Pink’s OK With Me

On Sunday, Feb. 20, the Northeastern Pennsylvania Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure will host its seventh annual Pink Elegance on Parade fashion show at the Radisson at Lackawanna Station hotel, reports the Scranton Times Tribune. The fundraiser will feature breast cancer survivors and others modeling fashions from Coldwater Creek, Lee’s Denim Diner, Luna Bleu and Suburban Casuals.

Portrait Of A Lady In Pink Ribbons, by Raimundo Madrazo (Wikimedia Commons)

Some BC survivors, thrivors, thrivers, in-the-throws-ers and whatever we might call ourselves (I still can’t make up my mind on this) express disdain. Others, lately, convey cynicism, if not frank contempt, for the pink cancer culture in its entirety.

Pink is tacky, pretty and possibly too rosy a color to link with the fate of so many sick and dying women. I half-agree. But then again, I’ve never favored pastels: I’m a brown and gray sort of woman. When I’m feeling cheery, I wear navy or maybe mauve. This is not a policy statement; it happens those hues match my skin tone and nature.

Yes, I and others have written that it can be off-putting, that it clouds and distracts us from the reality of cancer. But it takes a certain confidence to don a magenta outfit and not feel silly or excessively feminine (if there is such a thing), as I would, regardless of one’s BC status or awareness level. So I give women credit for wearing pink. And I’m half-envious, besides.

If you’ve had breast cancer and wear pink – why not? I fear the anti-pink movement is making people feel bad about wearing pink to show support for breast cancer awareness, fundraising and related issues. Which is ridiculous. People with breast cancer and their supporters should wear what they want and do as they please, at least wardrobe-wise.

So all power to you, women in Scranton and BC fundraising friends! Show off those post-treatment non-breasts. Be pretty in pink, and proud!

And I’m sure you won’t mind if I wear gray. In the end, isn’t this about supporting one another, and tolerance?

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  • It’s not simply about stinking on pink. It’s about asking deeper questions of a movement that happens to be pink and whether what it’s doing is really working for the people who are really still dying from this disease. To equate breast cancer with “fun, pink, elegance” is personally insulting to me, as a women dealing with metastatic breast cancer, but also undermines the seriousness and truly ugly indignitiies of this disease. As our largest bc organization I would expect Komen to be a little more sensitive to the very people it intends to help before putting their name to such an event. But that’s where they’re getting it wrong. Pink has become synonymous with celebration and it’s just not right. For the record I still wear pink, but not as a symbol of a movement that has gotten off track nor for a disease that I likely will not survive.

  • As a member of the so-called “anti-pink movement” I’d like to comment on what I see as some of the crucial elements of this critique.

    As Anna mentions, there appears to be a disconnection between the feel-good activities surrounding some breast cancer awareness and fund-raising activities compared to the harsh realities, not only of many people who are living with breast cancer, but also to what is on the horizon in terms of breast cancer prevention and cures. There are many of us who have strong concerns that activities such as the fashion show and many others feed the pink ribbon industry without providing a meaningful return on that investment.

    It’s true that over the past five years especially society has seen the development of “pink fatigue.” This is largely because some of the most visible activities in the name of awareness provide inaccurate or misleading information, marginalize groups of people, do not fund research, or are counter-productive in other ways. But the basis of the anti-pink critique, for many including myself, is not about what color a person chooses to wear.

    I still have the first pink ribbon I ever wore. It was one of those cloth ribbons put together with a safety pin. Now I wear it to remind myself of why I got involved in breast cancer advocacy, to remember the people I’ve lost to this disease, to honor those who are striving to make a difference, and to stand for thoughtful consideration of what is working and what is not working in pink ribbon culture.

    I agree with you that wearing pink is a personal choice. But the outcomes of what has become of the pink ribbon as an industry and a culture are more social than personal. These consequences inevitably impact where this war on breast cancer is going, and whether there is any real hope that we’ll make progress toward the eradication of breast cancer or other cancers. Anti-pink is a call to “think about pink”–to look at all of the outcomes of how we as a society are organizing around the cause of breast cancer, the positives and the negatives, so that we might recalibrate our actions to make the most of the positives and minimize the negatives.

    Thank you for furthering this discussion.

  • It dawned on me over the past couple of weeks that some of the issues that I am dealing with regarding my employer’s complete lack of empathy or understanding are likely related to the Pink celebrations. Breast cancer is no big deal! You wear a pink feather boa and a pink wig to a run and it’s all better. Breast cancer is “the good kind” and I’m oh so LUCKY that’s what I got… Get OVER it, Denise. You were cured the day after chemo ended back in March 2010 and now it’s time to get back to being your former productive member of society. Big deal if your waist long hair is gone. Big deal if you are scarred, scared and tattooed. Big deal if you’re broke. Big deal if your face has aged te years and you’re packing 30lbs extra… You got the GOOD cancer!!!

    Well, there doesn’t seem to be any connection between the pink parties and what I’m still going through. The side effects, the depression, the financial trauma, the PTSD, the complete loss of identity, ego and physical self.

    My life has become nothing but tests, pills and doctors.

    When I see the pinkification of breast cancer, I don’t see pink anymore.

    I see red.

  • Anna and Gayle,
    Thank you for your comments, both. (I’d hate to call this a “sensitive” issue, but came close.) What’s clear is that how we represent breast cancer matters in ways non-trivial, for reasons including those Gayle articulates in her comment and thought-provoking book on the subject.

  • Elaine,

    I don’t think it’s helpful at all to try to divide people into “pro-pink” and “anti-pink.” When the dominant cultural message about breast cancer becomes fashion shows and beauty contests, that leaves no room for stories that don’t fit in with this narrative. And calling people “anti-pink” only increases the marginalization of people who are already left out of this message. What I advocate for is that we make space for EVERYONE’s stories to be heard, no matter what color they are.

    And on a purely objective criteria, what progress toward a cure has all of this pink brought us?

  • Elaine, I think that any organization should be above critique. That doesn’t make people “divisive” or “anti-pink.” In fact, I believe that labeling people who speak out about organizations like Komen as “anti-pink” is much more damaging and divisive.

    I am not sure I agree with you about real progress. 40,000 women in the US continue to die of this disease every year and that number has not changed significantly. This fact is very glossed over by Komen, who calls itself “for the Cure” but continues to emphasize “feel good” events.

    If you’d like to read an evaluation of what Komen does vs what it claims to do, I suggest you start with this mutli-part series from Cancer Culture Chronicles.

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