Backlash: musings on Pink and high society and not being a jerkface

Recently I got all blog-huffy about Pinktober. All of us are a bit tired of the Awareness, and it’s only October 4th. And I’ll admit to a recent gag reflex seeing a gigantic, fluffy pink mustache adorning the grill of a Range Rover. What the fuck is that? Seriously. What the fuck.

But after I wrote that essay, the one about horrible campaigns to raise money for dubious causes (e.g., anything that doesn’t support research for metastatic disease), Bernie cautioned me that I might be an asshole. “People don’t want to get flack for donating money. They’re donating money.” And because I really do love people and think most of us are do-gooders deep down, I haven’t stopped thinking about this since. Don’t get me wrong, I still hate the bald caps and think they’re an ugly, ugly vehicle for support and wretched awareness… but if the people donning them really believe they’re curing cancer and supporting their friends to boot, well… maybe there’s a way to voice that without being such a jerk about it.

From the perspective of a breast cancer veteran, I can tell you that the people who get this—those who are mindfully considering the pink-washing of cancer—are the ones I feel supported by the most. They are the same people who remind me that I am well now, that they love me, and that they’re sorry this shitty thing happened to me, to anyone. That’s the best sort of awareness.

Unfortunately, when a giant pink bra is erected on the Miracle Mile, and those of us who cannot tune out the echoes of cancer for the other 11 months spew vitriol all over our social media outlets, we might sound a bit churlish, irritable, and ungrateful… no matter how inane a giant pink bra might be. And this essay is about Not Being An Asshole. But instead of perseverating about how I frequently slip under this rubric, let’s put the spotlight on someone else who might need a tutorial.

Recently, Megan Johnson mounted her high steed of indignation and threw rotten tomatoes at Boston’s society ladies. In her inflammatory, name-dropping article, Ms. Johnson stitched together snippets of gossip from a collection of anonymous Storybook Ball “attendees” and fashioned the image of a New Money Social Climbing Shrew. She kindly repeats that these gorgeous Ball events do, in fact, raise millions of dollars donated to a hospital for children. Millions. Yes, fucking millions. For children. But, whatever. Let’s kvetch about how rich and awful these women really are.

Ms. Johnson crafts a divinely delicious dish of insider dirt. And who doesn’t love to hear that the fantastically wealthy might fall prey to vanity or insecurity or ambition or tipsiness? But although Ms. Johnson is keenly interested in how these social mavens land their coveted spots on the Storybook Ball Committee, she has no idea what this entails for the women who donate their time and energy and bank accounts to the “honor” of it all. Nor does she ask any of them. Because that’s boring. And whatever, dude, these rich fuckers only care about their expertly attached eyelashes and one-of-a-kind dresses. And though it’s more fun to think of these ladies cat fighting and back stabbing in couture, the reality is that for many, many months, they’re in boring meetings wearing yoga pants, asking their friends to donate thousands of dollars over and over and over again, and writing rather large checks, themselves. They land on this committee because they have the financial means to support it, and also carry within them the servant souls of people who enjoy giving their money away to good causes. Should we repay them for their generosity with mean-spirited, envy-fueled, I-heard-it-from-the-wait-staff blather?

Apparently so.

I’d love to know how Ms. Johnson would prefer these ladies convince our benevolent, wealthy townsfolk to part with their cash. Are Balls inherently bad? Is it terribly wrong to want to be a part of something glittery and exciting and fun?

Are there “wrong” ways to donate money?

I hope other readers have a similarly difficult time finding a crucial fault with volunteering women who raise millions of dollars to promote the health of children. The biggest sin here is name-calling ladies who might, just possibly, be organizing and planning and, goddamn it, having a bit of fun while doing something others cannot: raise millions of dollars. Instead of criticizing them, we should be hiring them as consultants for our scout cookie sales or Church Stewardship initiatives. Thank you, wealthy women of the world. I think you’re dreamy.

At the school my boys attend, the varsity soccer team will be wearing pink jerseys and socks this month. No matter where you stand on Pink issues, wouldn’t you be a bit of nitpicky jerkface to criticize them for this bit of awareness? It would be remarkably unkind to sideline their willingness to be a part of a National Kindness… which is the intent most people bring to the promotion of Pink. Though I am conflicted about some of these bubble gum gimmicks, regarding Kindness I am keenly attuned. Also, I cannot know the effect on my two small boys seeing their cooler, older classmates swathed in the color associated with mom being bald and tired. In some small way, maybe it seems like these older, cooler boys care about their Mom, and think Cancer sucks, too.

