Last week when I was walking into Panera, where I have appointed myself writer-in-residence, I noticed something new: a sign on the door informing me that I could now buy a pink ribbon-shaped bagel to support breast cancer.
I of all people should rejoice at this, right? I lost my mother to breast cancer earlier this year, and I’ve been devastated. Two of my aunts have survived breast cancer (both sides of the family), and at age 43 I’ve had two wonky mammograms and a cyst myself. I feel certain I am a walking time bomb for the disease. Any effort to raise awareness should benefit me personally, as well as countless others.
So why am I not munching on a pink bagel? Or buying pink bubble bath? Or spending a self-indulgent day shopping at a mall that gives a 20% discount on all purchases if I spend just $1 on a pink card?
The bottom line is that I just don’t think that spending more money is the best way to honor my mom.
Americans have developed an odd ritual of propitiation for the rather insane amounts of money we spend on ourselves: we offer a dollar for charity and then feel justified in dropping $100 on our own cravings for clothes, food, shoes, widgets . . . . topping off the day with a luscious pink dessert.
What’s particularly sad is that some of the shopping that is being promoted around finding a cure for breast cancer doesn’t actually contribute much, if anything, to the cause. Reuters columnist Linda Stern reports that there are some scams underfoot:
“Some companies paint their products pink in a self-described effort to raise awareness for breast cancer, but don’t actually donate money to the cause. For example, Card.com sells a stored-value Visa-branded card that charges a $5.95 monthly fee, is pink-branded for breast cancer awareness, but sends nothing to breast cancer charities.”
“Think before you pink,” she and others advise us. It’s good advice about how to shop wisely. Even better advice may be not to shop at all but to make a donation, plain and simple. I just made one to the Women’s Cancer Research Fund, which funds research not only for breast cancer but for uterine, cervical, and ovarian cancer as well, which don’t receive nearly the attention and donations that breast cancer does.
I’m glad for the increased awareness. But as Barbara Ehrenreich points out with characteristic cranky incisiveness, while “awareness” beats secrecy and stigma, she can’t help noticing that the “existential space” in which a friend has earnestly advised her to confront her own mortality “bears a striking resemblance to the mall.”