Bright Pinkwashing: Fabfest 2014

I’ve posted on my ambivalence towards Bright Pink before, but lately that ambivalence has turned into outright dislike. This video about Fabfest was the tipping point. I am officially on the Bright Pink Hate Wagon.

Bright Pink repeatedly emphasizes the links between “fitness” and health. That sounds fine in theory, but in practice their media presence–advertisements, promotions, Facebook page, twitter account, and various videos–make it clear that being “fit” is really a euphemism for being thin. The Fabfest video above is yet another example of Bright Pink’s penchant for presenting heteronormative femininity as the path to health and wellness. This is obviously galling from a feminist perspective, but it’s also frustrating from a disability studies perspective: they seem at pains to show that genetically aberrant BRCA+ bodies can pass as normative. Such an approach isn’t  particularly unique: mainstream breast cancer nonprofits have long tried to help women obtain the markers of conventionally femininity. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that an organization called Bright Pink would espouse a pinker than pink ideology, but it’s nonetheless disappointing considering that there are so few resources for BRCA+ women.

Note how the video splices in clear views of corporate logos with images of happy thin women as uplifting music plays. Bright Pink isn’t just selling conventional gender norms, they’re also selling products, particularly cosmetics and clothing. From this perspective, BRCA+ women are not an audience that needs to be informed. Instead, they’re an untapped niche market in need of makeovers. Got BRCA+? Now you too can have immaculately flat-ironed hair. Given this investment in cancer consumerism, is it any wonder that Bright Pink has been posting on twitter about working with Myriad Genetics? (Compare all this to the FORCE website and convention, both of which focus on educating high risk women about the latest medical advances, how to be their own advocates, and how to navigate the medical, cancer, and insurance industries)

To a large extent, Bright Pink is taking a page from the Komen play book here, but with one exception: there are no smiling survivors draped in pink, no bald heads signalling women currently undergoing cancer treatment, no photos of female family members taken too soon by cancer. Bright Pink’s media ironically erases any signs of illness or disease from what it means to be BRCA+. There are no signs of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer at Fabfest, because there’s no sense of familial relations or larger social and relational contexts. There’s simply young white women fighting the good fight against cancer with shimmery eyeshadow. In other words, cancer becomes individual, rather systemic, and BRCA mutations become as nonthreatening as a sea of identically hairless svelte pink-clad bodies in downward facing dog.

This message is especially misleading because it suggests that if BRCA+ women simply conform to conventional femininity (eat green! exercise! wear yoga pants! have shiny, shiny hair!), then they will be protected from cancer. Nothing could be further from the truth. Remember: most women with breast cancer don’t have risk factors and we don’t know exactly what causes most sporadic cancers (my bet is on environmental factors). Being “healthy,” bourgeois, and pretty won’t protect women–both the genetically normal and abnormal–from breast cancer.

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8 thoughts on “Bright Pinkwashing: Fabfest 2014

  1. First, Risky Body. You rock. I enjoy your unique perspectives and having you as a fellow BRCA advocate. I am going to simply put my thoughts out there and I am hoping we can just agree to disagree on some things.

    I completely see how this pink sea of sorority like exercising and peppy music could rub you the wrong way. When I think of the reality of cancer and its effect, yes, all that positivity and flat-ironed hair seems ridiculous and personally drives me more than a bit crazy. I just don’t see myself participating in a group exercise class, bopping around, with shimmery eyeshadow. I too dislike pink-washing…but Bright Pink is the name of the organization. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, they started up before the whole PINK idea was a “negative”. To have them promote green, blue, red, or any other color–well, that doesn’t make sense for them “branding” wise. Their name is Bright Pink. In addition, they do actually provide information and education. With that being said, I’m hoping the women who attended Fabfest actually ended up being educated and received life-saving HBOC cancer information from the BP organization. It is hard to tell from this FabFest video that only says “education about breast cancer, and early detection is important”. We both know there are many tiers beyond those two things when it comes to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

    On the other hand, I think about my niece too, who without a doubt I picture connecting much better to Bright Pink than to any other HBOC organization out there. For that, I am so very grateful Bright Pink exists. She is in her teens, young, peppy, hip, and this light energetic entrance to the BRCA world is probably what I will recommend for her when she has to start her journey. So from a feminist perspective, while I see your clear, well articulated points, I also feel Bright Pink may serve it’s purpose for certain people. Just as Sharsheret may work better for someone more closely tied to the Jewish Community. Just as Force may work better for someone very interested in advocacy or specifically seeking a conference.

