Barbara Lippert’s Critique: Bigger Than Pink

Hang on and I’ll be with you in a minute. I’m just jotting down a note in my handy Avon Breast Cancer Crusade memo book: “Remember to reorder the breast cancer awareness sock five-pack.”

October, as I probably don’t have to remind you, is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, now in its twenty-fifth year. There are presently over 150 pink products in stores, many of them tied to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation’s Race for the Cure. Thus, these days we can shower, grill and vacuum for the cure. New to the array this season is a pink external 6g hard drive from Seagate (who sees a hard drive?), a pink Polaroid digital camera, and special edition pink-and-white label cans of Campbell’s soup. (Talk about giving new meaning to “chicken soup for the soul!”)

I’m all for raising money and awareness, but what put me over the edge was the Kozy Kancer Korner (not the actual name) set up in my local Bed, Bath and Beyond. Everything was pink—designer knives, sets of heart-shaped baking pans, a rolling pin, even a KitchenAid mixer in Paris Hilton’s favorite color. To quote Steel Magnolias, the display looked like it was hosed down in Pepto-Bismol.

Here’s my truck with pink. It symbolizes everything from baby girls to porn to hyper-femininity. I understand that the breast cancer take on pink is supposed to be more powerful, but I find it kind of annoying. On the other side of the coin, though, I have a friend, diagnosed last October with breast cancer, who felt comforted to see pink everywhere. “I felt like the world was opening its arms to me,” she said. “I even felt like hugging that big pink mixer.”

There’s also no reason to be petulant and criticize the good people at these corporations who are donating a percentage of all proceeds to breast cancer charities such as the American Cancer Society and the Breast Cancer Research Fund. But there’s something about the pink ghetto—separating products tied-in to breast cancer—that gets to me.

In part, I wonder if the pinking of America is the best choice for manufacturers who want to help. Wouldn’t it be more cost-effective if, instead of spending money on making bizarrely colored products, they donated a portion of the sales from their regularly colored, best-selling items? (And then ask for matching donations from consumers?)

Maybe I just tend to resist bureaucratized corporate religions.

While feeling ambivalent, I found a pink tab that read “Ford cares” on my AOL account, and clicking on it, was introduced to the company’s Warriors in Pink program. Well, kudos to Ford for broadening the scope in a campaign—no pink cars!—that allows for a more personal interpretation of breast cancer awareness. After all, every woman has her own way of fighting, healing and dealing. Also, Ford gives 100 percent of the proceeds to the Komen Foundation. (The company expects that its total contributions to fund breast cancer education and research over the last 12 years will soon surpass $100 million in cash and in-kind donations.)

The ads and materials revolve around a line of clothing for men, women and kids with a warrior logo. While this has the potential to become hokey and pseudo tribal, it also carries a suggestion of something wild and elemental—which really takes women’s thoughts outside of the pink kitchen. I like the design of the logo: it incorporates graphic symbols such as masks, wings, chevrons, plants and spirals, and comes off as a combination of Native American, African and maybe even faux Babylonian motifs. We get to read whatever symbols, myths, or legends we want into it.

A Warrior TV spot, airing only on the Web site and at the Komen Foundation’s races, is irresistible, mainly because it uses Melissa Etheridge singing “I Run for Life.” Etheridge, famously a survivor, has a voice full of life and power, which is why the song has become the de facto anthem of the fight against breast cancer. The energetic spot begins with a female warrior putting on her war paint, and then shows great groups of people of all ages, colors and genders running. There’s also a tie-in with the cast of Grey’s Anatomy (they’re healers, get it?), shown in a print ad wearing their Warriors in Pink clothing and accessories.

What I like most about the campaign’s Web site ( is its virtual quilt. You can go to the site and personalize squares with your own symbols and words. The whole thing moves on screen, and it’s incredibly cathartic to “touch” the squares. I especially loved the sentiment of one survivor’s grandson, who wrote, “We are all in this together.”

Full disclosure: In July 2005, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It came completely out of the blue through a routine mammogram: I have zero family history, don’t smoke, don’t drink and live the cautious life with the plain people.

I’m fine. It was caught at an early stage and I was really lucky to have access to fantastic doctors. Plus, my family, friends, co-workers and boss rallied around me and were super-caring. Also heartening was the almost underground railroad-like sisterhood of women who comforted me and shared their own stories. (And sometimes proudly showed off their newly reconstructed breasts—even right there in Starbucks.)

I wanted to come clean in hopes that I can help someone else. I skipped two years of mammograms. I was busy with a million excuses—they stopped taking my insurance, the place is all the way uptown, etc., etc. So if you’re a woman in your 40s, before you have your hair lightened or duck in for one more manicure, please schedule an appointment for a mammogram. And run—for prevention, not just the cure.