Breast cancer awareness products profit off survivors’ suffering

Pink ribbons, pink candles, pink sweaters, pink yogurt labels, pink lipstick: There’s an endless array of products sold in the name of breast cancer awareness, appealing to shoppers’ sense of advocacy and activism by offering an easy way to support a cause. Pink products — which proliferate especially during October, designated since 1985 as Breast Cancer Awareness Month — supposedly give a percentage of profit to cancerresearch or awareness. The idea is that the money contributed by buying these branded items helps bring the disease one step closer to eradication.

But the actual benefit to this pink overload isn’t so rosy. There’s been backlash for years now over “pinkwashing” and the commodification of breast cancer. Activists have pointed outthat the money trail of allocated funds to cancer research is nearly impossible to track, and survivors have spoken out about how they feel their disease is being exploited in the name of profit. Medical experts also fear that breast cancer awareness products do just that — bring “awareness,” without offering any tangible information about the disease to help educate the public.

Gayle Sulik, a medical sociologist with the University at Albany, has spent years researching the pink products industry and how companies have turned breast cancer awareness into big business. Her 2011 book, Pink Ribbon Blues, won awards and critical acclaim for taking on the shadowy industry.

Sulik has since gone on to start the Breast Cancer Consortium, a research group dedicated to highlighting critical health literacy and evidence-based medicine. I spoke with her recently about the history of pink products, why the idea of shopping for a cause is rooted in sexism, and how shoppers can make educated decisions about how to advocate with their dollars. This interview has been edited and condensed.

Chavie Lieber

How did you initially get into this field of research? What tipped you off to it?

Gayle Sulik

I started looking into breast cancer when I was in graduate school. A friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 35. She was treated, cancer-free for a few years, and then had a recurrence that spread to other parts of her body. She was treated for metastatic breast cancer until she died at age 40.

During her last few years, we talked a lot about what she was going through. She had no interest in support groups or pink ribbons or cancer walks; she just wanted to live. She didn’t see the point, beyond the possibility of raising money for research. So I started to look into [money for research]. The more I looked, the more I learned that something else was going on and it had nothing to do with research. Breast cancer got “branded,” and companies were using the pink ribbon as a logo, not the rallying call it was intended to be.

Chavie Lieber

Where does the pink ribbon as a symbol for breast cancer come from?

Gayle Sulik

[The idea started with] Charlotte Haley, a 68-year-old activist [whose mother and sister battled cancer]. She was giving out peach ribbons [in the early ’90s] to raise awareness about the lack of federal funding for breast cancer prevention. She tied peach ribbons by hand to notecards saying, “The National Cancer Institute annual budget is $1.8 billion; only 5 percent goes for cancer prevention. Help us wake up our legislators and America by wearing this ribbon.” Haley wrote editorials, contacted public women, and gave out the peach ribbons at local venues in her community to spread the message.

Evelyn Lauder [whose family owned the beauty company Estée Lauder] asked Haley to use her peach ribbon for a Self magazine [campaign], but Haley declined because she did not want her message to be watered down or commercialized. The simple solution? Change the color. Evelyn Lauder and Self magazine introduced the pink ribbon as their official symbol for breast cancer awareness during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in 1992.

The color pink symbolized the virtuous and blameless aspects of breast cancer and the femininity the disease threatened. By 1993, breast cancer became the darling of corporations, and the pink ribbon was its logo.

Chavie Lieber

Why is October associated with breast cancer?

Gayle Sulik

The first national breast cancer awareness movement was in 1985, and it was a week long. It was helped started by Betty Ford, [a breast cancer survivor], with the idea to spread information. It eventually moved to the month of October, although now the timeline to profit off of breast cancer awareness is all year long. Mother’s Day is a big time for breast cancerawareness, and Komen races happen all throughout the year. Avon [which also runs breast cancer awareness events] has said that they, too, are not confined to October. But this time of year is when you start to see pink products everywhere.

Chavie Lieber

Can anyone use the pink logo to make money off products now, or is it trademarked?

Gayle Sulik

Some groups have trademarked a certain style of ribbon. Susan G. Komen has trademarked their style of pink ribbon, for example, so if you see their ribbon on a product, it means that item is partnered with Komen. But a general pink ribbon is not trademarked, so, yes, anyone can put a ribbon on anything. The industry is completely unregulated, so anyone can make products that are pink and say they are donating money to breast cancer, and no one is held accountable.

Chavie Lieber

Who are the players in the breast cancer awareness economy, and how big a market is it?

