22. Pinking the Global Landscape, and the Global Market

Breast cancer is big news and big business in the United States, but it’s going global.


The statue of Christ the Redeemer is lit up in pink for the start of the national campaign “Pink October” to raise awareness for breast cancer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on October 5, 2010. (REUTERS/Sergio Moraes) www.boston.com

World landmarks lighted in pink in the name of breast cancer awareness include the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, Ontario; the River Danube’s historical Chain Bridge in Budapest, Hungary; the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Sydney, Australia; the Le Royal Hotel in Amman, Jordan; the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City; the ancient Mayan pyramids of Chichen Itza, in Mexico’s southern state of Yucatan; and the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

This year when the Brandenburger Gate in Berlin, Germany was lit up in pink as part of the annual “Festival of Lights” on October 11th, the stunning spectacle illuminated a pattern of exploitation on the part of commercial interests to encourage people to give up their Deutschmarks.

Berlin landmark Brandenburger Gate is illuminated in pink on October 11, 2011, on the eve of the Festival of Lights. Photos & captions: AFP, Reuters

After the gate lighting, the Potsdamer Platz in the center of Berlin held a pink ribbon gala featuring the largest pink ribbon in Germany (Oct. 18) as part of a full campaign strategy. Pink Ribbon Germany (i.e., Deutschland), a campaign focused on ‘awareness’ and early detection, featured events, promotional materials, pink ribbon ambassadors, a magazine, corporate sponsors, and lots of products.


In addition to the usual fare of t-shirts, balloons, and awareness messaging, Pink Ribbon Germany made breast cancer the new Haute couture. High style and fashion lend itself to upscale advertising and product placement. Estee Lauder (with 2011 revenues of $8.8 billion) was the cosmetics giant responsible for kicking off the extravaganza with the pink illumination of the Brandenburger gate.

What is it about breast cancer that makes people want to pretty it up with the trappings of femininity, perfection, and what is for some an unbearable lightness of being?

Not everyone is enamored with the new breast cancer fashion.

On October 17, 2011, seven women’s groups in Germany collaborated on a “Joint Declaration on Breast Cancer Awareness Month.” They argued that the illness has been transformed into a business model in which transnational corporations and companies outbid each other with public relations campaigns to grow their profits and consumer base. They reject the consumption-oriented treatment of the disease and the incessant advertising that frequently sexualizes and infantilizes women.

In addition, the Joint Declaration calls for:

  • Commitment to the prevention of breast and other cancers
  • Focus on evidence-based information and the clear dissemination of that information
  • Timely screening results
  • Economic security for the diagnosed and their families
  • Publicly funded research with long-term studies
  • Full disclosure of potential conflicts of interest from breast cancer organizations and fundraisers
  • Transparency about funds raised
  • Refusal on the part of breast cancer organizations to accept funds from companies that produce or distribute carcinogens


The women’s groups in Germany are going against the tide of industry and popular culture to demand that a society claiming to care breast cancer commit to honesty, accountability, transparency, and respect.

Their demands seem to beg the question of whether Estee Lauder’s World Pink campaign is really moving toward a world without breast cancer, or whether it is transforming the cause into the fun, trendy, popular rich girl who can rock stiletto heels, cleavage, and hot pink sash.



For more consciousness raising essays, check out “30 Days of Breast Cancer Awareness.”

Be Sociable, Share!

1 comment to 22. Pinking the Global Landscape, and the Global Market

  • naomi burton

    New York Artist Leonor Caraballo got breast cancer in 2008.

    Through that dark time, Leonor needed something tangible to hold onto then maybe it wouldn’t feel like some invisible, uncontrollable monster. Leonor wanted to see the ‘thing’ she was fighting against. Aside from pink ribbons, she found nothing. So, she took it upon herself to ‘visualize’ her tumor – and those of others.

    Her first step, with her partner Abou Farman, was to combine MRIs, medical imaging software and 3d printing to make art. There was such a positive response, Leonor took it a step further.

