Yesterday, I was in T.J. Maxx with my wee one and she wanted a flat-iron. She selected one, describing it to me as “a breast cancer flat-iron.” I told her I would buy it if she could find anywhere on the box that it said the money raised with this pink-ribboned wonder went to research. She read the cheerful synopsis on the box out loud, explaining all that her purchase would do for breast cancer. It ended with the word that makes my skin crawl, “awareness.”
“Yeah” I deadpanned loudly, “’Cause none of us are aware of breast cancer.” Yes, I got lots of dirty looks from the other Maxxinistas, but I don’t care.
She did not get the flat-iron.
As Pinktober unfurls, I find myself experiencing the yearly cognitive dissonance that surrounds my decision to opt out of a bag of pink ribbon pita chips at my local Kroger. Imagine that: me, a breast cancer survivor, choosing NOT to buy a product festooned with a pink ribbon, and me, a breast cancer survivor, feeling quite cranky in general about this whole dang pinkwashed month.
The economics of pinkwashing are clear. Simply put, if all the money we had collectively raised purchasing our festive pink ribbon lighters (to light one up at chemo) and pink ribbon can openers (to open our BPA lined cans of pink ribbon soup) had been funneled toward research for an actual cure, there would be no more “For The Cure.” You know why? Because we would have The Cure.
So why does this go-nowhere “awareness” nonsense continue? Because like I said, there would be no more “For the Cure.”
I get it. Big Pink creates job security by promoting awareness, not research.
I am so not a numbers girl; I am a feelings girl, a psychologist. My ex, a lawyer used to say if we were arguing about facts he was winning but if we were arguing about feelings, I was winning. So I will leave it to the Grande Dame Bloggers to shrewdly eviscerate and skewer where needed, especially this month, with their facts and figures. Those smart girls will handily school us in the faulty math of how a cheerfully purchased, go-me-for-fighting-breast-cancer pink ribbon cup at Jersey Mikes amounts to roughly about .0006 cents to breast cancer “awareness” and .00034 cents to research for the actual cure. And they will also tell you why a bottle of Promise Me perfume promises absolutely nothing to those with metastatic breast cancer.
This feelings girl thinks that solving the problem of the Big Pink Conglomerate is more complex than just pointing facts out to people. We need to talk about both facts and feelings to win this. It has to go beyond pointing out that our friends are still dying of breast cancer because after 20+ years of festively pink, wildly lucrative fundraising “For the Cure” we still, curiously, have no cure. We need to grasp that we are already hopelessly addicted to pink and that to resolve this national addiction which is killing us, we must take a serious look at the psychology of pink.
As with the cigarette companies, the goal of Big Pink was to get us hooked both behaviorally and psychologically on the product. To give us a psychological hit that rivals crack each time we buy it and makes us want more and more and more pink. So I tend to think that a stern warning that says, “If we don’t change the direction of fundraising to research, breast cancer will kill you” won’t fix the addiction anymore than a the surgeon general’s warning on a pack of smokes alters the complex psychology of that addiction.
We are getting something out of pink that keeps us buying it. Girls, I am here to tell you that there is psychological heroin in that there pink, not unlike that which is found in McDonald’s fries. Big Pink massages our psyches and covertly rewards us on a deep and unconscious level, so much so that we are willing to ignore the fact that continuing to buy ‘awareness’ will kill us.
Big Pink is selling us the sizzle instead of the steak. Selling the steak is, of course, what pays their salaries, but drawing us in with the pink sizzle is essential to selling the steak, and is essential to creating the addiction. The sizzle is the part of the sell that unconsciously and subliminally makes us want it; the hoopla that rewards us covertly. Craftily infusing that vapory, feel-good experience into to us, Big Pink knows that just once is all it takes. From then on we are hardwired and hooked; we hear the sizzle and something turns on in our body, something rewarding, something slightly sexual, something empowering, something that takes the edge off. We want the steak. Lots and lots of steak.
It flips a different switch in each of us, making us want to buy that darling and oh-so-hilarious Save the Ta Ta’s shirt for a variety of reasons….because it makes us feel sexily edgy, because it makes us laugh or because it makes us less scared. The sizzle hypnotizes us, hitting our pleasure centers each in some unique way, convincing us to ignore the fine print about the dangers of the steak, just as a smoker blows off the surgeon general with each calming puff.
