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The Pink Project
The pink ribbon movement started as a grassroots campaign by a woman named Charlotte Hayley in 1991. She was a breast cancer survivor whose grandmother, sister, and daughter were also impacted by the disease. She designed a peach colored breast cancer awareness ribbon and attached it to a postcard that read “The National Cancer Institute’s annual budget is $1.8 billion, only 5% goes for cancer prevention. Help us wake up legislators and America by wearing this ribbon.” Ultimately, she was asking how could we legitimately find a cure if we don’t know the cause? She was approached by Self Magazine’s editor-in-chief and marketing executive, Alexandra Penney and senior vice president of cosmetics company Estee Lauder, Evelyn Lauder, to use the ribbon as a form of branding. This offer was presented with the knowledge of cause-related marketing. Carol Cone of Cone Communications conducted research in the 80’s that proved over 50% of consumers would, despite the same cost and quality, shift to a brand that was associated with a good cause. Charlotte declined the offer, deeming them to be too corporate and commercial as she feared the message would get lost. They contacted their lawyers and discovered they could use her peach ribbon without her consent as long as it was a different color. They selected pink and in 1992, the pink ribbon phenomena began.
National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) was established in 1985 by the American Cancer Society with funding from the subsidiary of one of the world’s largest multinational pharmaceutical and chemical corporations, Astra Zeneca. Astra Zeneca manufactures tamoxifen, an anti-estrogenic drug used to treat breast cancer. They also manufacture Atrazine, a widely used herbicide that is an environmental estrogen. Increasing concentrations of estrogen in the body significantly increases the risk of breast cancer. Atrazine is one of the most commonly used herbicides in the United States. Approximately 80 million pounds of it are used across the country each year. It was deemed dangerous enough to be banned by the European Union.
In other words, the pharmaceutical and chemical giant who created National Breast Cancer Awareness month in October nearly 30 years ago also manufactures the herbicide that is linked to its cause, as well as the pill that is used to treat it.
While consumers contribute to “the cause”, there is still a massive lack of understanding what actually causes the disease. The pharmaceutical industry, agricultural industry, lack of accountability from the EPA and the FDA all fuse to devise a corporate regime that not only makes its citizens sick, possibly fatally, with the chemicals used to grow their food, they also profit from the drugs used to treat it. The peach ribbon, earnestly established by a woman who forged ahead as a social activist in a grassroots movement after being significantly impacted by the disease herself, was grossly and upapologetically pilfered. The peach ribbon, saturated in authenticity, the people for the people, was co-opted into a bubblegum pink corporatized marketing tool. Considering an estimated $6 billion a year is contributed to breast cancer research and awareness campaigns, pink ribbon branding has proven to be a guaranteed profit for countless corporations. Charlotte Hayley’s original peach breast cancer ribbons were designed to petition for prevention of the disease while demanding legislative culpability. The Pink Project is designed to honor her legacy while generating transparency regarding the breast cancer industry and those who profit from its institutionalization.