So as the calendar pages turn during this month of Pepto-hued awareness and a local buzz begins about The Storybook Ball, I’m focusing on the impetus sending good citizens diving into handbags for checkbooks. Whether that bag is Chanel or some pink abomination hardly matters… but intent makes all of the difference. And if I fail to thank people for their generosity and support because it arrives in a Too Fancy or Too Pink a package… well then, maybe I need a refresher course in Kindness.

And those pink mustaches? Those are just identifying cars of good citizens providing cheap rides for their neighbors.

Not giving a poo about breast cancer at all... yay!

Not giving a poo about breast cancer at all… yay!

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Already Aware

Is there some box we can check when filing our taxes or punching our ballots or mailing in the census? Could we somehow alert the Universe that WE ARE ALREADY AWARE? I dare you to find a single (lucky) person remaining on the planet whose life has been entirely untouched by breast cancer. But apparently there are thousands of people who think something this wretched needs to exist for our benefit.

Look at me! I'm like, sorta bald, you know, just for today. AWARENESS!

Look at me! I’m like, sorta bald, you know, just for today. AWARENESS!

I cannot tell you how badly I want to rip this off of her head. What’s next? Faux colostomy bags for Rectal Cancer?

Your fundraising starter pack includes t-shirt with a detachable Velcro “bag” with realistic, watery poo! Customize your stoma to honor a loved one: “I’m diverting my colon today for Uncle Harry!”

I hope everyone would agree this would be in poor, poor taste by diminishing a very real, and extremely sensitive, upsetting, and necessary aspect of treating a deadly disease. But we’re badgered daily to be “bold” or “brave” enough to show solidarity with the battle-weary cancer-ed by buying crap one might find at Spencer’s. I cannot express strongly enough how un-helpful fake bald head gear is to the people who have neither the luxury of hair, nor the patience for the actually very kind people who think this sort of awareness-raising is helping.

A recent backlash from some of my favorite cancer bloggy ladies shut down an entire marketing scheme and hashtag campaign by AirXpanders after this peddler of pseudo-breasts encouraged us to tweet to #whatsunderhere and wear horrifying slogans like “Looks Great Naked” because,

Boobs are so much more than just “the girls” or “melons.” They’re fabulous.

They sent this message in an email blast to breast cancer survivors. Funny fun fun! I mean, with our reconstructed “melons” we’re totally empowered and “sexy” enough to don a slogan to encourage strangers to ask us about our fake boobs. And then tweet about how amazing and wonderful and desirable and badass we feel flaunting our reorganized parts. Funny fun fun! I’m sure they didn’t mean to be, you know, insensitive or anything to the women who are not candidates for reconstruction, or (gasp!) feel healthy and whole and beautiful without replacements.

The brilliant, kind, and wise Hester Hill Schnipper (whose After Breast Cancer should be a gift to anyone finishing chemotherapy) emailed Bernie and me about these new, horrifying campaigns that seem to begin earlier and earlier each year. She was also concerned about the AirXpanders exploitation of the American Association of Plastic Surgery (ASPS)-sponsored Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day. The unfortunately named BRA day (insert all sorts of puns on “support” for the very gals who—literally– don’t need it) is October 15th this year. The goal of BRA Day is to ensure all women are informed about their breast reconstruction options, and their aim to “close the loop” on breast cancer treatment is to make certain access and education around post-mastectomy breast reconstruction is available to every women who wishes to pursue it. Sadly, companies like AirXpanders want to piggyback onto the day to peddle their products.

Ultimately, the #whatsunderhere and the deplorable Save the Ta Tas, and even the National BRA Day swag begs the question,

Does anyone ever consult an actual breast cancer patient?

Giggle. A pink bra

Giggle. A pink bra “over” my shirt. Guffaw, a guy wearing a bra! Hey, let’s get some of these for the DOGS! Hilarious!

No one I know who unwillingly lost her hair wants to see someone else faking it. I could write another set of paragraphs urging you not to shave your head, either. But for now… just… don’t. Anyone who has been necessarily bald would never, ever begrudge you your hair. Let me be clear, it’s the NICEST THING IN THE WHOLE WORLD TO SHAVE YOUR HEAD FOR SOMEONE. But, nope… buy your cancer-ed love one a cashmere blanket, instead.

Similarly, the pink bra silhouette only calls attention to the very parts I’m trying to forget. Certainly we have more talented graphic designers to fashion a tasteful slogan for Breast Reconstruction Awareness? (I’m looking at you, Nail.) Or we could just wear Angelina Jolie flair. She has quietly, elegantly done more to further this cause than anyone.

To close, here’s my favorite tweet of all time, posted by some hilarious, awesome stranger last year on November 1st. I think all of us are looking forward to it.

Couldn't love this more.

Couldn’t love this more.

Waiting for someone to design me an Already Aware t-shirt. No pink.

