I have a complicated relationship with the color pink. It’s weird to say you have a complicated relationship with a color, but “Hi my name is Megan, and my relationship status with pink is ‘it’s complicated’.”
As a kid, I had a great pink tea set. I was all about it… the way that color complemented my Cabbage Patch doll, Trixie Dulce, was just an added bonus because she was my most consistent and reliable tea party guest. It was not until 2 years after my mom’s diagnosis that pink morphed from a visually magic hue into a corporate marketing ploy. I was sitting with her while she was receiving chemotherapy and a woman stopped by to hand out items for the upcoming Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. I was thrilled because at 11, free swag was the best. I looked at my mom, expecting an equally excited reaction, only to encounter disgust plastered across her face. My mom was looking at the pink hat she had just been handed—something that all ‘survivors’ were going to wear to the race. The woman left and I distinctly remember my mom saying, “Don’t call me a survivor and don’t parade me around in that hat.”
In designing the website, womanlab.org, we were intentional in our use of color. We acknowledged that pink often led to a visceral reaction and wanted colors that, in the words of our designers, “radiated brazen femininity, strength, and unique scientific excellence.” It wasn’t until earlier this month that I had to navigate the pink waters again. This time, in my own home.
My stepson came home from school on Friday informing us he needed to go shopping because he had to wear a pink shirt on Monday.
“Why?” I asked, feeling my blood pressure rise as the woman inside of me started to dust off her soapbox.
“Because we need to bring awareness to breast cancer,” he said in the way that only an- almost-16-year-old can make you feel stupid and enraged at the same time.
“You think this pink shirt will bring awareness?” I rebutted, about to step on my newly dusted soapbox.
“I mean yeah, I even bought this for cancer research,” he said as he lifted his wrist now decorated with a pink, plastic bracelet with the words “BREAST CANCER” stamped in it.
At that moment—ready on my soapbox—I was stunned into silence. I was ready to tell him that this bracelet and pink shirt he so desperately wanted was about the promotion of a single cancer—something that is all at once sexualized and othering—what about lung cancer that is, in fact, the most deadly cancer to women; I was ready to talk about the difference between “awareness” and “marketing”; I was ready to talk about the disparities; I was even ready to talk about peer pressure but I stopped. At 15 years old, he was already socialized to the symbol of pink and I couldn’t make him wear a black t-shirt in protest. I may be a stepmom, but I try to avoid the evil prefix as much as possible.
I know this is not the first time, nor the last, that the marketing behind pink will be debated. I’m not interested in hashing out the seemingly obvious manipulation of a color into a business. However, given that we are squarely in October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I would be remiss if I didn’t do something.
This weekend, I found myself desperately scouring the internet for suggestions of what to do when you don’t want to be a part of the pink economy, but find yourself there nonetheless. There were (not surprisingly) few suggestions, but I found that I wasn’t alone in my frustration. Think Before You Pink has a blog with actionable steps you can take to be a smart consumer during “Pinktober” and there are some great online communities validating the anti-pink community.
However, this year I’m trying something different: I’ve made a list of 31 things I plan to do in October, one a day, not in protest but in affirmation of life, sisterhood, family, health, self-care and community. I like to believe at the core of the pink movement, this is what it’s all about. That even when you’re not a fan of the pink economy, you aren’t alone in seeking a community among others who have shared experiences.
I would encourage you to join me—or, even better—make a list of your own. Without further ado, here is my Self-Awareness Month list: