Avon pinkwashing

Avon nail polish supports breast cancer research, but also contains carcinogenic chemicals.

Raise your hand if you’re not aware of breast cancer.

Anyone? No?

We all know breast cancer exists. That it strikes without warning. That it could strike us, too. Perhaps receiving a diagnoses of breast cancer was stigmatized a few decades ago, but now women who fall under its sway are fully supported and even celebrated for their strength.

In fact, there is a growing drumbeat of discontent with the Breast-Cancer-Pink-Ribbon-Awareness-Faux-Charity industry that has splashed pink on everything from NFL jerseys to purses to fried chicken buckets. Because, sadly, buying one of these products doesn’t do much. For example, the NFL donates just 8% of the money it rakes in under this scheme to cancer research at the American Cancer Society. (Where does the rest go? Maybe lawyers for their domestic abusers.)

In fact, many products that purport to support breast cancer research contain or produce carcinogenic toxins themselves: cars, makeup, fried chicken, hormone-filled yogurt, perfumes are a sample of hypocritical “battle cancer” products. And I’ve been pitched toxic pink items for this blog, even if they have nothing to do with breast cancer beyond being pink.

It’s not just pointless, it’s exploitative. (The technical term is “pinkwashing.”) These companies are using women’s pain in order to sell more products.

We don’t need pink ribbons. Women are so “aware” (read: terrified) of breast cancer, they are unnecessarily chopping their boobs off when a few benign cancerous cells appear. So I think we can safely say that we’ve moved past the awareness stage, we’re partway through the treatment stage, but we should be moving into the preventative stage. Let’s stop pouring our money into plastic merchandise manufactured overseas and dyed pink, and instead get to the root cause of breast cancer: environmental toxics and stressors.

Because which would you prefer?

  • Getting breast cancer, spending thousands on treatment, being nauseous 24 hours a day, losing your hair, scaring your family, and being told to stay upbeat, never lose hope, and be a cheery ray of pink sunshine? Or …
  • Not getting breast cancer at all. (Hint: this one.)

I think we can all agree that more should be done to reduce the cause of breast cancer in the first place. And buying stuff is a extremely circuitous route to that destination–if this consumerist, girly, self-indulgent strategy will get us there at all. Instead of buying a bunch of pink stuff in which 3% goes to breast cancer research, why not just donate to a breast cancer organization?

Here are some effective and meaningful ways to support the eradication of breast cancer:

  • Donate directly to breast cancer organizations. You can find well-regarded breast cancer organizations here.
  • Write letters to your local officials, show up to protests and generally do your part to support strict regulations of air and water pollution, including fracking, coal burning plants, vehicle emissions and other types of pollution that are linked to cancer.
  • Support the Safer Chemicals Act.
  • Ride your bike instead of taking the car, and/or buy a hybrid or electric car, since car emissions are linked to cancer.
  • Switch your energy to wind energy, or install solar panels or a residential windmill, since coal plant emissions are linked to cancer.
  • Only buy non-toxic makeup, beauty care products, and food containers for yourself and friends. Stay away from parabens, BPA and endocrine disruptors.
  • Only clean your home with toxin-free cleaners, whether homemade or store bought.
  • Eat organic and unprocessed foods, since fried foods, artificial sweeteners, processed meat, and “low fat” foods, are linked to cancer. Instead, eat fresh produce, fish, and whole grains. Encourage your friends to join you at healthful, farm-to-table restaurants, and serve healthy food at your own home.
  • Exercise regularly, and organize exercise outings with your girlfriends, like hiking, jogging, yoga, etc.
  • Get your beauty services done at a Clean Air hair salon or nail salon, that doesn’t expose you to formaldehyde and other chemicals.
  • You can paint your wall pink, but do it with zero-VOC paint.
  • Consider supporting Domestic Violence Awareness month (also in October), since more women are affected by domestic violence than breast cancer, and the causes and dynamics of domestic violence–plus how to curb it–do need more awareness.

Look, if you want to buy breast cancer awareness products this month, I can’t stop you. But there’s a bad way to do it (Avon, Revlon, plastic, fried chicken, soda) and there’s a right way (non-toxic beauty products comes to mind.) The women in our life deserve a thoughtful show of solidarity and support. Not a pink purse.

Tell me: What do you think of Breast Cancer Awareness Month?