By Jayla Burton, Program Officer

My first experience with the breast cancer industry was during a fundraiser for my high school. We were separated into teams and tasked with raising money to support breast cancer research, and there was a prize for the team that raised the most money. So that’s what I did: I started calling every family member I could. But when I called one close relative and asked her to donate, she said no. I was appalled. She explained that the color pink doesn’t solve anything and the money wasn’t necessarily going to support breast cancer research.  At the time, I did not understand; I was just disappointed that she wasn’t going to help me reach my goal so I could contribute to a good cause. That was my first encounter with the idea that pink can sometimes have a dark side.

Years after that experience, I found Breast Cancer Action. This past July, I was honored and excited to join Breast Cancer Action as the organization’s new Program Officer. I was drawn to this organization because of its work and its amazing activist community. Within a month of starting here, I realized how powerful we are when we work together to make our voices heard. To illustrate, I’d like to share a recent win that many of you helped us achieve. I feel inspired and motivated by this success, and I know you will too.

Putting a Pretty Face on Breast Cancer 

Brandi McFarland’s powerful and funny blog post – because there’s nothing like satire to get to the truth behind slick corporate marketing—was a reaction to a recent Walgreens campaign aimed at women with breast cancer. The campaign, launched in March of this year, was introduced with a video inviting breast cancer patients to buy makeup and other products to make them “feel better” during cancer treatment. Dubbed “Battle Beautifully,” the Walgreens initiative encourages women to beat breast cancer by looking their best.

Many of you told us that, like Brandi, you found the video blatantly dismissive and insulting. I couldn’t agree more. In its campaign, Walgreens uses tired fight metaphors, and encourages women to believe that there is a “pretty” way to fight breast cancer. But makeup does not cover up the fact that breast cancer exists. Makeup does not cover up environmental factors that increase the risk of breast cancer. Makeup does not mask the reality of what it is like to live with breast cancer. And makeup does not address the root causes of the breast cancer epidemic.

Field Trip to the Beauty Counter

To find out more about the Walgreens initiative, Edwina Wong, a Breast Cancer Action intern who has been working on the Think Before You Pink® campaign, and I took a field trip to three of the 300,000 Walgreens that are participating in the “Battle Beautifully” initiative.

At the first Walgreens we visited, we noticed brochures and posters advertising the “Feel More Like You: Battle Beautifully” initiative. We went straight to the makeup counter and caught the beauty consultant’s attention. But when we asked her about the campaign, she didn’t seem to be familiar with it, and told us she had not received training for these services. She referred us to the pharmacist, who she assured us would have more information. When we reached the pharmacy counter, we were referred back to the beauty consultant. Instead, we decided to try Walgreens #2.

Our second Walgreens visit was no more informative than the first. When we asked a beauty consultant about the campaign, she immediately called a manager. The manager acknowledged that they were a participating store, but said their beauty consultant was only on duty two days a week and suggested we visit another Walgreens half a mile away.

At Walgreens #3, we finally found some answers to our questions. When we asked the beauty consultant about how the “Feel More Like You: Battle Beautifully” campaign, she knew immediately what we were talking about. She showed us a preassembled kit of beauty supplies available for sale. The kit included eye shadow, foundation, and lipstick recommended for people undergoing breast cancer treatment. 

Walgreens Win

On our way out of the store, we grabbed a couple of campaign brochures. Edwina pointed out that the headlines on the brochures read, “Cancer care for the whole you,” and “Feel more like you”. The phrase, “Battle Beautifully”, which was prominently featured in the initial launch of the campaign, was nowhere to be found. Back at the office, we revisited Walgreen’s website and found that some of the campaign promotional language had also changed. After the campaign launched in March, the company posted the video on Facebook and many of you lit up the internet with comments. As a result, Walgreens’ post has been removed from Facebook and they have modified their language and significantly reduced the amount of advertising and their use of the slogan, “Battle Beautifully.” As our field trip demonstrated, many “participating” stores seem to be barely participating.  In fact, Walgreens seems to have heard our objections loud and clear. When we raise our voices together, we are powerful!

Of course, there is a lot more work to be done. Walgreens still has a role in the cancer industry. Not only do they sell drugs and products related to treating breast cancer, they also sell products that may increase the risk of a breast cancer diagnosis, creating a corporate profit cycle.

Still, this experience shows that when we work together and raise our voices, companies often listen. If we continue to make enough noise, we will continue to bring about important changes in the way companies do business.

Think Before You Pink® Coming Soon!

I’ll be calling on you to keep up the momentum and take action this October. We are less than a month away from Breast Cancer Industry month and before you know it you’ll begin to see pink everywhere. With your help, we will continue to call out pinkwashers with the same energy we gave Walgreens and the other companies we’ve targeted over the years. I hope you all are ready for the launch of this year’s Think Before You Pink® campaign, because we’re just getting started.