Backlash Against “Pinkwashing” of Breast Cancer Awareness Campaigns

Meg Carter interviewed me for this October 12, 2015 article in the BMJ on how big business is keen to jump on the breast cancer awareness bandwagon, and whether its messages around screening do more harm than good. Here is an excerpt.

102__420x340_066-shoppink-saveEach October, breast cancer awareness month provides an annual focus for pink ribbon themed campaigns—many of which are backed by commercial partners eager to be seen to support a worthy cause.

The pink ribbon began as a grassroots movement, with survivors wearing ribbons to show solidarity with each other. But it was quickly appropriated by commercial businesses such as Estée Lauder and breast cancer organizations, led by the U.S. based Susan G Komen, to show support ranging from financial donations to goodwill.

Commercial involvement in breast cancer campaigning has drawn criticism.

“Pink ribbon has come to be about selling products. To sell a product, a company needs to sell the disease. To sell the disease, they use upbeat messages about fighting, being positive, and staying strong,” says Breast Cancer Action executive director, Karuna Jaggar.

“The danger is that pink ribbon campaigning is overly simplistic and dominates public opinion, which only has a limited amount of attention bandwidth for health related campaign messages,” says Steve Martin, assistant professor at University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Gayle Sulik, medical sociologist at the University of Albany in New York state and author of Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women’s Health, identifies a recent shift in campaign messages from telling women screening “will” to “may” save their life, and now to an acknowledgment that every woman is different so to get advice from their doctor.

However, she is critical of what she sees as some marketers’ efforts to “reclaim pink” from pink ribbon critics by choosing a harder sell rather than more considered, fact based campaigning. One example she cites is a current marketing campaign for a U.S. breast health screening and diagnostics supplier in which the word pink has been turned into a reassuring acronym: “P=Peace of Mind, I=Incredible Service, N=Not what you expect, K=Knowledge is power.”

“What we are now seeing is the pink ribbon movement taking the language of those opposed to pink ribbon culture to reframe the pinkwash debate to their own advantage,” says Sulik. “Just what it will take for campaigners to move beyond awareness and fundraising to more critical thinking, however, remains to be seen.”

Full Article Available At The BMJ

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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

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