October has become a bittersweet month for me. Halloween is my favorite holiday (one point for October), but I had a hard time falling asleep last night because the whole town had that haunted feeling, with rattling window panes and howling wind (minus one), Juneau is all ours again (plus one). However, October also means it’s PINKWASHING MONTH (minus 50).
My grandma, who passed away around Christmas last year, had breast cancer before I could remember. She had a single mastectomy, so she had a fake, gel-filled prosthesis to wear in her bra. Once my sister and I popped it with an earring (because we were curious? because we were awful?). Breast cancer has been this looming thing for my whole life because, well, I’m probably at risk.
Last month I even got diagnostic imaging done to be sure a lump I felt in my arm pit was actually a perpetually swollen lymph node and not the end of my care-free life as a healthy person. I seem to be in the clear.
But this month, the aisles of the grocery stores will be pinker, with pink packaging and pink ribbons plastered on every household good from laundry detergent to cookies, and every other product, from t-shirts to watches. There’s been a belief over the years that corporations have taken advantage of, that pink ribbons and packaging imply some benefit to a breast cancer research fund or something — watch out, that’s just not true.
Unless packaging specifically states that some of the proceeds go to breast cancer research, it’s just pink for “awareness” or, as I like to call it, their own profits. Even if a company does give some of the proceeds to a breast cancer research foundation, it’s likely the percentage is negligible. And let’s also do our homework about what foundations we choose to give to, because sometimes it’s a very little amount that actually goes toward breast cancer reasearch.
You know what else will be pinker? Social media. A couple years ago, women were mysteriously changing their facebook statuses to “black and lacy” or “flesh-toned and full-coverage” if they were being too honest. Why? Because people received messages directing them to describe their bras in their facebook statuses for breast cancer awareness. It was everywhere. “Red satin,” and “leopard print,” but with no explanation and, more importantly, no tangible effect on the lives of those with breast cancer or the lives of those at risk.
This year, I’ve seen a graphic shared that encourages women to go braless on Oct. 13, to “free the tatas” for the sake of “breast cancer support.” I’ll tell you what this doesn’t support: breasts (that’s a joke, but also kind of serious), or any foundation or group that benefits breast cancer patients or research. And if you’re arguing it’s about awareness, I ask this: Awareness of what? Awareness of the exact size and texture of one’s areolae? No offense to dudes, but I bet a guy came up with this.
“Great idea, bruh, everyone loves to do something for breast cancer, so we can convince a bunch of women to wear no bras and we can ogle them and not have to use our imaginations so much!”
On Oct. 13, I urge you to wear or not wear bras, just as you normally do, and maybe do something productive toward the support of breast cancer patients, research or actual awareness.
Here are some options I recommend:
1. If you’re a woman, do a breast health check. They’re easy.
2. No matter who you are, consider giving a donation to one of my favorite local nonprofits, Cancer Connection, which provides direct support to locals experiencing cancer. This support comes in the way of one-on-one support, financial support to help pay for transportation, or providing use of the apartment the organization has in Seattle near the two hospitals most frequented by Juneau cancer patients. (http://www.cancerconnectionak.org/)
3. Be aware of what pink-washed things you are buying — if you see something that has a pink ribbon or packaging but doesn’t give even a penny to some sort of organization that supports research or patients, write them a letter and tell them they shouldn’t be trying to profit from breast cancer. Most importantly, don’t buy those products.
4. Call people out. If you see someone posting a stupid graphic on facebook in the name of “breast cancer support” — we don’t want to support breast cancer, rather research and patients — tell them to cut it out and do something real.
Let’s make October “Do Something Real” month, and every time we see someone do something that only pays lip service to helping, let’s make it a point to set aside a dollar to donate.