Every year as we approach October, I go on a little window shopping spree to survey the pepto-pinkified merchandise being sold ostensibly to raise money to fight breast cancer. This stuff irritates the bejeepers out of me for several reasons:
- Because while a portion (often unstated) of the proceeds may go to a charitable cause, most of the money you spend for the pink thingy goes to the company selling it, in other words they make way more money from your purchase than the charity does.
- Even worse, many of the products contain ingredients that have been linked to cancer–lipsticks, perfumes and nail polish are huge offenders in this category.
While there is still plenty of merchandise to be found, my unscientific first impression of about a dozen stores is that the displays are far less prominent than they’ve been in years, no doubt in reaction to the very bad press that pinkwashing got in the wake of Komen for the Cure‘s public relations disaster when it decided not to provide funds to Planned Parenthood’s breast health programs earlier this year.
The other purpose of my little shopping expedition was to make my annual trip to the grocery store magazine rack. Several years ago I wrote a lengthy piece about how breast cancer is covered in the ladies mags. And each year with sick curiosity, I take a look to see what if anything has changed.
The year that I did the extensive survey, almost all of the magazines included something about breast cancer in their October issues, and the covers were over the top pinkified. This year, not so much. Not all of the mags have breast cancer features this month and many of those that do are far more responsible. Here is what I found:
The October issue of Glamour has an article that includes information that is not usually widely reported–that breast cancer mortality rates have not fallen much in the last few years and that the majority of funding goes to treating the disease rather than keeping us from getting it in the first place with a very blunt and valid assessment of why this is so. They also have a roundup of misinformation that women frequently hear when they are diagnosed.
Oprah’s O has a piece on “Breast Cancer Heroes”, which spotlights women who are making a difference in the fight against breast cancer and Women’s Health has a similar piece. Both stand in sharp contrast to the far more survivor oriented human interest pieces that I found in my original survey and found again this year in Shape, as noted below.
Health magazine had an interesting piece on commonly held mis-perceptions about breast cancer and good information on how exercise can substantially cut your risk. They unfortunately also had a piece hawking merchandise you can buy to benefit the cause that included less than healthy nail polish and lipstick (both of which frequently contain ingredients that are linked to cancer) and note cards from the Ford Motor Company’s Warrior program (imagine if Ford made a commitment to lowering cancer causing emissions in their vehicles instead). Only a percentage of the profits from these products goes to breast cancer causes, the rest is pocketed by the companies selling them. You do the math, far more effective to make a donation directly to your favorite charity.
Shape points towards the controversy over how often or if mammograms are appropriate and the dangers of cancer causing radiation from CT scans. Shape also has several survivor stories which remind me of one of my pet peeves–the relative youth and whiteness of women featured in survivor stories when breast cancer death rates are far worse among women of color and you are far more likely to get breast cancer after the age of 50. The magazine also hawked an unfortunate variety of schtuff you can buy that somehow will help fight breast cancer although the specifics seem vague at best–no word on how buying Popchips in a pink bag will make a difference.
Finally, Essence had a mere one paragraph pointing to higher breast cancer death rates among Black women exhorting women to be sure and be screened.
For the most part, this year’s coverage was much more tempered and realistic than it was when I did the first survey. There was far less of the personal responsibility mantra and less pulling at heart strings and a willingness to point to what we do and don’t know about breast cancer causes, screening and treatment. Hopefully that trend will continue.
Next week I will have a review and critique of, The Big Squeeze: A Social and Political History of the Controversial Mammogram by Handel Reynolds, MD which is a fascinating read although I do have issues with some of the conclusions which I will discuss in my review. In the meantime, please support Breast Cancer Action’s Mandate for Government Action.
If you are interested in some of my other pieces on breast cancer, here are some more links: