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Pink-Washing: Why You Should Think Before You Pink

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Chapel Hill chapter.


You’ve had that pink ribbon pinned on your book bag since middle school.  You repost the “Save The TaTas” meme on Facebook during breast cancer awareness month.  You buy those Yoplait yogurts with the pink tops because you’re under the impression that for every yogurt you buy, Yoplait will donate a few dollars to breast cancer research.  You think it’s cute when sports teams wear pink shoes on the field in support of breast cancer patients.  Pink is a fabulous color, but how much good are we really doing by turning the country pink?

What Is Pink-Washing?

Pink-washing is a term coined by the Breast Cancer Action group referring to companies and organizations that sell pink ribbon products or use the pink movement as a marketing tool for their products when in reality, the money and awareness they are raising isn’t actually making as much of a positive impact as consumers are led to believe.

In 2010, Dansko shoe company made pink ribbon clogs and led consumers to believe that a portion of their purchase would go to a breast cancer program.  Although Dansko donated $25,000 to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, this amount was already set before the clogs even hit the market.  Dansko knew if they partnered with the breast cancer movement they could sell more clogs.  No matter whether or not you bought the clogs, their donation was the same.  So did you really make the impact you thought you were when you swiped your card?

How It Hurts

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 26-years-old.  I watch these football games with my husband during October and all the players have on pink gloves and shoes.  I’m cancer-free now, but when I see all of this pink it makes me angry.  Those players were handed those shoes and gloves, and they wear them without even realizing the pain I went through.  It’s mindless promotion and it’s offensive,” said Sarah Moore*, a student at UNC.

Research, Early Detection, Health Care Access

What exactly is the purpose behind the breast cancer movement?  What’s the end goal?  The three objectives behind the movement are to: fund research to find more-effective treatments and hopefully a cure; educate women and men on breast cancer prevention and early detection; and reform access to care for patients who cannot afford treatment.

According to one breast cancer patient in the documentary Pink Ribbon Inc., when companies participate in no-cause marketing — when a company associates itself with a cause people care about in order to increase their sales — it takes away from the real goal of the breast cancer movement.  Yes companies are drawing attention to breast cancer by painting the pink ribbon on their products, but awareness is different than behavior change.  To truly make a difference, we must cause behavior change in research, education and reform.

What Can You Do?

So what can you do to show your support?  Become educated on health care reforms that affect breast cancer research and access to care for lower income patients and vote accordingly.  Knowledge is power.  Look into the companies you buy from that claim to support research.  Stick with the companies who truly care.  Ditch those who are trying to make a pretty penny by aligning themselves with the cause.  

Think Before You Pink is a project of Breast Cancer Action, launched in 2002 in response to the growing concern about the overwhelming number of pink ribbon products and promotions on the market.  The campaign calls for more transparency and accountability by companies that take part in breast cancer fundraising, and encourages consumers to ask critical questions about pink ribbon promotions. — thinkbeforeyoupink.org

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Jenny Bingham

Chapel Hill

Jenny is an aspiring journalism and communications professional in her senior year at UNC-Chapel Hill.  She has spent her summers living in Manhattan, working for fashion PR firms while writing about the sights, sounds and fashion that inspire her.  Check out more: SweetTeaAndMemories.com.
Megan McCluskey is a recent graduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a B.A. with Distinction in Journalism and Mass Communication, and a second major in French. She has experience as a Campus Correspondent and Contributing Writer for Her Campus, a Public Relations Consultant for The V Foundation, an Editorial Assistant for TV Guide Magazine and Carolina Woman magazine, a Researcher for MTV, and a Reporter and Webmaster for the Daily Tar Heel. She is an obsessive New England Patriots and Carolina basketball fan, and loves spending time with her friends and family (including her dogs), going to the beach, traveling, reading, online shopping and eating bad Mexican food.