Controversy Behind #BreastCancerAwarenessMonth

Think before you pink.

October, or more like Pinktober, is the official Breast Cancer Awareness Month—which means that the world is awash in pink. The Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an annual international campaign organized by major breast cancer organizations every October to increase awareness of the disease and to fundraise for the research of the cause, prevention, and solution of breast cancer. Another factor about this event is the cosmopolitan spread of the widely recognized pink ribbon, which expresses moral support for women with breast cancer. Therefore, this month, everything is immersed with pink.

The pink paraphernalia doesn’t just end with the distribution of the emblematic ribbon symbol. You can get pink ribbon-shaped sprinkles for your cupcakes. You can get an NFL football jersey with a pink ribbon printed on it— just so that you can raise awareness while fielding passes to your teammates, decked out in pink. You can even get a pink ribbon monogrammed curling iron, supposedly so that you can feel like you’re curing the illness while coiling around your bouncy tresses. But despite the three decades after October was officially named Breast Cancer Awareness Month, has all this pink craze actually helped cure and/or prevent the disease? 


NFL Games supporting Breast Cancer Awareness Month
NFL games supporting Breast Cancer Awareness Month


Theoretically, any company can plaster on a pink ribbon on its products and call it as a contribution to the research of breast cancer. However, the symbol is not regulated by any particular organization and does not necessarily mean it successfully combats the actual epidemic. This is why the classic pink ribbon has lead to part of the controversial problem of the idea “slacktivism”—the kind of feel-good armchair activism when people take little action on a social or political affair but with no actual impact. When confronted with the reality that forking over tons of cash for something meaningless clad in pink doesn’t do much to solve breast cancer, many people today will just continue pressing the “like” button of breast cancer awareness pages on Facebook.

Of course, the notion that these campaigns bring no social influence is not always the case. Take the Ice Bucket Challenge, for instance. This viral buzz was an on-going charity initiative that happened last summer, raising money and awareness for the ALS Association (aka “Lou Gehrig’s disease”). Basically, the idea was to dump a bucket of ice water over your head and “nominate” others to do the same, in order to feel the ice-cold pain that are similarly felt by ALS patients every second. If the nominee does not accept the challenge, they will have to donate $100 to an ALS association of their choice.


People filming video for the Ice Bucket Challenge.
People filming video for the Ice Bucket Challenge.


Overall, the viral onslaught served as a major social breakthrough – popularizing the disease’s profile and raising $15.6 million since July 29 for the ALS Association. Those donations quickly contributed to a significant impact on finding a cure for the epidemic, most notably, funding the researchers at Johns Hopkins University to remove a particular protein that fails in the cells of most ALS subjects. At best, the ultimate reason that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was so successful was because it added an enjoyable and approachable way of publicizing awareness about the illness to a solid structure of action—making a donation to a specific charity organization to use a percentage of the received money for research of the cure.

On the other hand, Breast Cancer Awareness lacks the ability to serve any significant impact on the medical world because they do not encourage donations to charities that sponsor research or help women diagnosed with breast cancer in a specific way. Of course, the campaign had held many different types of actual fundraising events such as the Avon Walk Around the World, West Winds Halloween Party, Breast Cancer 5K Run, etc. However, the point is, everyone is already aware of the seriousness of breast cancer. So while these efforts in awareness can bring public attention by utilizing the concept of bandwagon, the actual effect on ameliorating the disease itself is blurred out in contrast.
Does that mean people should disregard such efforts anymore altogether? Absolutely not. But in the eradication against a particular epidemic, people need to understand that when when approaching a new type of campaign, it’s important to take a moment and consider what the definite message is and who it genuinely benefits. It’s time that campaigns should be promoted without the primary notion of looking good or being part of the crowd along with the rest.


A group of women clad in pink marching for breast cancer awareness.
A group of women clad in pink marching for breast cancer awareness.


– Ashley Kim (‘18)

Author: Ashley Kim

I am in the KIS Blueprint club.

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