Suspicions surrounding breast cancer awareness called for a student to analyze the issue even further in her senior capstone project by studying a non-profit organization that urges consumers to think before they pink.
Keene State College junior Jessica Markarian is currently analyzing the “Think Before You Pink” breast cancer campaign, which was started by the non-profit organization Breast Cancer Action (BCA). In Dr. Jamie Landau’s senior course, each student is assigned to complete a semester-long research project focused around the rhetoric of media advertisements and images.
“Since I started this, I have seen multiple pink ribbon products in stores and every time I find an employee to ask if they know how much of my money would be going directly to the cause, every time, they do not have an answer for me,” Markarian said.
According to the BCA website, their mission is to achieve health justice for all women living with or at risk for breast cancer. The organization’s website stated that BCA’s main focus is on systemic interventions that will address the root cause(s) of the disease and aims to produce broad public health benefits to ensure fewer women will be diagnosed with or die from breast cancer.
The BCA website stated that as part of their “Think Before You Pink” campaign, they have coined the term “pinkwashing,” which refers to companies or organizations that promote the pink ribbon product, but at the same time produce, manufacture and/or sell products that are linked to the disease.
“Any company can put a pink ribbon on its products. The widely recognized pink ribbon symbol is not regulated by any agency and does not necessarily mean it effectively combats the breast cancer epidemic. Some products sport pink ribbons to try to communicate that they are ‘healthy’ and don’t contribute to breast cancer, such as a number of natural health and beauty products. Other products have a pink ribbon in order to indicate that the company supports breast cancer programs even if the company’s contributions are not tied to the purchases of the specific product bearing the ribbon,” the BCA website stated.
Markarian said that the “Think Before You Pink” campaign is raising awareness on how consumers need to ask critical questions when buying pink ribbon products. She said there are many more beneficial ways to donate and make a difference when it comes to cancer. Through her research, Makarian said she hopes to raise awareness in the Keene State College community.
“I have seen students on campus raising money for Susan G. Komen For the Cure, which is the cause’s [Breas Cancer Awareness] largest non-profit organization; however, according to an article titled “Pretty in Pink: The Susan G. Komen Network and the Branding of the Breast Cancer Cause” by Laurie Gilmore Selleck, the organization only donates 21 percent of their budget to the cause,” Markarian said.
Jamie Landau said that activists are starting to bring to light that, as a society, we have pink-washed breast cancer awareness. “It is sort of like the phrase white washing. We are seeing it everywhere and so then it loses its substances- it loses its ability to actually make real social change. Then it just becomes more of a consumer activity rather than a legal policy activity.”
Landau said that she supports Markarian’s argument for the fact that a lot of the average mainstream coverage of breast cancer is “let’s talk about it as a personal issue” and “let’s talk about it as a consumer issue” in terms of companies donating percentages of profits. or walking for a cure.
Landau said Markarian is studying other, and potentially more impactful activism, ways to raise breast cancer awareness; ways that address the political, legal and problematic side to the “Think Before Pink” campaign. Landau said that, although a difference is being made, consumers need to recognize that social activism and social change is not st about something you can purchase.
Markarian said she decided to focus on the “Think Before You Pink” campaign after the first week of her senior project course. She recalled that, on the first day of class, Teacher Assistant Matthew Pereira advised students to make sure they picked topics they were interested in because it was going to be their lives for the next four months.
Markarian said, “I knew I had to pick something I was really passionate about. I am a communication major, but I have always been really interested in the health industry. Pharmaceutical sales have also been a career goal of mine for a while now. Dr. Landau told us that it would be even better if our project ended up being something we could eventually put on our resume, so I started researching different pharmaceutical ads and health campaigns. That is when I found ‘Think Before You Pink,’”
Senior and Teacher Assistant Matthew Pereira said that he could tell Markarian was very passionate about her topic. “I think that it is cool that she is tying in a social justice/medical issue into her project to raise awareness herself. Her topic is very unique because people usually pick advertisements, movies and things like that,” Pereira said. “They never really pick non-profit organizations or public service announcements, which a lot more people have been doing this semester. This was nice for me because it shook things up a little bit and even gave me a challenge I was not expecting to face.”
Markarian added that her passion and connection to this breast cancer campaign comes from the impact that cancer has had on her family.
“Basically everyone has been affected by cancer in some way, so I feel like it’s just a really disappointing thing to learn that so many pink ribbon products we have purchased to support breast cancer might not have been making as much of a difference as we thought,” Markarian said.
Markarian advises that before consumers pick an organization to donate to they should do research on where the money is actually going. Makarian also urged consumers to ask questions when purchasing pink ribbon products, or even just to go online to Breast Cancer Action and donating directly. Makarian said the donations made on the BCA website do not directly go to breast cancer research since the organization is focused on finding the root causes of the disease. These donations go toward fundraising and producing public health benefits. “It is just those little things that we can do to make more of a difference,” Markarian said. “With my research, I just hope to make people more aware of that.”
Brogan Wessell can be contacted at bwessell@kscequinoxcom