October is breast cancer awareness month and you know what that means: stores are crammed with pink products emblazened with the familiar pink ribbon logo.
The yoga industrial machine has jumped on the pink bandwagon. Major yoga brands, including Manduka, Prana and Toesox, have released a slew of pink yoga products available only for the special month of October.
Here’s a brief introduction to the pink products on the market this month, including what they’re made of and how the money will allegedly be used. But first, a quick history of the pink ribbon campaign and how October came to be known as breast cancer awareness month.
The Beginnings of Pink
There are several different stories of the origins of the pink ribbon campaign. The most common story, as told on ThinkBeforeYouPink.org was launched in the early 90s as a collaboration between Self Magazine and cosmetics company Estée Lauder. Ribbons have long been considered a symbol of solidarity and in the 80s had ascended with the red ribbon AIDS awareness campaign.
While working on their annual breast cancer awareness issue in 1992, Self saw potential for a ribbon campaign, as was the fashion at the time. They approached Charlotte Healey, a 68 year old woman who had been making and selling peach coloured ribbons to commemorate the women in her life that she’d lost to breast cancer.
When approached by Self, Healey turned down their offer and said she wanted to keep her efforts grassroots. Self consulted with their attorneys who suggested that they just choose another colour.
They picked pink. It was playful, life-affirming and feminine. It conveyed hope and vulnerability. Pink is everything that cancer is not.
Within a year, there were 15 brands (including, most notably, Avon) who had picked up the pink ribbon. By the mid-90s, hundreds of corporate brands were participating in the campaign. Twenty years later, the number of companies is staggering. As you’ve probably noticed this month, pink ribbon branded things had extended beyond innocent little motifs and jewelry, with entire lines of products: clothes, cleaning products, cosmetics, alcohol, packaged food.
It had also increased profits for the companies who marketed pink ribbon stuff, as breast cancer was a hot commodity. While the companies claimed to be raising awareness of breast cancer, in reality breast cancer was raising the public profile of the company.
The pink ribbon has become an international symbol of breast cancer awareness. Now, in 2013, the pink ribbon schtick is getting old. After 20 years of this campaign, breast cancer researchers are no closer to finding a cure. The American Cancer Society estimates that 40,000 women in the US will die from breast cancer in 2013, and over 200,000 women will be diagnosed with the disease. The rates continue to rise.
In their 2004 campaign, Breast Cancer Action focused their efforts on educating people about how ineffective and vague breast cancer fundraising has become. Nobody can prove how much money is raised each year or where the money goes. With no concentrated efforts and millions of dollars unaccounted for, “the cause” wasn’t any closer to “ending” breast cancer.
And yet the pink ribbon and October campaigning continues. Many people are tired of the campaign. Breast Cancer Inc has taken over the cultural landscape and many people, particularly those affected by cancer (breast and otherwise) find it difficult to watch.
Marketing For a Cause
The pink ribbon campaign is a prime example of cause marketing. As the name suggests, “cause marketing” is a form of marketing which links a company or corporation to a particular social cause. Gayle A. Sulik, author of Pink Ribbon Blues, outlined three objectives of cause marketing in a recent Psychology Today article:
(1) build a reputation as a good corporate citizen, (2) deepen employee loyalty through employee matching and cause related volunteerism, and (3) increase sales.
Pink ribbon marketing might have reached its tipping point in 2010 with KFC’s pink bucket of fried chicken – not exactly known for its healthy ingredients, some of which may contain carcinogens. Similarly, many of the cosmetics companies, cleaning product corporations and car manufacturers make products that contain known cancer-causing agents.
Breast Cancer Action coined the term pinkwashing to call out “companies or products which feature a pink ribbon without donating more than a negligible or token amount of money to a charity or with no transparency regarding where the funds are going.” Pinkwashing also “describes the use of a pink ribbon on products with known or suspected links to cancer.”
Pink Your Practice: Yoga Mats & Gear
Yoga consumers love raising money for a good cause, and the capitalism-friendly pairing of yoga products and breast cancer awareness is a natural development in the dominant yoga culture narrative. The underlying message of the pink ribbon narrative has to do with upbeat, forced positivity and naive magical thinking. Not unlike the narrative that mainstream yoga culture sells.
