 1980’s it was meant to bring awareness to breast cancer, and it has been successful in that mission. For two decades breast cancer awareness has increased to the point where any given person not only knows what breast cancer is, but they likely know someone who has had it, still has it, or has unfortunately died from it. The National Breast Cancer Foundation reports the sad truth that 252,710 new women will be diagnosed with breast cancer within the United States. This means about 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lifetime.

Going beyond breast cancer awareness, the pink ribbon over time became a marketing symbol which allows companies to profit off of the disease. Some pink ribbon products claim to be charitable but often don’t list the information as to where the money goes, how the money helps, or even what portions of the proceeds might go to an organization. Most money raised for breast cancer that is actually utilized goes towards breast cancer education or awareness, early detection, and prevention measures. The truth is we no longer need breast cancer awareness, we are way past this. The focus needs to shift from awareness to education, and from prevention to managing the disease.

No matter how many millions and billions of dollars that is pumped into breast cancer research the fact remains that there is no cure for breast cancer. The fact remains that there is no known reason why the cancer appears. And the fact remains that no one is truly ever cancer free from breast cancer. According to Metavivor, an organization who donates 100% proceeds to Stage IV metastatic research, 1 in 3 people who are diagnosed with early stage breast cancer will eventually develop Stage IV metastatic breast cancer at some point later in their life. This is a terminal diagnosis and can happen decades after being deemed cancer free. In addition, over the last 40 years there has been no decrease in breast cancer occurrence or death rates even with the focus on breast cancer awareness and research.

The breast cancer rates aren’t budging, but this doesn’t mean we should stop supporting breast cancer research. As consumers, young professionals, and the future leaders of tomorrow; we need to think beyond the pink. Next time you pick up a pink ribbon product to buy, ask yourself where is the money going? Do any portions of the proceeds go towards anything breast cancer related, and if so, what? If your intention is to donate money, I encourage you to find an organization that is transparent in their mission and aligns with your own ideas on how the money could be spent. For example, some people might want to donate money directly towards people living with breast cancer struggling to pay for treatment vs someone wanting the money to go towards studies or research in a specific area.

The pink ribbon has brought an unprecedented amount of awareness to breast cancer, and has made money off peoples suffering along the way. But awareness does not mean education, and the conversation needs to turn into how to help those with the direst needs, the 113-people dying every day from breast cancer. The overshare of pink ribbon products distracts people from the true epidemic at hand and what is being directly done to affect it.

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