Gayle Sulik

It is everywhere. You could say that the pink ribbon has helped create a cottage industry surrounding breast cancer awareness, because companies are “riding the tails” of the pink ribbon. Everyone you can imagine is making pink products. There’s pink clothing, grocery items like eggs and yeast with pink labels, pink tech. There was even a pink fracking drill bit from Baker Hughes a few years ago — that is going into the ground, so what sort of awareness does that bring? That also caused a lot of scrutiny on behalf of Komen, which has a history of questionable partnerships.

To give you a good picture of how pervasive this pink industry is, I’ll walk you through a trip I took to Pennsylvania two weeks ago: I took a flight with American Airlines, where they had pink ribbon napkins. There were pink ribbon signs at the rental car agency. A few hours later, I passed a tow truck in a little town in Pennsylvania that said “Towing for Tatas” with a pink ribbon too. Then I passed a bank with a sign of people wearing pink ribbons. And this was all in a few hours! There were so many pink products, but none of it actually tells me anything.

Chavie Lieber

Does anyone know where the money going to breast cancer awareness actually goes?

Gayle Sulik

The vast majority of funding for breast cancerresearch comes from the federal government, not from cause marketing campaigns. With money coming from pink products, the numbers are difficult to track because they’re not all part of official cause marketing programs. That’s the main issue with this industry: Anyone can buy anything that says it’s related to breast cancer awareness, or has imagery about it, but it could just as easily not be related to the cause at all. For a lot of companies, it’s just another way to profit, since October is the season of breast cancer.

Think of companies like Estée Lauder or Ann Taylor. They both have big connections to breast cancer. Go into Ann Taylor and there will be a promotion to have a percentage off that goes to the Avon Foundation, so breast cancer is a promotion for the shopper. Every other time of year, they will market with some other type of promotion. So the way I see it, it’s just another advertising campaign. It’s marketing to make a certain amount of money, which they can write off through advertising.

Chavie Lieber

But what’s wrong with spending money on marketing that goes to awareness about the disease?

Gayle Sulik

While awareness campaigns stimulate interest in breast cancer as a trendy social cause, they do little to promote knowledge about breast cancer. The commercialization of breast cancerhas contributed a lighthearted approach to awareness and advocacy that very often centers on fun-filled activities in the name of breast cancer awareness. This trivializes breast cancerand limits our ability to comprehend what it’s really like to face the disease, live with medical uncertainty, and accept the difficult realities of risk, recurrence, treatment, and even death.

In the book Hiding Politics in Plain Sight, Patricia Strach shows how cause marketing in particular waters down problems like cancer, transforming advocacy into individualized, easily marketable products and services that limit how we think about these problems and what we can do to solve them.

Chavie Lieber

What does raising money for awareness even mean? I’ve been told by other breast cancerresearch experts that a lot of the money just goes back into T-shirts and bracelets that are given away at races and stuff.

Gayle Sulik

What does awareness mean? We don’t know. What I personally think it means is brand recognition: seeing a pink ribbon and knowing it has to do with breast cancer. But it doesn’t necessarily mean the money is going anywhere trustworthy, and it doesn’t mean that it’s going to research or to helping people.

Companies use the breast cancer brand and its association with the color pink to market to women during awareness season. It’s an intentional strategy to sell more stuff and gain consumer loyalty. Consumers seem to like supporting causes with their purchases.

Over the years, “pinkwasher” has become a common term used to describe the hypocrisy and lack of transparency that surrounds Breast CancerAwareness Month and fundraising. It was coined by the group Breast Cancer Action in response to growing concerns about pink ribbon commercialization and the glut of pink ribbon products on the market. This has been going on since 2002.

Chavie Lieber

Do you think all companies that make pink products are doing it for the wrong reasons?

Gayle Sulik

No. I think across the board, some people have good ideas, and some companies want to give money. There are those with good intentions. But in this industry, it’s not about intentions; it’s about following the money and seeing where it lands. I’ve seen companies get specific, like saying they are raising money for a specific research project or helping someone pay off their medical bills. But because of the ubiquity of this, people are not looking to see where the money is going. Now there’s this watered-down message, and it’s hard to find a meaningful campaign that is actually trying to do good things.

Chavie Lieber

In your research, what have you found is the reaction cancer survivors have to this industry?

Gayle Sulik

I’ve heard survivors say they feel like companies are making money off their suffering, off their disease. It makes people angry because they are being used as profit. These companies don’t really care about the people suffering; they care about the advertising effects. I’ve also seen a chasm with women who’ve been treated and have no evidence of disease and those for whom cancer returned and are now in treatment until they die from the disease. Anyone who doesn’t fit the mold of the triumphant, plucky breast cancer survivor doesn’t have much of a place in the pink industry.

Chavie Lieber

So you think this industry also objectifies women?

Gayle Sulik

Absolutely. The images of races and walks, and products, show a very specific type of woman. The difficult realities of cancer are much less palatable for public consumption, and that’s why the look of a woman in the breast cancer awareness industry is sexualized.