Buying pink makes us feel empowered in the face of helplessness, because when we buy those pink ribbon pita chips we are doing something about it darn it! Pink has the power to simultaneously reward all kinds of people; survivors with a victim mentality can garner sympathetic coddling at pink events and even regular old survivors (moi included) enjoy the Rock Star/Warrior status afforded us. Horndogs are able to cover their horndoggery with pink veiled political correctness, all while they ogle sexy, breasty Feel Your Boobies and Save Second Base ads and experience a hit of arousal for…what exactly? Awareness. Right. As if there are men who are unaware of breasts; a Playboy wrapped in a Time Magazine cover is all that is.
Pink ultimately hooks even the last of us staying-clean holdouts by supplying the most powerful psychological aphrodisiac of all, the reduction anxiety and fear. Anything that can do that for us, anything that can induce nirvana makes us crave more. If we experience a reduction in fear as a result of avoiding elevators, we will forever take the stairs. If buying into pink makes us less scared or anxious about breast cancer we will forever buy it. And we will never even know why we want it.
But this little psychologist is here to school you in why.
Big Pink neatly hides the frightening little facts of metastatic disease behind a pink curtain, instead showing us only skewed happy statistics that calm our anxiety about the disease. The conglomerate needs to make us believe pink is working and is good for us, so that we want more. Pink is a social lubricant for talking about all that scares the shit out of us about the disease. Hell, with pink we can shake our pompoms all day at an awareness event and never once have to say the word “cancer” or “death.”
Pink mines fear to feed the Big Pink machine, it relies on its ability to massage our fears to keep customer loyalty and the conglomerate alive. Because, face it, what is hiding under our bed is a shitload less scary dolled up in a pink boa.
Pavlov would say that fear reduction is our meat powder and that we have learned to salivate when the pink bell dings. We have been conditioned to know that what will follow ringing the pink bell is reward; we will feel better in some way, we will feel psychologically rewarded, we will feel turned on, we will feel less anxious, we will have a giggle or we will feel empowered about a shitty disease. How freaking subliminal is that?
Cognitive psychologists will tell you that when we are rewarded with nominal tokens (like, say, free pink toilet paper) for doing a difficult task (like, say, having 40 weeks of chemo) we remember the task as being not so difficult or awful. Pink helps us rewrite history; doesn’t get any better than that.
Smart girls will tell you they aren’t selling you a cure, they are selling you a feeling, an emotion…to make themselves rich.
And yes, it would be dandy if all we were addicted to buying something that actually added up to a cure. In fact, I would be the first sheep in line; I would hold both arms out for them to inject an hourly hit of pink if it did. And I would sell my soul to the devil to get more.
But it doesn’t.
Look at Big Pink corporate pie charts. They aren’t so pink and rosy.
You want to talk feelings? Next time you pick up a cute little pink-ribboned, something-something in a store or sign up to go to a “For the Cure” event, ask yourself why you are attending or what you are getting out of buying those cute lil’ pink tennis socks? ‘Cause surely you are getting something out of it, because we breast cancer patients aren’t.
Read the fine print darling, that shit can kill you.
Just say no.
Say, no, I don’t need a catered breakfast at the Race for the Cure or a special pink survivor shirt to reward my victim/rock star status. Say, give the money instead to research, better yet, to metastatic breast cancer research (the kind of breast cancer that kills.) Say no, I won’t buy your pink product unless you can promise me this one thing, that a decent chunk of your profit goes directly to research.
Call ’em up on their pink ribboned cell phones and ask why they aren’t giving money to research For the Cure, since we are all now aware that breast cancer exists. Say, it just seems that a foundation who is For the Cure should give all the money they raise to finding the cure.
Say no, I refuse to feel good, or turned on by, or giggle about something that should scare the hell out of me, because the reality is that we don’t have a cure.
Realize that the sound of sizzle distracts us from the real meat of the issue; that people are making money off our emotions. Realize that they are allowing us to die because if we all lived, they would be out of a job and a paycheck. That they are using our money to make us aware of everything but the fact that large numbers of women are still dying of metastatic breast cancer; and they are playing on our fears and emotions to get our money to do so.
Just say no.
Say, I am aware of breast cancer now. And you know what else I am aware of? I am aware you have used hardly any of the money I donated or fund-raised to find a cure and I am pretty chapped about it.
If we can be smart girls, if we can start feeling empowered and rewarded by that action-saying no to pink, we can turn it around. We can rewire the addiction, we can get a new feel-good reward and empowerment from finding a cure. Imagine how good that will feel? Man, it will so trump that pink waffle iron.
Don’t keep them alive, keep us alive.
“All I have is a crush-proof box, and four out of five dead people smoked your brand.”
~Don Draper-Mad Men~