As I was reading a status update about an article on breast cancer advocacy in USA Today, the usual pink advertising lining my Facebook sidebar caught my attention. The advertising algorithms, clearly unrelated to purchasing patterns, have determined that this Facebook user (a.k.a. Pink Ribbon Blues) has an interest in pink ribbon paraphernalia. With thumbnail images to attract attention, they read:
- Enter to win a SKIL pink iXO Cordless Screwdriver.
- Show your support for breast cancer awareness with this sparkling bracelet.
- Get your free mastectomy catalog, featuring the latest in fashion from leading brands.
- Support PINK with tees, stickers, and more!
- And my favorite–rivaled only by the WILL TO SURVIVE advertisement offering Free Wills for Breast Cancer Survivors– is the Thomas Kinkade Breast Cancer Support Lady Figurine from the the Bradford Exchange.
The “handcrafted, hand-painted Victorian-style pink lady inspired by Thomas Kinkade artistry, with a portion of the proceeds donated to help fight breast cancer,” is marketed as a Vision of Hope. It is “specially designed to raise breast cancer awareness,” and is “certainly the perfect breast cancer awareness gift.”
I know some who would argue that “Pink Lady” is the antithesis of such claims. Perhaps even an empty show of support, a superficial vision of awareness, a useless product from a pink ribbon industry that markets hope but lacks vision. Particularly if that vision is to eradicate breast cancer. Yet there she is in all her pink glory.
The contradiction was stark as I moved on to read that USA Today article, Breast cancer survivor group is a social movement (Oct. 23, 2012). The piece was about a new form of breast cancer advocacy, the Tweet Chat Breast Cancer Social Media (#BCSM), which uses Twitter as a platform to change the national conversation on breast cancer, to take back the pink ribbon from marketers (those very people who conveniently target my Facebook page and other niche markets), and to plant the seeds of social change.
Facilitators Jody Schoger, Alicia Staley, and Dr. Deanna Attai, and #BCSM participants who tune in regularly are committed to reshaping the content and texture of breast cancer advocacy. They support each other, discuss personal experiences and medical issues, evaluate scientific evidence, and actively address the pinkwashing, commercialization, and pink fatigue that co-opts mainstream breast cancer activism. Social change begins by paying attention, investigating patterns, sharing observations, and taking meaningful actions within a collaborative community. #BCSM shows that this can happen live, in only 130 characters at a time.
My friend Rachel Cheetham Moro was a regular participant in #BCSM. She also wrote about her experiences with breast cancer and the curiosities of pink ribbon culture on her blog, The Cancer Culture Chronicles and frequently on my blog. When Rachel died, the #BCSM community came together to grieve, remember, and recommit. They did the same for community member and blogger at Toddler Planet, Susan Neibur. Rachel and Susan died the same day. February 6th, 2012. They were two of the nearly 40 thousand women who will die from metastatic (stage 4) breast cancer this year. They were women who pushed others to think, to question, and to bear witness to the realities of cancer. They were part of a growing social movement.
I recently browsed Rachel’s blog and was reminded of her savvy descriptions of the pink-themed marketplace. With sarcastic wit or an evidence-based rant, she illustrated how strength, hope and courage were packaged as t-shirts, chocolates, figurines, and narratives of idealized survivorship. It should come as no surprise that she wrote about Pink Lady. As you might imagine, she thought it was a sham.
by Rachel Cheetham Moro on July 30th, 2009, The Cancer Culture Chronicles
I’d like to introduce you all to a good friend of mine – Pink Lady – as I have come to know her. Or perhaps you know her by her full name, A Vision of Hope, part of the “Thomas Kinkade Inspirations of Hope Collection.” She is the first figurine in the collection, soon to be followed by a spectre of lavendered loveliness called A Picture of Faith. Apparently a portion of the sale proceeds will be donated by their Creator to help fight breast cancer. She and her pastelly-shaded friend retail for about $19.95 each. But wait! There’s more! This collection is limited to only 95 casting days and each figurine is numbered.
There’s so much material to work with here, especially for the likes of me, apparently living with my chronic case of cancer and feeling generally jaded and pissed off most of the time! Ah but I digress: let’s just start at the beginning shall we?
I woke up with glee last Christmas to excitedly open the presents which had been collecting under our beautiful Christmas tree. A mysterious box had arrived several days before addressed to me, and being a keeper of tradition, I diligently placed the unopened box under said Christmas tree along with various other boxes. (Work with me here people – I’m 38 years old, living with cancer – I need some childish excitement in my life!) After tearing open all of my wonderful Christmas bounty, at last the mysterious box was before me and begging to be ripped open with all the energy of a five year old child hopped up on a keg of red creaming soda. At last I opened the box and all was revealed.
It was like the heavens opened, the sun shone down, angelic voices echoed in my ears, and there she lay. In all her bedazzled pink lacy finery. Such sculptural elegance and a body with a set of breasts so finely crafted she made Barbie look like a cheap whore. My mind raced, my blood pressure increased with the excitement, and emotion welled up. Her beauty was unsurpassed, and as the tears rolled down my face, I knew that everything would be okay. Because here she was in MY house. Vision of Hope. Edition #7783U. Surely sent from heaven above (or maybe just China) to spread her message of love and devotion, and her commitment to a cause so just and noble, exemplified by the hidden pink ribbons in her elegant dress.
Just by gazing upon her, I suddenly felt at ease and knew that all was not lost. Even with two mastectomies, a bilateral oopherectomy, a shoulder that doesn’t move, a nipple reconstruction, night sweats, hot flashes, chemo-damaged organs, radiation scarred tissue and a spirit sorely tested (but not broken), I realized at that moment that there dwelled inside me, nay in all those touched by breast cancer, a Pink Lady who is ready to stand up and be counted, and fight the war on cancer all whilst dressed to the nines in an ankle-length pink frock. And all this hope for the bargain price of $19.95.
Thank you Pink Lady #7783U. I can’t do it without you. You inspire me to greatness. As does the $0.000000001c (or thereabouts) that has been donated on my behalf for the simple act of purchasing you.
Rachel loathed Pink Lady, but she allowed her to take up space in a curio cabinet. When I mentioned a large box of pink products I keep in my closet (sure to be exhibited one day), Rachel said, “I’ve got something for your Pink Fodder Collection!” She gathered the pink trinkets she had accumulated from well-meaning gifters and mailed them to Texas. The package arrived with a dent. Pink Lady was broken and beheaded.
Today Pink Lady is held together with glue. She looks on from my book case to remind me of Rachel, and Susan, and the others. The seeds of change they planted, and the work that is yet to be done.
Rachel Cheetham Moro’s blog, The Cancer Culture Chronicles, has been compiled and edited by her mother Mandy Cheetham and her friend Sarah Horton. The book contains all of Rachel’s blog posts in their entirety, with notes, resources and tributes. Available in October 2012, this is a 5×8 hardback book, 384 pages and available at cost from Blurb.com, price $30.95 (£21.50) plus shipping. Download flyer.