Hooked on the "Pink Sizzle"

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Kroger Print Advertisement, October 2013

I’ve been getting a slew of emails this month lamenting the onslaught of pink ribbon products and superficial breast cancer awareness campaigns.

A woman currently in treatment for breast cancer sent me photos of the multi-page advertisement she received from her local grocery store chain in an email with the subject line, “Overpinked.” The Think Pink circular she shared — replete with fun ideas for hosting a pink potluck fundraiser, recipes for Pink Lemonade Frosting and Think Pink Cereal Bars, and a full page image of the Kroger headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio lit up in pink lights to show how much the family of stores cares — represented an oppressive brand of awareness. The ads, coupons, trite language, and “complete awfulness” was not necessary to increase her awareness of breast cancer. Her treatment, side effects, and co-pays were sufficient.

When I read the blog post “Pink Sizzle” by Lauren at the After Five Years blog, I knew it would resonate with many of the people who sent me similar stories about the ineffectual but ubiquitous awareness materials that saturate the culture and the marketplace. Her post speaks clearly and loudly to the rising discontent surrounding overpinked activities and to some of the reasons consumers got so “hooked” on awareness in the first place. And she does not mince words. I include some excerpts from Lauren’s post below. I hope you’ll click through to read the whole piece. It will provide more food for thought than those Think Pink Cereal Bars ever could.


“Pink Sizzle” by Lauren, After Five Years blog.

As Pinktober unfurls, I find myself experiencing the yearly cognitive dissonance that surrounds my decision to opt out of a bag of pink ribbon pita chips at my local Kroger. Imagine that: me, a breast cancer survivor, choosing NOT to buy a product festooned with a pink ribbon, and me, a breast cancer survivor, feeling quite cranky in general about this whole dang pinkwashed month.

The economics of pinkwashing are clear. Simply put, if all the money we had collectively raised purchasing our festive pink ribbon lighters (to light one up at chemo) and pink ribbon can openers (to open our BPA lined cans of pink ribbon soup) had been funneled toward research for an actual cure, there would be no more “For The Cure.” You know why? Because we would have The Cure. So why does this go-nowhere “awareness” nonsense continue? Because like I said, there would be no more “For the Cure.” I get it. Big Pink creates job security by promoting awareness, not research.

As with the cigarette companies, the goal of Big Pink was to get us hooked both behaviorally and psychologically on the product. To give us a psychological hit that rivals crack each time we buy it and makes us want more and more and more pink. So I tend to think that a stern warning that says, “If we don’t change the direction of fundraising to research, breast cancer will kill you” won’t fix the addiction anymore than a the surgeon general’s warning on a pack of smokes alters the complex psychology of that addiction.

We are getting something out of pink that keeps us buying it. Girls, I am here to tell you that there is psychological heroin in that there pink, not unlike that which is found in McDonald’s fries. Big Pink massages our psyches and covertly rewards us on a deep and unconscious level, so much so that we are willing to ignore the fact that continuing to buy ‘awareness’ will kill us.

Big Pink neatly hides the frightening little facts of metastatic disease behind a pink curtain, instead showing us only skewed happy statistics that calm our anxiety about the disease. The conglomerate needs to make us believe pink is working and is good for us, so that we want more. Pink is a social lubricant for talking about all that scares the shit out of us about the disease. Hell, with pink we can shake our pompoms all day at an awareness event and never once have to say the word “cancer” or “death.”

Realize that the sound of sizzle distracts us from the real meat of the issue; that people are making money off our emotions.

Just say no.

Say, I am aware of breast cancer now. And you know what else I am aware of? I am aware you have used hardly any of the money I donated or fund-raised to find a cure and I am pretty chapped about it.

Just say no.

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“Pink Ribbon Blues”

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* GAYLE IN THE MEDIA *

"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

** MORE MEDIA LINKS **
** MORE RADIO INTERVIEWS **