Boobies en vogue

by: Kate Mottola

October 22, 2012

Pink is all the rage these days, or at least this time of year. When the NFL features its players adorned in pink shoes and gloves complete with pink ribbons on their helmets, you know cancer awareness has become a popular issue – or rather, breast cancer awareness. Some argue that breast cancer’s popularity has eclipsed its medical significance, as well as the medical significance of other, less recognizable diseases. It’s certainly no secret that breast cancer awareness has become a booming industry – most notably promoted by and profiting the Susan G. Komen Foundation (amidst its less-than-honorable actions), as well as cosmetic companies such as Avon and Estee Lauder, apparel by the Gap, the National Football League, and many, many more. This is the commodification of a particular kind of illness for profit.

According to S.E. Smith’s recent article in the Guardian, along with years of rising critique in media and grassroots venues, breast cancer awareness has veered sordidly off the rails. “In the course of trying to make a difference, a monster was created instead,” Smith notes disappointingly. And this monster seduces us with rose-colored glasses. We’ve been pink-ified.

‘Pinkification,’ the contemporary and gender-essentializing moniker describing this saturation in rosy accoutrements, has grown exponentially with the help of trendy slogan’s such as “Save the Ta Ta’s,” or (my personal fave) “Save Second Base.” The message? “Breasts are worth saving – when they are used for heteropatriarchal pleasure…Oh, and stop cancer.” It is our responsibility to question the appropriation of ‘pinkness-as-woman’ as well. Don’t all women love pink? Victoria Secret says so, don’t you agree? Not exactly – in fact it wasn’t until the 19th and 20th centuries that pastel colors, such as pink and blue, came to be associated with children and with gender signification. Pink was understood to be a symbol of masculinity in that it derived from the color red, which was associated with activeness. Blue however, was considered passive and thus embraced as feminine (such interpretations lend themselves to broader societal analyses but I must resist the digression).

The complexities involved in breast cancer awareness are compounded by issues of gender, race, class, and of course, profit-driven ventures. Donning a ruddy-hued t-shirt that screams ‘BOOBIES’ across the front now represents a (self-)congratulatory fashion statement rather than mere poor taste. But with this kind of commodification and lucrative profit, important questions must not be ignored: What are the implications of such displays of ‘support’? Who stands to benefit from them? More pressing, who gets left behind, ignored or forgotten and how can this be addressed? Who will take up accountability and rectifying processes and how will they be administered? Considering such questions must be folded into any effort to speak about or change the pink-washing of this terrible disease.

For further thought-provoking and in-depth words on cancer and commodification, check out Barbara Ehrenleich’s prescient essay, “Welcome to Cancerland,” published in Harper’s Magazine in November of 2001.



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