Chavie Lieber

How is she sexualized, though? Isn’t this disease literally about breasts?

Gayle Sulik

No, this is about a systemic cancer. What kills people when they have cancer is not a disease of the breast; it’s when it spreads to other organs. This is a huge issue with breast cancerawareness because it is all about the boobs.

The other thing, though, is that you can talk about breasts with objectifying them. I have never seen in any disease-oriented campaign the amount of skin that gets shown with breast cancerones. There is tons of cleavage; women are always touching their breasts. Even serious subjects, like covers from Time magazine, have this type of imagery. Women’s bodies and their breasts are always the focus point. I think it’s important to see this disease as something that’s full-body, not just homing in on chest level.

Chavie Lieber

Do you think this concept of shopping and spending money on breast cancer has anything to do with the fact that this is largely a woman’s disease?

Gayle Sulik

Absolutely. I’ve seen some similarities with the “Movember” movement, which is for prostate cancer awareness. There’s overlap, with a mustache and the ribbon, in that people don’t know what they are aware of. But in terms of the sheer amount of product, it’s not at all similar between men and women.

Part of this is because women have been more consumers of the kind of stuff that’s being marketed. Women, as a target, niche group, are a driver, especially when you look at what sells the most, like cosmetics “for a cause.” Even the NFL got into breast cancer awareness. Why? Because they wanted to increase women football fans. When you start to pick apart the layers, the motivations for this industry become pretty clear.

Chavie Lieber

What can shoppers do? Do you recommend avoiding all pink products?

Gayle Sulik

I would say that if there’s a campaign, they should actually look into what organization the money is going to. Look and see if the organization actually exists, if it’s actually named and is credible. If a product says it “supports breast cancer awareness” but is really vague, that’s probably a red flag (or pink flag!) and you should walk away.

People should also try to find a timeline, because one big issue we see a lot is that companies will give a percentage of sales of something until October 31, but then the leftover stuff is being sold and they money isn’t being donated. But overall, do your due diligence. There’s no federally mandated rules for best practices of marketing campaigns, so it’s up to consumers to hold companies accountable.

The rise of the Barrett brothers, the All Blacks’ prolific family affair

When asked what he planned to do after retiring from rugby, Kevin Barrett — or “Smiley,” as he was nicknamed — announced he was “going to breed some All Blacks.”

A bold statement, but he did just that. Three of them, to be precise — the first trio of siblings to ever start a game for New Zealand’s hallowed rugby team.

Beauden — a World Cup winner and two-time player of the year — Jordie, and Scott made history when they linked arms to sing the national anthem before taking on France in 2018.

It’s not uncommon for two brothers to line up for the All Blacks — 46 sets have done so in the past — but for a single family to have such a foothold within the current team is unprecedented.

Good genes certainly play their part: Dad Kevin was an uncompromising second row forward in his playing days, turning out for provincial side Taranaki 167 times, while Mom Robyn was a strong runner and a talented netball and basketball player.

But growing up on a dairy farm on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island did its bit for the boys too.
“It certainly helped just having acres and acres of green grass, a back lawn where there’s goal posts and plenty of siblings and cousins around to compete with and play against,” Beauden, who has more than 70 All Blacks caps to his name, tells CNN World Rugby.

“I think that the only thing that mum ever forced us into doing something was dropping us off at the top of the road and grabbing our school bag. She’d give us a pair of sneakers and say, ‘Run home.'”

But on the playground that was the family farm, shoes were unnecessary. Barefoot running was usually the way the siblings roamed the pastureland surrounding their home.

“I was more than happy to not wear shoes. The only time we wore shoes was on Sunday when we went to church,” says Beauden. “Our feet were pretty tough back then, I couldn’t do it today.”

Swapping sports

A competitive urge came naturally to the Barrett boys, often at the expense of Jordie — the youngest of the family’s five brothers.

“Most of them aren’t very nice memories, I spent a lot of the time crying and trying to compete and be as good as my older brothers,” he says.

“But it was a very good position to be in. I was lucky, I always had boys to kick the ball around with or play backyard cricket with so that was a pretty cool position to be in.”

There are eight Barrett siblings in total, each of whom carries the sport-obsessed genes. Kane, the eldest, was a talented rugby player turning out for Taranaki and Super Rugby side the Blues before concussion forced him to retire early, and Blake, the fourth brother, also plays at the local club.

There are then three younger sisters who enjoy swimming, netball, and dancing.

Even the family’s rugby internationals continue to flit between sports today. Jordie and Beauden speak with CNN at the T20 Black clash, a charity cricket game pitching the country’s best cricketers against its rugby stars. For Jordie, who lashed a 42 not out at the crease and picked up two wickets, both sports come easily.