But without further ado, here are the pink yoga products from some of yoga’s major brands, as well as what they’re made of and where the funds go:
Products: 3 yoga mats, 4 towels in different sizes and shades of pink (retail value: $16 – $68)
What they’re made of: the PROlite mat is “manufactured through a process that ensures no toxic emissions are released into the atmosphere. The Pro series mats are certified safe for human contact by OEKO-TEX, an environmental certification agency in Europe for the textile industry.” The towels are made from “a synthetic material, engineered for performance & durability, and is recyclable” although the specifics of this material aren’t disclosed.
Where the funds go: 10% of sales go to BreastCancer.org (which received four stars from Charity Navigator and scored well for transparency and accountability)
Products: Henna E.K.O. mat (retail value: $50)
What they’re made of: “Thermal Plastic Elastomer” (better known as thermoplastic elastomer, a blend of synthetic plastics and rubber – EcoYogini breaks down why TPE yoga mats aren’t a good eco choice, although they are non-toxic)
Where the funds go: 10% of sales go to support the Keep A Breast Foundation – best known for their controversial “I Love Boobies” bracelet campaign in 2010, the foundation aims to increase breast cancer awareness among younger generations rather than funding research. All of their financial information is available on their website.
Three Minute Egg
Products: Thrive Eggs, hot pink rounded yoga blocks (retail value: $39 for two “eggs”)
What they’re made of: undisclosed
Where the funds go: According to their website: “10% of our gross sales from this Egg will go to support organizations assisting people working to thrive and survive with breast cancer. Last year Three Minute Egg® donated over $1000 in cash and product to various organizations.”
Products: pink “skidless” yoga towels available in two sizes (retail value: $68)
What they’re made of: 80% polyester, 20% nylon with 100% silicone nubs (the Ribbon rSkidless is made from 8 recycled plastic bottles, 50% recycled polyester, 40% new polyester, 10% nylon)
Where the funds go: 10% goes to BreastCancer.org (website product page includes downloadable pdf, guide to reducing risk of breast cancer)
Products: yoga socks, available in Hot Pink, Light Pink and regular pink (retail value: $10 – $15)
What they’re made of: 90% Organic Cotton 10% Spandex
Where the funds go: buy 2 pairs of “sox for a cause” and $2 goes to Keep A Breast foundation
Products: Pink Ribbon Breast Cancer Yoga Mat and Pink Ribbon II (retail value: $20 – $21.98)
What they’re made of: PVC (which contains toxins and isn’t recyclable), but “free of Phthalates DEHP, DBP, BBP, DINP, DIDP, and DNOP”
Where the funds go: “$1 from the sales of each mat will be donated to fund Breast Cancer Research.”
(note: Jade also makes a pink yoga for breast cancer awareness, but at the time of this writing it had been removed from the website.)
If practicing on a pink yoga mat really matters to you and you buy into the breast cancer industry brouhaha, the Manduka pink Pro Ecolite is probably the best deal. With your purchase, $7.80 will go to BreastCancer.org, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing resources and support to people with breast cancer.
By all means, avoid the dubious claims of the Gaiam and Three Minute Egg products, who don’t reveal where the funds will go. Gaiam’s keyword-loaded pink yoga mat, sickeningly bright pink and marked with a huge pink ribbon logo, is especially tasteless.
Big Pink Meets Big Yoga
In general, though, it’s disappointing to see yoga companies participating in breast cancer awareness month, which is proving to be more of a brilliant marketing trick rather than an effective movement.
The pink ribbon campaign for breast cancer awareness and research fundraising is being taken less seriously as a “cause.” A growing number of people are critical and angered by it, particularly those who have been affected by the disease. As a cancer surviver and blogger at After Five Years writes:
We are getting something out of pink that keeps us buying it… Big Pink massages our psyches and covertly rewards us on a deep and unconscious level, so much so that we are willing to ignore the fact that continuing to buy ‘awareness’ will kill us.
Big Pink neatly hides the frightening little facts of metastatic disease behind a pink curtain, instead showing us only skewed happy statistics that calm our anxiety about the disease. The conglomerate needs to make us believe pink is working and is good for us, so that we want more. Pink is a social lubricant for talking about all that scares the shit out of us about the disease.
Pink ribbon marketing is being taken less and less seriously with each passing year. By buying into the hype, the leading yoga brands are displaying a lack of integrity and critical thought. Let’s hope that many of these yoga product companies opt of breast cancer awareness month in 2014.