    Leonor created beautiful necklaces that are a concrete representation of tumors – an object that has power and usefulness, not something to run away from. It gives form to the formless enemy and can be worn as a real statement. It makes women feel stronger, representing something solid which has been identified and taken out.

    Pink is in many ways an infantilizing color, whereas this jewelry is a strong statement about taking responsibility for your own body. Each piece is unique, as are the women’s stories. It is an empowering symbol, almost like an evil eye, for the 21st century. Its eye catching design brings up all the discussions about screening and awareness in a direct, rather than escapist, way.


"women urged to get screened because it might save their lives. But that’s only 1 possible outcome, and it’s the least likely one" @cragcrest cutt.ly/jei8WJr

“Pink Ribbon Blues”

Paperback includes a new Introduction on fundraising controversies and a color insert with images of, and reactions to, the pinking of breast cancer (2012).

Praise » 

Flyer »

Press Release »

Hardback Cover »

Paperback Cover »

Request Review Copies »

Order the Paperback »


"Seeing clearly through the pink haze" Toronto Sun

*Sad face*: Being happy does not help you live longer" New Scientist

How should we address breast cancer when norms continually change? The Guardian

Your Fun 'No Bra Day' Photos Are Overshadowing Terminal Breast Cancer Patients Broadly

Backlash against “pinkwashing” of breast cancer awareness campaigns BMJ

Breast Cancer to Rise 50 Percent by 2030? Hey, Not So Fast! Health News Review

Breast Cancer: The Flaws in the Cause iafrica.com

How to Make the Biggest Impact With Your Breast Cancer Donations Money

The Very Pink, Very Controversial Business of Breast Cancer Awareness Racked

NFL, Pink Ribbons Not Enough to Win over Women CNN

3 Questions We Need to Answer for Breast Cancer Awareness Month Chronicle of Philanthropy

The problem with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month Women's Health Magazine

Pink Ribbon Envy: Living with an Uncool Cancer The Nib

A Year After Bombings, Some Say 'Boston Strong' Has Gone Overboard NPR, All Things Considered

Canadian Mammogram Study KCRW, NPR Affiliate

Time to Debunk the Mammography Myth CNN

Breast Cancer: Awareness, Activism & Pinkwashing NPR Charlotte

Buying Pink Al Jazeera's The Stream Watch »

The Pink Backlash Orlando Sentinel

Why Jolie's Test Costs So Much CNN

Preventative Mastectomies: Disease and Deception BlogTalkRadio

Angelina Jolie and the 'Breast Cancer Gene' KCRW

Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer The New York Times Magazine.

The Story Behind the Pink Ribbon Campaign Sisters Talk Radio

WISH Interview Women's International Summit for Health

Making Cancer About The Patient, Not The Body Part CBS Pittsburgh

Sexy breast cancer campaigns anger many patients USA Today

The perils of pink The Daily

Komen pink campaign creates breast-cancer blues for some Dallas Morning News

A yellow flag for the NFL's pink New York Daily

Gayle Sulik named #7 in SharecareNow’s Top 10 Online Influencers in Breast Cancer

Breast cancer cancer causes so easily derailed Philly Inquirer

Komen Charity Under Microscope for Funding, Science Reuters

The Fight Against Cancer - And Abortion? Salon.com

Susan G. Komen For the Cure defunds Planned Parenthood. In Deep with Angie Coiro

Amid Breast Cancer Month, Is there Pink Fatigue? NPR's All Things Considered

How is Breast Cancer Culture Undermining Women's Health? America’s Radio News Network

Pink Ribbon Culture and Breast Cancer The Kojo Nnamdi Show

The Big Business of Breast Cancer
Marie Claire

Does Breast Cancer Awareness Month Crowd Out Other Diseases? Slate

Pink Inc. Has Many Starting to See Red The Sacramento Bee

Get Your Pink Off Ottawa Citizen

Komen Pink Ribbons Raise Green and Questions USA Today