Breast Cancer Awareness: Have You Purchased Enough Pink?

The motivation for writing this post, was watching this 5-Hour Energy commercial on Hulu.com.

Major problems I have with this advertisement:

  • “. . . to empower women effected by breast cancer.” Men aren’t effected by breast cancer? Not only are men married to, are sons and brothers to women who have breast cancer, but men can get it too. We can’t forget that and we can’t turn this disease into a gendered one.
  • There are quite a few men in this ad convincing us that they like wearing pink (for a good cause, of course). The commercial takes on a paternalistic tone when only one woman says she supports the cause. It’s as though they’re taking a break from their busy, active lives to let know they’re saving women from a disease that they don’t have personal investment in.
  • 5-Hour Energy?? Really? There’s enough junk in this product to make me question the company’s commitment for healthier living. The jury is still out over whether all the ingredients are actually safe for consumption, but there are enough artificial sweetners and coloring, that should make you hesitate before purchasing. I might just stick with coffee, thank you.

October is that time again, where all retailers and products race for the cure and your wallets. Everything that wouldn’t normally be pink is now SUPER PINK and ready for your consumption. Like buckets of chicken!

Yay for heart disease!

Also, there’s O.P.I. Nail polish:

I hope this stuff doesn’t have formaldehyde in it!

So, what do you get out of buying pink? A product that’s cute, because it’s specifically produced for women. Which perpetuates an infantilization of women, even though this is technically a disease that can strike both sexes. Men and women who have or have had breast cancer, don’t want to be seen as baby girls. This is not the only way to describe their hard-fought struggle against a pretty serious disease. In fact, it de-fangs it by making it more palatable for the rest of us.

Setting aside how much of your money actually goes to funding breast cancer research and awareness, I’m interested in the commodification of pink. Simply buying stuff, just sets us up to remain complacently aware of the trauma in other people’s lives. It’s easier to deal with a pink stuffed teddy bear than to listen to a stage 4 cancer patient. Through buying stuff, we can put up a wall and distance ourselves from asking questions like: Just how is the cancer research going? How are you and your family coping with this disease?

All of the pink mascara wands in the world, probably wouldn’t help a mother who’s trying to get her life in order because she might die in a few months. Barbara Ehrenreich talked quite a bit about this in her book, Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. She admitted that there were days during her diagnosis, when she didn’t want to put on the cheerful face and be the warrior woman people expected her to be.

 Sometimes it’s okay to be depressed! Disease does that to people! Ehrenreich also discussed the rhetoric behind the word “survivor”. It’s as though you’re rewarded for your special survivor status. But what about the people who have died? Did they not work hard enough? Did they not have enough pink things? Were they just not positive enough? These are a lot of questions we need to ask ourselves the next time we’re shopping.

Supporting the awareness for breast cancer is admirable! Just make sure you’re conscious of all of your purchasing decisions. Following through with the necessary research behind every pink product you buy could be more useful in the fight for the cure. And remember that the disease and the people who suffer from it are bigger than the nail polish and buckets of chicken.

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