Oct 31 2006

Breast Cancer Awareness Month Finally Over: Retailers Descend Into Funk

In these, the final hours of Breast Cancer Awareness Month ’06, it is the fervent hope of thousands of retailers the world over that everyone out there has finally heard of breast cancer, and, most importantly, is willing to buy stuff to prove it.

* * * * * * * * * *

So what charitable deed of unbridled altruism am I going to rip on today? you ask. Well, how about this one: if you’re a ‘young breast cancer survivor’ belonging to a group known as the Pink Ribbon Girls, you can “marvel” over being “pampered” for free at an Ohio beauty salon (it could scarcely undermine their philanthropic selflessness to mention Anthony’s Salon, 6403 Bridgetown Road, Cincinatti, right?). For it is a well-known fact that the primary obstacle facing young women afflicted with breast cancer survivorosity is difficulty “feeling good about themselves.”

You might think it natural for spirits to flag a bit when suffering a life-threatening disease and its punishing, antediluvian ‘treatments’. But breast cancer ‘survivors’, you must realize, are not like other sick people. They are Patriarchy’s Chosen Invalids. They are required by law and by commerce to feel good about themselves. Fortunately, any aberration or momentary decline in their pinkribbon enthusiasm for pluckily embracing debilitating illness has been clinically shown to respond positively to cosmetology. Hence the Cincinatti beauty salon’s emergency intervention with “hot towel stress relief treatment, paraffin dip, shampoo and finish, makeup lesson, mini-manicure, refreshments, a pink rose and goody bags.”

[That’s right, I said “paraffiin dip.” I dont know what it is, but it sounds like something toxic the nuclear medicine tech injects you with just before sealing you up in a PET scan tube for 2 days.]

Undoubtedly some readers will take exception to my cynical tone. They will propose that the aforementioned beauty salon owner is merely doing these poor gals a solid and what’s my fucking problem anyway.

Well, I’ll tell you.

My fucking problem is not that a few girls got a pink rose and a “mini-manicure,” or even that some well-meaning beautician thinks dipping cancer patients in paraffin is a good idea. My fucking problem is what these things represent : that breast cancer has been turned into a cult of überfemininity. My fucking problem is the popular belief that the greater the obsequiousness with which the breast cancerettes comply with the infantilizing femininity mandate, the prettier they’ll feel, and the less likely they’ll be to drop dead at any moment. My fucking problem is our cultural narrative’s reification of those women, who for some reason didn’t die, as some kind of holy coalescence of the Virgin Mary, Joan d’Arc, and a fuzzy-wuzzy teddy bear.

My fucking problem is that femininity obliterates personal sovereignty. You wanna cut a breast cancer patient a break? Let her know that the pink self-esteem injunction is a crock of shit, and that attempts to solicit approval from patriarchal authority won’t smite a single cancer cell. Then take her to the beach and buy her a pitcher of margaritas (but don’t forget the SPF 40!).


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  1. Twisty,

    A parafin dip is where they stick your naked hands (or feet) into hot wax, then let it harden and then peel it off. For about 30 minutes afterwards, your hands/feet feel really, really soft. So that you think the pain of the hot wax was maybe worth it. And charging you money for the pleasure makes you think it’s something special.

    Nice blaming, by the way.

  2. I’ve spent all fucking month becoming “aware” of breast cancer and it culminated in a dx of it on Thursday. As I sat in my dr. office yesterday on my 43rd birthday, staring at an ad for an “adorable” pink teddy bear riding a pink Harley (for god’s sake!), I knew that I would hate October forever.

    Can we please move on to November now?

  3. Twisty

    “A parafin dip is where they stick your naked hands (or feet) into hot wax, then let it harden and then peel it off. For about 30 minutes afterwards, your hands/feet feel really, really soft. So that you think the pain of the hot wax was maybe worth it. And charging you money for the pleasure makes you think it’s something special.”

    Great Scott!

  4. Twisty

    Damn, zz. Just damn.

  5. Don’t worry Twisty, right around the corner at your local GAP awareness is being raised about AIDS in Africa via red t-shirts. Also Macintosh is selling red ipod nano’s for the same cause. Pink is so last october.

  6. And after the day at the salon, they can take complimentary pole-dancing lessons! That’ll restore the ol’ femininity!

  7. Excellent blaming. I wonder if the mani-pedi people are prepared to beautify you if your nails are crumbling off from the chemo side effects. And will there be pink be-ribboned steel basins in case some of the aromatherapy products make you barf?

