Time flies by and this is already the 4th time I am experiencing October as a breast cancer patient (already?!). While I was bracing myself for all the pink ribbon madness that comes with October being the breast cancer awareness month, I finally decided to get something out of my chest –  pink ribbons suck!

Don’t get me wrong, it is great to spread awareness about an illness and if seeing pink ribbons everywhere reminds women to examine their breasts or make mammograph appointments the same way moustaches make guys touch their balls more thoroughly in November (prostate and testicular cancer awareness month), then great! (On the other hand, cancer doesn’t really follow calendar so doing these things once a year can barely be considered a proper prevention.)

But quite frankly, as a breast cancer patient, I am dreading the whole pink ribbon epidemic.

What annoys me about it more and more every year is the fact that breast cancer and its awareness is being exploited and used to make profit and there are companies benefiting from people’s good intentions and naivety. Because if pink ribbon is really good at something, it is selling. These companies (KFC is probably the one I find the most laughable) put pink ribbons on the packaging of their products, promise to give part of the profit for the good cause (sometimes even dare to call it ‘cure’) and hope they win over customers who buy these things thinking they did a good deed. But most of these companies are not completely transparent about how much money goes to charity and which organisations the money goes to. The donations are usually only a tiny percentage of the profit and the real reason those companies engage in the whole breast cancer awareness is obviously just a “cause-related marketing”. They are hardly making any real impact on the fight against breast cancer. In fact, as the pink ribbon icon is not a registered mark, any company can plant it on their packages without donating a single cent, second or care to the breast cancer foundation.

This whole issue has grown bigger over the years and there is actually a term for all of this: pinkwashing.

I realize that a person whose life has not been influenced by breast cancer might not notice this, but I see pink ribbons everywhere. They make me cringe because they stigmatize breast cancer patients and they never fail to remind me that there is something wrong with me, just in case I forgot for a moment. Maybe my negativity towards them is also caused by the fact that pink ribbons are being used by non-profit organisations focusing on promoting early stages of breast cancer but often forgetting those living with metastatic breast cancer which makes patients like me really isolated but that’s a whole another story. The bottom line is, in my eyes pink ribbon is nowadays a marketing sign.

First, I noticed the pink madness when I was living in the United States. The ribbons were present on detergents, food packaging, chewing gums, ice cream stands, tampons (of course), socks, even on rollerblades my friends and I rented on Venice beach! I already had breast cancer back then and I felt like it must have been some kind of a joke.

But now it does not matter where I am anymore, Pinktober got international. I walked from a hospital to the bus stop this morning and saw an Avon stand collecting donations. Then I went to buy my coffee and staff in the coffee shop had pink ribbons pinned to their uniforms and then passed a lingerie store that had a huge pink ribbon on their window. Maybe I am oversensitive about this, but it just too much in my face.

So why am I writing all of this?

While I am criticizing the awareness month, I realize it has two sides. If ladies are encouraged and reminded to do regular check-ups, awesome. But the fact that the charity symbol has become a corporate logo is not okay and by blindly buying products promoting breast cancer awareness, we are not being part of the cure, we are just throwing money away to propaganda.

Luckily there are still ways to support the good cause and help stop using breast cancer as a business instead – a project of Breast Cancer Action called “Think Before You Pink” made a list of questions we might ask ourselves before spending money on a product stamped with pink ribbons (and similar ones could be applied to other illnesses as well):

  1. How much from our purchase is really getting donated?
  2. Where is the money going? Research, helping patients…? If research, is it supporting modern types of treatments such as immunotherapy instead of harsh chemotherapies? Is the research also focused on metastatic breast cancer that generally gets only 3 % of total funding?
  3. Does the company sell or provide services that are beneficial (e.g. natural)?
  4. Is there an organisation we could choose and donate to based on my personal preferences and buy a product without letting cause-marketing influence us?

Thank you for making it all the way here and if you are interested to know more about pinkwashing, I recommend watching the Neflix’ documentary “Pink Ribbons, Inc. ”, that explains the whole pink craziness and several big scandals regarding Pinktober. It mentions the world’s largest “breast cancer awareness” charity organizations such as Susan G Koman or Avon, a cosmetic brand that is very active in terms of breast screening but still uses carcinogen-containing components in their cosmetics.

To wrap it up, here are some examples of above mentioned pinkwashing products:



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