Posted: Oct 01, 2013 8:00 AM
 
By now, we're all aware of breast cancer. This fall, instead of participating in Facebook memes and buying pink products, spend time researching the organizations you believe in and supporting them with your time or money.

Before you post a Facebook meme about your bra or you load up on yogurt with pink lids, take time to learn about pinkwashing. If you want to make an impact on breast cancer research and awareness, there are better ways to spend your time and money.

Pinkwashing is about advertising

Consumers see a pink ribbon and automatically assume a purchase is going to directly benefit breast cancer research. This is what manufacturers are counting on.

Breast Cancer Action defines pinkwashing as "a company or organization that claims to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product, but at the same time produces, manufactures and/or sells products that are linked to the disease." Consumers see a pink ribbon and automatically assume a purchase is going to directly benefit breast cancer research. This is what manufacturers are counting on. Sales may not be linked to donations at all, or there may be a cap on donations that's met long before the sales goal is met. Pink may not mean anything but a cue to get you to make a purchase.

Is it awareness or a scheme?

Caroline Jorgenson understands the importance of breast cancer research. Every woman in her mother's family has been diagnosed with breast cancer, going at least four generations back. "Since screenings have become available, no women in my mother's family have actually died from breast cancer." Every October, she's frustrated by the growing presence of pink on everything from wine to guns. "If a product is pink, consumers blindly buy it so that they can feel good about their purchase and then believe that polishing off that bottle of wine will actually do something to prevent breast cancer," she says. "Alcohol consumption, by the way, actually increases your risk of breast cancer."

Women may feel good about their pink purchase but think they are safe from breast cancer just because their mothers were. We need to flip this around — it's about education and practical options, not pink food processors and car magnets.

Rethinking pink

"I think women should be made aware of their screening options and given more options to get screened," says Caroline. "I'd rather a store sponsor free mammograms than stock pink items that do no good at all. Women need to be educated about the facts and understand their risks. For instance, five to 10 percent of breast cancer cases are considered hereditary. Women may feel good about their pink purchase but think they are safe from breast cancer just because their mothers were. We need to flip this around — it's about education and practical options, not pink food processors and car magnets."

Reconsider that Facebook meme

On Feb. 6, 2012, Susan Niebur passed away after battling breast cancer for five years. On her blog, Toddler Planet, she wrote about Facebook memes doing more harm than good, especially to women who have undergone radical mastectomy. "Don't we know that we need to understand our own bodies, take notice of changes in one breast but not the other, and call the doctor when we see that something's changed?" Susan wrote. "Don't we know that we need to talk to our doctor about thermography or mammograms?" When you post about breast cancer awareness, consider sharing facts, warming signs or screening methods instead of your bra color.

Identify ways that you can really help

Remember that breast cancer is an issue year-round. Stay on top of your screenings and encourage the women in your life to do the same. Be aware of breast cancer risk factors as well as lifestyle habits that may increase your risk of cancer. "I really appreciate the work Army of Women is doing," says Caroline. "They are looking for women for research and are actively building a community of women to do that." Organizations such as the American Cancer Society and the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation accept donations. Look into local services that may be in need of volunteer time and donated goods.

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Topics: breast cancer awareness