    BRCA is intricate. BRCA is hard. BRCA affects families and individuals differently. With a difficult journey, I just want each person to empower themselves with knowledge about BRCA in order to make the best healthcare decisions for themselves and their situation. So, in this difficult BRCA scenario, from a feminist perspective, I feel one should have a choice to go where one is most comfortable. For young women starting just finding out their BRCA status or their BRCA journey, bopping amidst a sea of pink might be that comfortable place for them, even if it is not the right place for me. With BRCA, just as there are many options to reduce cancer risk, there are many BRCA support options. Everyone has the right to choose for themselves what works best for them.

    Respectfully,

    Amy Byer Shainman
    The BRCA Responder
    BRCA Health Advocate, BRCA1 positive reviver
    http://thebrcaresponder.blogspot.com

    1. I guess I think that pinkwashing is far more detrimental to the interests of women with HBOC and BRCA mutations than you do. IMO, conventional femininity and pinkwashing are far from innocuous and we shouldn’t take them as a matter of course within the BRCA+ community or the breast cancer community at large.

  2. Even if the goal is to reach a younger generation, I think we can do so by showing young women that it’s they are smart enough to understand the science and economics of breast cancer. Running shit like a beauty magazine stands directly in the way of progress in our community. I think Bright Pink could do what they do and also be a bit more self-aware about how they fit into a complex and much bigger picture. Younger women need examples of strong, smart, outspoken women who are making an impact on research.

    My only bit of constructive feedback: hate is a strong word. Is the goal for orgs like Bright Pink to change their behavior? If so, the message has to be sent in a way that would make them want to listen. Anything else is counter-productive. So…how can we do get them to listen? ( :

  3. As a woman of color living in a rural area, my journey with breast cancer, in and of it self has been bad enough. The total disregard of me being treated as a human being, really took it’s tole. You can read my journey at :
    http:breastnewsfromthelight.wordpress.com

  4. I live in Cleveland, OH and just received a Bright Pink 2014 FabFest brochure about “an inspirational, action-packed health+wellness experience in support of bright pink”. Bright Pink’s mission is about prevention and early detection of breast and ovarian cancer. The brochure and video are meant to attract young women with a message of wellness. Who wouldn’t want to go for a day of exercise and a makeover and a focus on being a young woman?

    Bright Pink has crafted their message to previvors, young women who don’t yet have breast or ovarian cancer. Bright Pink has only one qualified medical professional on its staff. She’s board certified in obstetrics and gynecology. They have no one on their staff or board involved with oncology, research, governmental regulations and other important things for an organization that’s trying to do more than promote awareness of breast and ovarian cancer. What they have is knowledge of youth culture and a lot of enthusiasm.

    After they have their captive audience for the day, I hope they educate them about cancer prevention, risk factors, and early detection. Research now shows that diet and exercise and self exams are key. One in 10 women with breast or ovarian cancer has hereditary cancer. How many young women are aware of their family history of illness? Even knowing there is cancer in their family, many young women are unaware of the links between other cancers (like prostate and pancreatic) and breast or ovarian cancer. Many young women are scared to take the genetic test to find out if they carry a genetic mutation for breast and/or ovarian cancer. If Bright Pink can get these messages out while giving a makeover, more power to them!

    Bright Pink doesn’t try to take someone through the whole cancer experience. If you look through their website, http://www.brightpink.org, they refer women with cancer to other resources to take them on the next step of their journey.

    I think Bright Pink has a place in the Pink Parade of charities. They are legitimate, file their Form 990’s and spend more than 80% of their revenue on program services.Go Bright Pink!

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