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.