    And if you say “no thank you” to this lovely offer, will you be earnestly reminded that a positive attitude is essential to on-going survival?

    Or, more resplendently, as you say: “…attempts to solicit approval from patriarchal authority won’t smite a single cancer cell….”

    I’ll have the less ridiculous margaritas, please.

  8. The paraffin dip is also phenomenal for pain management, btw. My physical therapist introduced me to the wonders of the machine while I was recovering from a hand injury and I went out and bought one for my personal use.

    Since I realized I now live in a house in a neighborhood with children, I panicked last night. First I thought about turning out all the lights and hiding in the basement tonight between 5 and 8. Then I went to the store to buy candy, where I noticed the lovely pink breast cancer m&ms. Gross.

  9. I resented that I was supposed to be perky and brave while undergoing cancer treatments. I felt like a toxic cesspool, which is a far cry from perky. I refused to wear a wig when my hair fell out. It wasn’t my responsibility to help complete strangers feel comfortable. What really drives me crazy is when people give me pink ribbon jewelry — like I would actually want to own or wear cancerphernalia. As if I would so embrace a disease that I would consider wearing symbols of it as personal adornment. As though I am now defined by a disease.

  10. One of the few commercial benefits of living in the two-thirds world is that pink teddys with pink harleys and pink m&m’s are not on sale. Breat Cancer awareness amounted to a few days of ribbons being sold at the supermarket door by Canadian, British and American Women’s Associations. When asked whether I would like to purchase my very own for the bargain price of $2.00 I replied, “I’m terribly sorry but I’m blaming the patriarchy.”

  11. Yesss! You fucking rock.

  12. My mother is breast cancer survivor. After her lumpectomy, the hospital gave her (and all bs patients) a large pink teddy bear to tuck between her breast and the safety belt in her car. When I told her how offensive I found that, she informed me that they no longer do this. No, not because they’ve become enlightened and realized how infantile it is to give adult women teddy bears. They simply switched to pink stuffed dogs. Sigh….

    Sometimes I feel like blaming is like peeing in the ocean. It may make you feel a little better, but it makes no difference at all in the big picture.

  13. One more thing: I’m sorry, zz. I’m truly sorry re: your dx. I’m in the middle of treatment now so it wasn’t too long ago that I was in your shoes. Hang in there and good luck.

  14. I have not had the positive, life-enriching, would-do-it-again experience of enjoying a good hard cancer fight. Yet. Give it a few years.

    But I imagine that any makeup or nail polish would feel extraordinarily gunky on someone in the throes of treatment. My skin gets scaly and pimply and puffy when I get a two-day flu, ferchrissakes, which is a cakewalk compared with cancer and chemo. Piling skin-colored paint on top of it seems like the worst thing ever. Maybe it’s all about appearing like you put effort into how you look, which, in patriarchy, means slathering some approved Product on yourself. Even if it makes you look and feel worse.

    In fact, the worse you feel, the better. You must suffer excruciating indignities to be beautiful, right?

  15. It’s “Cincinnati,” not Cincinatti.

    Small difference, I know, but so.

    And to the rest of what you say – indeed.

  16. Fantastic post. The salon’s effort fits very much in line with the Pat’s desire to make breast cancer about breasts (viz. the website that allows visitors to pay $50 to see breasts, with the money going to appropriate charities. What was that stupid tagline of theirs, again?) and “femininity” instead of cancer. The entire notion that a woman undergoing cancer treatment will magically feel better (actual meaning, to appease the Pat: look) after a trip to the day spa is insulting beyond belief.

  17. unsanesafe.blogspot.com

    The parafin should kill the fleas.

  18. badkitty…I see the oceans becoming smaller and smaller while the pee/ers becoming more numerous, abundant, and urgent.

    Whiz Blame Whiz Blame.

  19. Great blame. I’m glad this crap is over too. I like that term “cancerphernalia.” I’m going to have to file that one away for future reference.

    I don’t have anything insightful to add. I just know that when my mother died of breast cancer, back in the day when it wasn’t fashionable, nobody really gave a shit. Our family didn’t get pink ribbons; we got uncomfortable stares. While I don’t think the days when breast cancer was discussed in hushed tones was exactly healthy, this shit’s swung way, way too far in the other direction.

    What I want to see more of in the awareness zeitgeist is folks being more aware of the relationship between breast cancer and the toxins in our environment. It seems that in the race for the cure, we’ve left the cause in the dust.

