Abbie Lauten-Scrivner is a journalism sophomore and Mustang News columnist. The views expressed in this column do not reflect the viewpoints and editorial coverage of Mustang News.
Breast Cancer Awareness month is six months away. Which means companies, sports teams and charities are already gearing up for their massive annual campaign of pink products: pink uniforms, pink ribbons, pink everything. The White House might even turn pink again.
The rallying behind breast cancer is truly something to behold. No other illness is privileged enough to receive the same level of international support. It’s incredible that so many women and men benefit from the awareness, support, research and funding that breast cancer campaigns bring to those in need.
However, this support reveals an issue with which I find fault. With 1 in 8 women likely to develop breast cancer, it is certainly deadly, and all too common. But it ranks the third deadliest of cancers. Breast cancer enjoys more than double the funding lung cancer (the most common cancer) and colon/rectal cancer (the second most common).
Now, this treatment is not undeserved. What I am sensing, however, is that much of it may be at least misguided.
A distinctive trait of breast cancer campaigns is their ability to transform a painful, deadly illness into something delicately feminine and even glamorous. I suspect the reason for this comes from the source: breast cancer affects, well, breasts. Mainly, breasts belonging to women. It is no secret that female breasts happen to be one of the western advertising industry’s favorite body parts.
Though this assumption may seem shallow, I believe it is corroborated by breast cancer awarenss ads themselves. To name a few slogans sighted from a quick Google search of “breast cancer ads,” I found, “Save the tatas!” “Save the hooters!” “Keep a breast!” “Keep calm and save boobs!”
Most of these ads depicted images of nude women in which their faces were either cropped out or turned away. The focus, of course, was entirely on the breasts. Mainly plump, white, conventionally attractive breasts attached to thin, white, conventionally attractive young women all shrouded in cute, soft shades of pink. To be blunt, these ads are sexualized.
This conversation about breast cancer must not revolve around saving boobs. It is the actual lives of the people to which the breasts are attached that are at risk. I find it insulting and objectifying to women that the salvation of the fatty tissue on their chest seems to be valued above their actual experience as women battling a deadly cancer.
This is especially injurious since most campaigns aim to increase awareness of breast cancer. Considering more than 70 percent of breast cancer cases affect women older than 50, ads that mainly show young 20-somethings are campaigns of misinformation. As is concentrating on women who are white, since African American women are more likely to die from breast cancer.
The sexualization of the female body is not the only explotative enterprise that comes from breast cancer awareness support. Every year, corporations take advantage of the widespread support to sell their own products.
The transformation of breast cancer into an illness with a palatable face has created a level of hype that lends itself to incredibly successful marketing for corporations.
Many businesses participate in Pinktober in a valiant, beneficial manner. Pink products sold with profits being donated to research are a significant part of why breast cancer research has been funded so much more than any other cancer. However, many other businesses capitalize on this deadly cancer every October without giving anything in return. Some even contribute to the problem.
This is called pinkwashing. Organizations feign shallow ethics while maintaining practices that act against whatever cause they are pretending to promote. Exploiting the generosity of the selfless and the plight of the ill for financial incentives is frankly despicable. But it happens all the time. Consumers must be aware of how they participate in the market, especially when their dollars may become involved in life or death situations such as this.
I’d like to end by sharing how this slough of issues first came to my attention in a painful, personal way. When my grandmother first became sick, none of us expected to be put through the torture of wondering for over a year what sickness she was battling. Dozens of tests, medications and misdiagnoses later, the doctor finally discovered the colon cancer ravaging her body. By then of course, it was far too late to extend her life or even bring her comfort.
After she died, there was no international battle cry against her illness. Although March is colon cancer awareness month, it clearly receives little notice and far less funding. If awareness for this cancer had been more emphasized, would we have caught my grandma’s cancer earlier? Would she have been saved a year of increasing pain and paranoia? Unfortunately for my grandma, and millions of other victims, it’s just too difficult to make a colon sexy.