Today we're featuring a guest post from YBCer Grace, talking about the Pink Ribbon you see everywhere in October, Breast Cancer Awareness month. I'm aware we're now into November, but I think this is an important conversation worth having. Please share your thoughts in the comment section below! xoCandace
Do you ever wonder what your life would’ve been like if one thing – just one thing – had turned out differently? As human beings we undergo an innumerable amount of experiences in our lifetime, so it’s hard to point to that one defining moment and say, “That’s it, that’s the moment that shaped my life forever.” But still I ask, do you ever wonder what could’ve been if just that one thing hadn’t happened in the way that it did?
Well for me, pointing out that one thing is not in the least bit difficult. Every day to some capacity, whether I realize it consciously or not, I think about it. That defining moment for me was when my mom died from breast cancer.
It’s not too surprising to hear that my mom’s death would have such a monumental impact on my life. I always tell people though that the timing of my mom’s death was what made her passing particularly paramount. After all, I was 9 years old when she died. I was just old enough to remember my mom – to have laughed with her, to have cried with her, to have endured her slightly obsessive mama-bear like tendencies. But I was just young enough that how I developed from a child into a woman was forever shaped by her absence – to get my period, to graduate college, and to become engaged, all in the wake of my mom’s absence.
My mom was a kindergarten teacher, and up until she passed, she inspired me to love learning, to trust my imagination, and to think deeply. She must have known early on that I enjoyed writing; she encouraged me at a very young age to write short stories. Not long after she died, I poured my heart into writing. I won awards for my story writing and was known throughout my grade school days for my writing prowess. As I grew older, I wanted to become a journalist. My love for learning that my mom passed down to me fueled both my creativity and critical thinking skills. As a result, I became very inquisitive and investigative about the world around me. I didn’t ever formally become a journalist, but my love for the profession has never dissipated.
It wasn’t until college that I started to roll my eyes at pink ribbons. When I was growing up, I considered all the pink ribbon branding that I saw to be a sign of solidarity that I needed to embrace in my life. And I thought that every time I bought something with a pink ribbon, it would help more women like my mom from dying. However, I started to feel a sense of emptiness every time I saw a pink ribbon. That emptiness wasn’t immediate – the feeling came on quite gradually – but I started to believe that it no longer represented my mom or even my struggle with the disease.
There was one instance during my freshman year of college that without knowing it became a turning point for me. I was in the dining hall with my friend and I saw what I can only describe as a frat bro selling cupcakes for breast cancer awareness month. Supposedly, the deal was you buy a cupcake for $1 and the money would go towards “finding a cure for breast cancer.” As we were walking out of the dining hall, I asked my friend to hang on for a second. I walked up to the frat bro and asked him how the money was going to help towards finding a cure. He stammered a bit and said something nonsensical about research for… something. I looked at him stone-faced and said, “Yeah, exactly, that right there is the reason why I’m not going to buy one of your f*cking cupcakes,” and walked off.
Ever since that moment, I dreaded breast cancer awareness month. Whenever I saw a ribbon, whether it was in the grocery store, at the mall, or on campus, I felt like it was a painful reminder that my mom was dead. And every time I saw the slogan for “finding the cure” I thought of that frat bro who had no idea what cause within breast cancer advocacy his fundraiser was specifically supporting.
Truthfully, I never thought I was going to share with the world my resentment for the pink ribbon or more broadly, for the breast cancer awareness movement. But suddenly the stars all aligned…or rather, I made them align. After a lengthy hiatus from writing during college, I wanted to kickstart my writing juices again and start a blog. I knew that I had some pretty strong feelings about breast cancer awareness, and I just kind of went from there. I trusted my gut.
Originally, I was out on a mission to criticize the pink ribbon. I wanted the world to know that the pink ribbon was nothing more than a corporate marketing tool. The pink ribbon had hurt me – it had made me feel isolated and alone. And after seeing the rather dark statistic from the US National Cancer Institute that estimates 40K women will have died from breast cancer in the US in 2017, I was convinced that pink ribbon branding was nothing more than a big, fat, sick joke.
Once I released my emotions that I had deeply pent up, I realized that my feelings were clouding some of my better and more sound judgment. The rational side of me began to see that not all breast cancer fundraising initiatives were all that horrible. Maybe cause-related marketing campaigns aren’t the most efficient way of donating money, but there are legitimate and respectable partnerships worth mentioning, such as Ulta Beauty’s campaign with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, where 50% of all proceeds from their breast cancer awareness collection is donated to a legitimate organization focusing on research; or Novaritis’ social media crowdfunding campaign with Metavivor, where all you have to do is take a selfie using the hashtag #KissThis4MBC and $10 is donated to an organization tirelessly working to improve research and treatment options for metastatic breast cancer.
In my blinding rage I was ignoring all the good the breast cancer awareness movement has done, providing a voice to a disease that was barely spoken about in public just a few decades ago. And whether I like it or not, some women find hope in the pink ribbon. After all, the art of finding meaning in something is truly subjective. So I started asking myself, could there be a middle ground?
Combining my gift for writing, my love for investigative journalism, and my passion for breast cancer awareness, I started conducting what I like to call “Pink Ribbon Investigations.” The premise is that I investigate a cause-related marketing partnership and see if the money for buying a particular product is going to the cause that it claims to actually be going towards. I gather evidence, from social media posts to press releases to financial statements. I’ll even make phone calls or send emails. Nothing will stop me from finding the truth about these partnerships, or well, the closest version of the truth that I can reasonably find.
So far I’ve investigated everything from garbage receptacles to yoga mats to ceramic knives to car dealerships to even an all-female mud race. Each of my investigations have been full of twists and turns that often led me to results that I didn’t expect. Most of the time, money seems to be going towards breast cancer…somehow. But the exact purpose for the money is usually either unknown or it contradicts the claims made in the marketing campaign.
Editorials in nationally syndicated media sources like the Huffington Post and the New York Times have raised serious questions about the “pinkwashing” we see each October. I’m certainly not the first person to call the symbol to question, nor will I be the last. But information is accessible at our fingertips now more than ever before, and with breast cancer fundraising still misleading consumers, we have a responsibility to hold companies and breast cancer charities accountable. And according to the US National Cancer Institute approximately 1 out of every 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. By shopping and choosing cause-related marketing partnerships mindfully, you can have a tangible voice in improving the landscape for breast cancer research and treatment – a disease that impacts virtually all of us. Real lives are ultimately impacted by such simple choices.
You’re probably wondering why I’d go through such trouble to conduct intensive marketing investigations. Don’t worry, sometimes I wonder the same thing. But during those moments of vulnerability, when my message seems insignificant or my engagement on social media seems lacking, I always come back to that question – how much I’ve been impacted by one singular moment in my life. My mom’s death is a constant reminder for how much more there is to fight for in this world, even in spite of the struggle; how much reason there is to care, even in spite of the disillusionment; and how much reason there is to love, even in spite of the pain.
Bio: Grace Slawski is the founder of the blog Breast Cancer Feminist. Inspired by her mom that passed away from metastatic breast cancer, Grace uses her blog to foster meaningful commentary about breast cancer awareness and cause-related marketing. Grace is currently based on the North Shore of Massachusetts and you can find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.