  20. “Let her know that the pink self-esteem injunction is a crock of shit, and that attempts to solicit approval from patriarchal authority won’t smite a single cancer cell.”

    Just imagine a whole city of women filled with the new found knowledge that they’re being sold and sold to every frickin’ day of their lives — and it doesn’t have to be that way.

    I can dream.

  21. In fact, the worse you feel, the better. You must suffer excruciating indignities to be beautiful, right?

    Well, yeah. In order for a women to be remotely interesting she needs to be wasting away from something, and TB is so passe.

  22. Even as you write the pink ribbon campaign with ribbons worn,artist galas televised, articles enscribed and published has firmly beachheaded in Sweden and is making clear visual and popular awareness advances.
    I don´t even know how to start to explain your view point (which, even retro flinstone that I seem to be) makes sense to me to swedes.
    I am instead struck speechles by the sight of, I assume, well meaning, probably intelligent people with pink ribbons displayed on their lapels.
    Why do so many public displays against something usually seem to be feel good substitutes for actually doing or being responsible for anything or accepting it´s true reality?

  23. I saw pink ribbon merchandise advertised as ‘collectible’.

    Not just on eBay, either.

    Go Team Pink!

  24. Wow, if you’re really sickly, you could end up with a great “collection.” Go disease! Woo! Do they have collectible “cancerphernalia” (great word!) for colon cancer or melanoma yet? I smell opportunity! Or are sufferers of those cancers still allowed to retain some dignity?

  25. On a base level, the thing I find most disturbing is how society has embraced Breast Cancer (purposeful caps) as the cause du jour, while all the other cancers stand at the back of the room, shuffling their feet, waiting for a chance to dance.

    Why can’t we just have Cancer Awareness?

    Because Patriarchy needs its boobs.

  26. I mean, can you imagine a website dedicated to Testicular Cancer, where you pay $10 to view as many nutsacks as you like and the money is donated to curing Testicular Cancer?

    What color would the ribbons be for that one?! I ask you!?

  27. I saw pink ribbon merchandise advertised as ‘collectible’.

    The aforementioned pink-teddy-bear-on-Harley was made by a company that specializes in collectibles. They had other noxious pink products available, but I was too busy hurling from the tackiness of it all to pay closer attention to them.

    As far as cancerphernalia for colon cancer or melanoma, it won’t happen. It’s all about Teh Breasts, baby.

    (A big thanks to Twisty and badkitty. The world could take a few pointers from ya’ll on what to say, or better yet, not to say, when cancer strikes.)

  28. faultline.org/place/toad

    Finnsmotel, I’m not sure what color testicular cancer ribbons would be but they’d at least have to be all wrinkly.

    I’ll second the paraffin bath for pain management. Only it’s not supposed to hurt to stick your hand, foot, whataver in — that’s too hot. Back when I worked in the County Home (imagine how long ago that was) we’d put a patient’s arthritic hand(s) or feet into the paraffin bath and dip a few times; the layers of paraffin build up and warm the sore bit while it’s on. Then we’d do whatever else we were doing to them — range of motion, supported standing, that sort of thing. Then we’d peel the paraffin off and send them on.

    Sometimes at the end of the day we’d use the stuff ourselves. It’s simpleminded fun to peel the wax off and watch it melt back into the tub. It doesn’t take the hair off like leg waxing or anything. And yes everybody’s waxin’ bits got washed first.

    Boggles me a bit to see it used in a “beauty” salon.

    And makeup lessons? What’s with that? “You’d feel better if you were more competent about that lipliner”?

    And. Yesterday in the supermarket I saw a set of fairly fancy pots ‘n’ pans in peptobismol pink. Not appetizing.

  29. beerandcarnations.blogspot.com

    I’ll buy you that pitcher of margaritas, but only if you let me wear my “Cancer Sucks” T-shirt.

  30. What color would the ribbons be for that one [testicular cancer]?! I ask you!?

    Believe it or not, this vendor says it’s “orchid.”

    But Wikipedia: awarness ribbons sez it’s yellow. Yellow? Support Our Ball-Troops, is what I’m hearing.

    Golly, I hope I get endometrial cancer. I think peach is a pretty color.

  31. beerandcarnations.blogspot.com

    The colon cancer ribbons are blue – I always thought it would be more appropriate if they were brown, y’know??

  32. meanfeminism.blogspot.com

    I really like the motto the Pink Ribbon Girls have there. “Changing the face of breast cancer.” Changing it, indeed, to something young and covered in pretty makeup! Yay! High fives all around!

