Why We Need To Stop Pinkwashing Everything ‘For Breast Cancer Awareness’

by Taia Handlin

October. The month when we celebrate a mass murderer, dress up like wizards and strippers for a night, and every store’s shelves start looking like a Pepto-Bismol ad in order to magic away breast cancer. It doesn’t work, and many argue that it has done more harm than good.

The most ubiquitous breast cancer foundation in the country is the Susan G. Komen foundation; the majority of pink products are either sold directly by Komen or by companies that donate the profits to Komen. It is therefore important to start with an overview of why the Komen foundation is far from the ideal candidate for torchbearer of breast cancer awareness.

Many will remember the 2012 controversy with the Susan G. Komen foundation, the most ubiquitous breast cancer foundation in the country, and Planned Parenthood. Since 2007, the Komen Foundation had been giving Planned Parenthood grant money for breast cancer screenings but in 2012, they suddenly pulled their funding. They claimed it was because Planned Parenthood was, at that time, under federal investigation, but this was a flimsy excuse to cover their caving to pressure by pro-lifers to cease their affiliation with an organization that provides abortions. They eventually reversed their decision, after a massive backlash significantly hurt their earnings. Needless to say, the damage was done and the Komen foundation exposed its true priorities lie with its bottom line and with stopping millions of women from receiving a very important healthcare service (abortion), not with curing or preventing breast cancer. Nevertheless, the Komen foundation charges forward, partnering with numerous corporations to sell pink products and give the appearance of aiding women with breast cancer.

Pink products! Every company sells them and everyone seems to have them. Pink ribbons, pink clothing, pink water bottles; the legacy of pink products goes back several decades and is the most iconic medical fundraiser in the country. Two enormous problems: first, a significant number of those products are carcinogenic, such as pink cosmetics and pink guns. Second, many vendors of pink products donate an abysmally low percentage of the net profits to any breast cancer organization. “Think Before You Pink” is an excellent source for finding out what pink products to avoid.


The distressing connection between a supposed breast cancer research foundation, like Komen, and corporate vessels for carcinogenic products is made all the worse by the disparity between the foundation’s revenue and it’s donations to actual research. According to Charity Navigator, roughly 80% of Komen’s total revenue does go toward “program expenses,” which refers to the actual thing the charity exists to do (in this case, raise awareness about and cure breast cancer). However, according to Komen’s own records, roughly 35% of that 80% is “public health education,” 19% is research, 12% is screening services, and 5% is treatment. That means that the percentage that Komen spends on “education” is roughly equal to the combined percentage of research, screenings, and treatment. And considering that Komen tosses around the phrase “for the cure,” this seems backward. It’s a bizarre cycle wherein Komen raises money for “awareness” by selling pink products through its corporate partners, spends it by educating people on breast cancer, which makes them go buy more pink things that give money to Komen, which makes Komen spend more on awareness, and on and on.

In summary, in the threesome between Komen, its corporate partners, and organizations like Planned Parenthood, that actually spend significant money and resources on research and action, Komen and its donors fellate each other while Planned Parenthood sits awkwardly on the edge of the bed, getting nothing but an occasional token handjob.

It’s not just about Komen. It’s also about the bizarre priority of pinkwashing in general. One, it’s irritatingly irrelevant: pinkwashing has succeeded in making breast cancer cuter than this hamster on a swing set.


With pink products and phrases like “save the boobies,” pinkwashing has made breast cancer completely nonthreatening. Which, it being cancer, is deeply fucked up. It’s threatening as shit and it should be. Two, according to the National Cancer Institute, while there are more estimated cases of breast cancer per year, more people actually die from lung, colon, and rectal cancers. But similar to blaming people with heart disease on their own bad choices, it seems probable that lung cancer gets a similar reaction, because of its association with smoking. As for colon and rectal cancers – they are just not as endearing as breast cancer. Save the boobies sounds adorable as all hell; save the buttholes sounds like a porno.


Despite this imbalance, cancer is cancer and all cancer is bad. All the adorable pink boob shit is irritating, but I would be more than fine with overlooking it if I thought it was actually substantially helping. But it’s not, and some research suggests that it has actively damaged the cause. People buy all kinds of funny, cute shit for breast cancer awareness, get praised for being such good humans, most of that money goes back into more awareness campaigns – and all the while, actually researching and curing breast cancer is all but forgotten in a sea of adorable rhinestone pink ribbons.


Images via Twitter and Flickr

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