"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." - Dorothea Lange

Friday, October 19, 2012

pink stuff

There is a lot of pink on the landscape these days. Even many of the NFL players are wearing pink football shoes! It's Breast Cancer Awareness month, of course.

I guess I'm kind of cynical about the pink stuff. When I was going through my own breast cancer experience I found no relief at all in the pink ribbons, the pink water in the fountain near my house, the pink bumper stickers, the pink t-shirts, the pink tote bags or the pink shoelaces I saw all around me that October. Even now, four years later, my mastectomy site aches when I see those t-shirts about protecting the boobies, the rack, the ya-yas, the jugs, the mangos, the melons, the ta-tas... Why should my pain be reduced to such nonsense? It's kind of an intimate and personal issue.

I've never quite been able to put into words the negative feelings I've had about the pinking of the breast cancer message. But recently, I ran across an article that kind of does touch on some of my own responses to it.

For many years now, I have photographed breast cancer survivors for the Shawnee Mission Medical Center in Overland Park, Kansas. Tonight I'll be attending a gala event that celebrates the images and the women (and I am not wearing anything pink). I'm proud of the work I've done for SMMC and happy to have met so many admirable and inspiring women along the way. These women and I all know that it is the strength and support of our medical community, our family, our friends and a deep well of inner courage (one we may not have known we had) that have helped us move through the scary journey that breast cancer is.

Above are a few of the portraits I've made. Below is the article I mentioned. I think it contains several notions that are worth considering.

“Pink, the supposed color of femininity, does not represent breast cancer to me. In fact, after losing my hair in six rounds of chemo, going through menopause at 28, being sick as a dog and having both of my breasts removed, I pretty much feel less feminine than ever.
Breast cancer, like any other cancer, is a gnarly and wicked disease. Its treatments are arduous and painful, long and intense. They are invasive and, at times, humiliating. To take this disease and cover it in pink glitter gives it a bubble gum appeal that, to me, does not raise awareness, but rather makes opaque and glamourizes the difficulties those of us with this cancer have faced. It also allows people to believe they are actually doing something and are helping and are informed when, in fact, they have simply peeled back a pink yogurt lid, bought a bag of pink-ribbon-stamped cookies or even a pink bucket of fried chicken.
‘Pinkwashing’ gives corporations the opportunity to look charitable while simultaneously allowing consumers to think they have contributed to a cause. While these fractions of percentages of donations have added up and I am incredibly grateful for their contributions, they seem to be utilized as a means for self-congratulation and marketing hooks rather than a truly greater good. It allows these corporations to look charitable and good by doing very little, thus leaving the gravity of these problems unclear and the change minimal. Also, when consumers of such pinked products believe that in buying such things, they are already aware of something via these channels, they then do not feel the need to actually educate themselves via more constructive modes (for example, about self-screening).
Why has my cancer been co-opted by these tactics? And, more importantly, why has it moved into every aspect of breast cancer, including support groups, fundraising and celebrations? There are now pink ribbons, pink colors and the word ‘pink’ on everything breast cancer-related. Further, does this symbol not lose its meaning when a pink ribbon-clad product can be chock-full of carcinogens?
For me, the pink ribbon and pink have been alienating and confusing. And I am not the only one that feels this way. This year, Breast Cancer Action, an organization based in San Francisco, has launched a ‘Think Before You Pink’ campaign to try to change the conversation around breast cancer -- to recognize that this is an epidemic and a health crisis in need of more than just a ribbon.
When I see organizations and events called ‘Tickle Me Pink,’ for example, with pink celebrities and pink cocktails, I fail to see the connection to what I have been through. I am not by any means asking everyone to go sit in a chemo ward. I am simply asking those of us in this breast cancer community to perhaps consider new modes of symbolizing our struggle while getting folks aware of how to prevent and understand this disease in a way that is not fixated on traditional gender roles and femininity.”
Erika Lade, 29. Graduate student, cancer thriver.  From the HUFFINGTON POST


Anonymous said...

Hear! Hear! I feel the same way about this pinkification and I haven't had breast cancer. I also feel the same about blue and autism and green for mental health. Simply draping a color over something and simplifying it down to which ribbon shall I wear to show support for which cause of the day doesn't really affect any change. Or education. Thanks for sharing this.
- Stacie

Anonymous said...

I've felt this way for a while and I'm so happy you posted this. Thank you. - A.

Anonymous said...

i wholeheartedly agree and have also felt this way for a while. the pink movement started as noble but has quickly evolved into a convenience. it makes what is ugly nice. it transforms struggle into ease. it allows bystanders to feel like they are warriors. and it eclipses other manifestations of the same, life-threatening disease. thank you for posting.
- Emily

Anonymous said...

Love viewing these photos again and loved seeing the collection of images (and YOU!) tonight, dear Gloria. I truly appreciate your perspective and honor every woman's response to the pinking of October. For some women, they feel it's their time to shine and for others, it's a heartless, commercialized sham. I've heard so many different perspectives in the last 10 years re: pink and ALL of them are valid. Know that I honor YOU!
- Meg

Anonymous said...

As a twice survivor of breast cancer... with bi-lateral mastectomies...I don't need a pink reminder that I am a survivor -- I can just look at myself and remember...jeanne