“In the end, rugby just made a decision for itself, really,” the 22-year-old says of a potential career on the cricket pitch. “I enjoyed my cricket growing up and played it right until first year at university — basically until I couldn’t play both, and it was as simple as that.”

‘A shiver down your spine’

That three brothers from a rural corner of New Zealand have all gone on to play Test rugby is credit to the country’s pathway system.

It’s not just that New Zealand, with a population of little more than four million, excels at rugby’s elite level. Pitches are everywhere and clubs are in nearly every town. Rugby is in the country’s lifeblood, and boys and girls of all ages dream of playing for the national teams.

“I just remember, it seemed to be the thing to do to get up a three o’clock in the morning and watch the All Blacks play England or South Africa,” says Beauden. “It was just part of who were, and I imagine it’s the same today.

“I think New Zealand Rugby do an exceptional job, the way it’s set up from the All Blacks, right down to grassroots. There’s a clear path young players can take if they want to be an All Black, if they’re talented, or if they get opportunities.”

There’s a pretty convincing argument that the All Blacks are the most successful sports franchise in history, boasting a better record than Brazil in football or Australia in cricket. Their 125-year win ratio is over 75%, more than any other major national sports team.

Engrained in the team’s identity is the haka. Performed before each game, it was originally a Maori ritual undertaken by the country’s indigenous people ahead of battle. Today, it unites the All Blacks — many of whom are from different ethnic backgrounds.

“Whoever does the haka, it sends a shiver down your spine,” says Scott, who made his international debut in November 2016. “It gets your blood boiling and that’s what you look forward to — the time before games. It’s something special, for sure.

“When I got on the field it just happened so quick and I loved every minute of it because that’s what every Kiwi boy growing up wants to do — play for the All Blacks. It’s a dream come true.”

Tasting success

New Zealand has been the top-ranked side in the world for close to a decade and this year will go in search of a record third straight World Cup win. It won’t be straightforward, though.

Northern hemisphere rugby is in a stronger position than ever with Ireland defeating the All Blacks late last year and England and Wales also running hot.

The three Barrett brothers are likely to all feature in Japan this year. While they admit time with the whole family together can be difficult to come by, a victory for the All Blacks would no doubt bring them all together.

It did when Beauden, a try-scorer in the 2015 final as New Zealand beat Australia at Twickenham, brought the Web Ellis Cup back to the family farm. Celebrations saw Dad fill the trophy with milk from their cows.

Don Lemon questions Trump’s mental fitness, says Kellyanne Conway is ‘beneath the dignity’ of CNN

CNN’s Don Lemon went after both President Donald Trump and of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on Thursday night, questioning the president’s mental fitness and his White House associate’s fitness to appear on the cable network.

Lemon criticized Trump for mocking the hand gestures of former congressman Beto O’Rourke’s, who just entered the 2020 presidential race.

CNN DERIDED FOR ANTI-TRUMP GRAPHIC DURING PROGRAM BILLED AS STRAIGHT NEWS

“I said, ‘is he crazy or is that just the way he acts?’” Trump told reporters.

Lemon had a lot to say about Trump’s comment.

“Crazy, huh? That’s pretty ironic, really ironic. Questioning somebody’s mental fitness on the basis of how they move their hands or how they talk?” Lemon said.

The CNN anchor showed a montage of some of the president’s memorable gestures and sounds from the campaign trail.

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Lemon then asked, “Who is Donald Trump to question anybody else’s mental fitness, projecting much?”

Earlier in the show, Lemon trashed Conway’s interview with his colleague Chris Cuomo, insisting that her presence on CNN is “beneath the dignity of this network.”

“She never answers a question. She berates you. She’s condescending,” Lemon said of Conway.

“When you come on CNN, you have an obligation to be honest to the American people,” Lemon told Cuomo. “You can give your opinion, you can give your take, but it is a privilege to come on this network and speak to the American people. If you’re gonna do it, do it directly and honestly.”

Lemon’s “CNN Tonight” is billed as a news program, as opposed to an opinion show, but he continues to trumpet far-left beliefs on a nightly basis. Earlier on Thursday, a different CNN show was slammed for an on-screen graphic that critics say editorialized news of the Senate preparing its vote to block President Trump’s border emergency declaration.

Under a red breaking-news banner, CNN said, “SOON: SENATE TO EMBARRASS TRUMP WITH ‘EMERGENCY’ VOTE,’” during the network’s 1 p.m. ET hour, hosted by Dana Bash.

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CNN’s 1 p.m. hour, “CNN Right Now,” is listed alongside “CNN Tonight” as straight-news programs, according to the network’s website, which has other shows itemized in an “interview and debate” category.

CNN has been accused of taking an anti-Trump approach to news, but it hasn’t translated to ratings success.