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26th October 2015

Think before you pink

Marina Iskander looks at breast cancer awareness campaigns from a different angle and asks if they are the best way to support the cause

‘Pinktober’ and ‘Movember’ are just around the corner—and raising awareness for cancer is all the rage. The problem is though, what exactly are we supporting?

You could say people buy pink ribbons and grow out their moustaches to support those who are battling cancer, but what does that, at the end of the day, even amount to? Taking part in such mainstream, terribly redundant campaigns is merely a way to quieten our consciences—sometimes even at the cost of those we claim to help.

Looking back, raising awareness for breast cancer was once desperately needed. Years ago, this specific type of cancer was a taboo that people preferred to ignore. Over time however, breast cancer has become recognised for the disease that it is; deadly, painful and disfiguring. In fact, it was because different campaigns, charities and organizations that people started talking about it openly.

But today, with this stigma effectively removed, we are left with ‘pink washing’: A modern phenomena that has turned breast cancer into a marketing tool.

Companies everywhere are now slapping pink ribbons on their products to make the buyer feel like they are making a difference, while in fact, few of these corporations actually donate a percentage of profits towards breast cancer research. Even worse, this marketing may deter people from actually donating or volunteering because for all they know they have done their part.

The irony of it all is that often, these companies do not just keep the profit for themselves, but may be even selling products that contain carcinogens—such as water bottles containing Bisphenol A (BPA) for example. The corporate world has once again stepped in and played with our heads, making us feel like heroes at the cost of the real martyrs.

The absolute worst part is how this makes breast cancer victims feel. For example, think of ‘No Bra Day’, which takes place annually on July the 9th. It may seem appealing at first, but upon further scrutiny, you will realise that women are essentially encouraged to flaunt exactly what breast cancer survivors or fighters lost.

It is astonishingly contradictory that a society that showed so much care towards removing the stigma behind breast cancer years ago now trivialises and belittles it so much that it becomes a mere event.

A double mastectomy is not beautiful or inspiring; it is complicated, emotionally draining and downright painful. Yet somehow, we have made posting topless pictures on social media seem altruistic. It is as if the idea of breast cancer has gone full circle: From a sexualised stigma to social acceptance and right back to become an overly sexualised ailment.

The mere fact that breast cancer is represented by the colour pink forces us to compartmentalise it into as some sort of ‘feminine disease’ reserved for older women. In an age where people are becoming more aware that gender roles must be broken, we have forgotten to look back and see that we have managed to assign a type of cancer to a gender.

Ignored are the men who suffer from it, or the women who do not just remove their breasts but also under-arm tissue, or the victims who have to face months or even years of physical therapy just so they could use their arms again. Breast cancer goes beyond what we have made it out to be, and people who are even at risk of facing it should not be subject of this trivialisation.

We as a society will do anything to feed our ego, going to even more desperate measures to feel like we went out of our way to help someone. It is unfortunate, however, that this leaves us running after the wrong cause.

So instead of blindly buying anything with a pink ribbon on it, think before you pink, and actually question whether or not this corporation you are supporting donates towards breast cancer. Think before you take your shirt off or use a catchy hashtag, because breast cancer is not a cause, it is a terribly common, overbearing and life-threatening curse.

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