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Think Before You Pink

October begins tomorrow and – like Christmas decorations that startle and annoy us by popping up in stores by Halloween – the parade of pink products for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month is well underway.

You can't get through Target or Macy's this time of year without being bombarded by pink can openers, pink mixing bowls, pink vacuums, pink shoelaces, pink candles, pink night-lights, pink visors, pink note cards, pink teddy bears, pink Nintendos, pink Pashmina scarves, pink travel mugs, pink running socks, pink cookbooks, pink backpacks, pink golf sets, pink pajamas, pink flower pots, pink-beribboned sweatshirts, pink denim shirts …

Even the Philadelphia strawberry cream cheese I bought at Publix on Sunday had a pink ribbon on it.

I find all this saccharine pinkness as annoying as those tiny X-ray metal stars they stick to your nipples when you get a mammogram.

Wait, before you sic the pink police on me and my sore nipples, let me clarify that I am not an advocate of breast cancer. I understand the importance of awareness campaigns and the need to remind women to schedule their annual screenings. I get the whole sisterhood solidarity thing. And I'm glad breast cancer no longer is shrouded in secrecy and stigma.

I can tolerate the infantile and demeaning nature of most of these pink products, even though I find them as dishonest as those perky new moms who gush over the beauty of childbirth. I'll stomach the cuteness (although I refuse to be a "breast friend.")

What I detest is the commercialization. I hate that breast cancer has become the poster child of companies trying to boost their image and profits. Look no further than the 2006 Advertising Age story entitled "Breast Cancer Awareness Strategy Doubles Sales of Campbell's Soup" for motivation.

Corporate America is drowning us in a vast pink sea that has become so cloudy with crap that some of the companies that claim to care about breast cancer are manufacturing products that may even cause the disease.

More than 300 companies and corporations are now "partners" with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, the largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists. The list includes every store and product you can imagine, from 7-Eleven and Yoplait to American Airlines and Pier 1.

If shopping could cure breast cancer, surely we would be rid of it by now.

I'm not alone in my cynicism. Feminist writer Barbara Ehrenreich first griped about this in 2001, when she wrote about her own experience with breast cancer in a Harper's Magazine article called "Welcome to Cancerland: A Mammogram Leads to a Cult of Pink Kitsch."

A year later, Think Before You Pink, a project of Breast Cancer Action (, was launched in response to the growing concern about the overwhelming number of pink ribbon products and promotions. The campaign calls for more transparency and accountability by companies that take part in breast cancer fundraising, and encourages consumers to ask critical questions.

Think Before You Pink draws attention to "pinkwashers" – companies that promote pink ribbon campaigns while making products linked to breast cancer. In the past, the project has targeted car companies and cosmetic manufacturers like Avon and Revlon. This year, the cause is taking on Yoplait, which urges consumers to buy its yogurt in the name of breast cancer, although it's made with milk from cows that have been treated with bovine growth hormone. (Numerous consumer groups have questioned whether the synthetic hormone is tied to various health problems, including breast cancer.)

Let's support women with breast cancer and the research needed to cure them. But please, before making a pink purchase this month, take off the rose-colored glasses and read the fine print.