  33. shmallowstunts.blogspot.com

    Haha, osteoporosis is “ivory lace.” Talk about descriptive!

    Anyway, the pink ribbon thing wasn’t really on my radar until my aunt was diagnosed, and then not only did I find out about it, I became really repulsed. I usually have no words to describe my distaste. Twisty, I’m glad for your articulation on this subject. Even though it won’t make breast cancer disappear or make my aunt better (EITHER, any more than pink ribbons will), portraying cancer sufferers as people instead of dolls is always the right thing to do in my book.

  34. Did you read Barbara Ehrenreich’s piece some time ago when she was being treated for breast cancer? It was in either The Nation or The New Yorker, and it was all about the infantilization of the treatment process. Hilarious and perceptive, I love her.

  35. politblogo.typepad.com

    It’s on this site, I believe.

  36. Twisty

    “It’s “Cincinnati,” not Cincinatti.”

    You know, I thought it looked wrong, but I was too lazy to undertake a study to determine the origins of my spelling’s strangeness. My apologies to Cincinnati; no city deserves to be be overrun with superfluous spinsterauntly ‘T’s.

  37. lentulus.com

    Don’t worry about the retailers, next month it’s back to Breast Awareness Month (again)

  38. pocketina

    Thank you for this post! I had just been on a HORRIBLE website, and was about to go on a crazy rampage, but your blog post brought me back to a simmer.

    The horrible site: http://www.savethetatas.com/
    Save the tatas? “Tatas”? What the hell? Not only breast-obsessed, but infantile as well?

    As a woman about to undergo a bilateral without reconstruction next month, I’d love to know what I’m saving them *for*. And what container would they like me to save them in?

  39. Twisty

    I have seen this repellent website, and once again I marvel at the unquestioning, obliging manner with which women are expected to accept themselves as boob-delivery devices, and to accept cancer as a threat not to their lives but to disembodied, fetishized symbols of femininity.

    Best to you, pocketina.

    boob-free since July ’06 and lovin’ it

  40. pockafwye

    Why can’t we just have Cancer Awareness?

    Maybe it doesn’t have a month of its own, but we do.

    I have found the resources made available by Lance Armstrong’s LiveStrong foundation very useful and empowering as I have been being treated for endocervical cancer.

    I wear one of his yellow wristbands to show I donate to his foundation, and to show my solidarity with others who have had their lives fundamentally altered by cancer. Any kind of cancer. LiveStrong empowers you to fight for your life. Not necessarily your breast, or your beauty, but your strength and humanity. Lance knows from personal experience that the fight against cancer is a fight for our lives. And he is working on making it a national priority.


    I agree with everything that’s been said above about the Patriarchy and the pink campaign demeaning women. My point is that there IS someone trying to take a better message to the nation, on behalf of all people affected by cancer.

    If peeing into an ocean of blame makes us feel better, then absolutely, let’s do it. But then let’s turn our backs on that polluted ocean, and reach out to support a cause that really IS making a positive difference.

    Just my 2 bits.

    (radical hysterectomy for endocervical cancer 01/02/2006)

  41. Party Pooper

    My birthday is in October and once you’ve had cancer it’s hard not to wonder how many more you’ll have. Now, on top of everything else, I’m supposed to spend the whole damn month getting pink-washed? Quick, gimme a spray can of Evil Darkness, which is the real color of cancer.

    Even Lance Armstrong pisses me off now (and yes, I do ride). His books are all “fight your cancer with sheer inner strength.” Well guess what, dude, cancer is not “mine” or “yours,” it’s a systemic social disease that cannot be cured with a plucky attitude. Lance hit it lucky; millions of people just as brave and strong don’t.

    Where are the odes to them? More American women have died from breast cancer since 1920 than all Americans killed in World War I, II, Vietnam, Korea and Iraq combined. Put up a memorial wall listing those names and it’ll stretch from Texas to Timbuktu. The Great Wall of Cancer is as long and strong as our national sense of denial about the truth of this disease.

  42. Jill

    It looks like the mainstream is finally cottoning on to the idea that some women don’t appreciate it that their life-threatening disease is an enormous source of revenue for the megatheocorporatocracy. Thanks to PhysioProf for sending the link to this Boston Globe article. Just in time to celebrate Breast Cancer Marketing for a whole fucking month!

    Breast Cancer Month makes me almost as sick as breast cancer.

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