The ‘pinkwashing’ of breast cancer awareness


Lung cancer — not breast cancer — is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in American women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

And yet, there is no lung
cancer awareness month targeted at women. There is no “pinkwashing” of lung cancer. Society sees lung cancer as something that affects everyone because everyone has lungs. 

We do not think everyone has breasts.

The association between breast cancer and women has lead to its flagrant commercialization by supposed nonprofits such as Susan G. Komen – although 400 American men die every year from the devastating illness, according to the CDC.

Komen is now infamous for its hypocritical and baseless use of breast cancer awareness, working closely with companies that produce carcinogens or carcinogenic products. 

One of the worst examples of Komen’s partnerships is a fracking company, which pollutes the air and water with carcinogenic compounds such as benzene when extracting natural gases. 

Such association shows Komen’s total lack of dedication to actually preventing cancer in general and its subsequently much greater concern with collecting donations that later become large salaries for their executives.

In 2013, Susan G. Komen Foundation CEO Nancy Brinker received criticism for taking a 64 percent increase, bringing her salary to $684,000, while donations to the foundation were waning. 

The light, happy and stereotypically feminine color pink casts far too positive a glow on what is in reality an incredibly tragic disease. It seems somehow insincere to represent suffering and survival with pink ribbons on lipstick, cute running shoes or a fitted T-shirt. 

The SCAR Project does a much better job of showing the strength of female survivors, using black-and-white or subdued photos of women, which, according to the photographer, are meant to give the models their sense of womanhood back.

Much like how women are apparently supposed to maintain their visual appeal even during pregnancy, they are also supposed to face breast cancer with grace and a good attitude. 

However, breast cancer, which all too often results in a mastectomy, can result in devastating mental effects for women.

As if the physical battery resulting from disease was not enough, many women struggle with the idea of their “ugliness” during and after breast cancer treatment. Bald and suddenly flat-chested, they feel far from the Western ideal. 

Women, though, should not be expected to be beautiful at all times. Cancer is not pretty, and female or male, one cannot fight it with superhuman good looks.

At the end of the day, lungs are just not as attractive as breasts. 

The “I Heart Boobies” bracelets say all that there is to know about why many people care about breast cancer at a subconscious level. The bracelet does not say, “I Heart Women” or “I Heart Survivors” – it takes a single, sexualized body part on a woman and uses that to say, “You should care because do you really want to live in a world without sexy women?” 

The fight to end breast cancer should not be about ensuring that the female population of the U.S. is sexy enough for our eyes. It should be about protecting and saving the lives of human beings, regardless of their appearance.