A new kind of awareness

Today, this made a lot of people really happy.

I’m in awe. I want to meet her and hug her and be her (millionth) best friend. Look at her all adorable and smiling sunbeams and effectively preventing everyone in that room from crying! But I’ll bet you a Beyonce hair extension that tears flowed after the camera stopped and anesthesia started. A woman this spectacular is a woman adored. And no one wants what happens next to happen next. To anyone. To her. In addition to the millions who “like” this, there are thousands more sobbing atop their restructured parts (please pass me a tissue).

Roughly one in eight of us is thrilled October and all its yammering awareness is over. After Halloween, we were relieved that daily reminders of our personal demons had stopped polluting our newsfeeds, and tote bags, and cereal boxes. I wonder if, like me, they watched this gem of a video and thought, “This. This is ‘awareness.’” A beautiful, groovy gal in a backless gown shows us one way to plow through the terror of it all: with love… and a bit of Beyonce.

I’ve been quite vocal about championing Angelina Jolie for her spotlight on breast reconstruction after mastectomy. She brought awareness to the triumph of reconstructive surgery over devastating mutilation. Famous for being stunning before and after her mastectomies, she provides compelling evidence to women with this distressing diagnosis that the road to recovery isn’t necessarily the autobahn to ugly. Bravely sharing the nitty gritty of her medical treatments, she effectively outlined what women should expect as a “standard of care” faster than any number of 5K runners in tight, pink clothing. Today, I applaud Dr. Deborah Cohan for putting a groovy spin on awareness, for showing us the triumph of spirit over fear.

I hope today’s viral, feel-good story will be famous for longer, and for so much more than her johnnie jamboree. Deborah Cohan hijacked “awareness” like a John Malkovich movie cameo, showing us it can be quirky and cool. (For all of the good they do, Komen has become a bit of a Kardashian.) Don’t you want to know Dr. Cohan and her fun bunch of boogying buddies? What a gift to the people who love her: to show them joy when they feel dread, to give them Beyonce when they’re expecting dirges, to share herself (with the world!) when they (we!) need to know desperately that this isn’t breaking her. While I’m preoccupied with Pink-tober backlash rants, here is this brave woman reminding us of the big picture in a tiny space. She marshaled six minutes on the scariest day of her life to show everyone who loves her that she knows she’s loved, that joyfulness hasn’t died with this diagnosis, that it’s going to be OK. And in our hearts, we’re all dancing with her.

Your baby is totally flirting with me

Rants are all the rage in the blogging world. From “open letters” to pet peevish posts punctuated with angry bullet points, these writers are fuming, and it’s something you are doing wrong. Of course, a proper rant is as satisfying as a Snickers® if you’re nodding right along with the writer. To wit, in honor of Pink-tober, Lisa Boncheck Adams reissued her angry plea to end kitschy Facebook postings that annoy us in the name of “awareness.” (The 99% who won’t repost are my kind of people.) Because my feathers don’t ruffle easily, I want this style to be wicked funny (better yet, satirical), or I read only whiny, self-indulgent, holier-than-thou foolishness.

If you are a ravenous reader of rants, you’ve noticed that the Internet has hijacked the word “feminism” in order to write angry essays about all sorts of things. When a 24-year-old Australian blogger took a crack at Feminism, and his young, thoughtful female readers chimed in with “I’m not a feminist, but…” comments, I couldn’t keep my meddling fingers from the keyboard. Doesn’t everyone know that the definition of feminism is a belief in the equality of the sexes? That’s it. Full stop. If you think women and men deserve equal rights and pay and access and accountability, then you are a feminist. (Yup, that’s you. Go get your bumper stickers.) All sensible and caring humans are feminists.

But after reading a ridiculous rant today, I see a glimmer of why sensible and caring people might shy away from the term instead of embracing it with pride. Occasionally, “feminist culture” has one too many Chardonnays and permits a dogged McCarthyism to unearth slights and inequalities in innocuous settings. Tagged with feminism! and gender this was published today on the always entertaining Belle Jar. A proud, but irritated mother of three absurdly attractive children doesn’t want you to compliment them. Seriously. She wants none of your inappropriate cooing about her diapered “heartbreaker.” She doesn’t want you to “warn” her that her son won’t be able to fight off the ladies. And when her Disney cute child aims a gassy grin your way, she doesn’t want to hear “he’s flirting!” Because apparently babies aren’t sexual creatures designed to seduce. Aaargh! I’M SO MAD THAT MY CHILDREN ARE BEAUTIFUL AND YOU ONLY HAVE COMPLIMENTS FROM 1965!

Taking offense at well-intentioned grandma praises is almost as silly as writing an essay about the downsides of financial security. I’m assuming future guest posts will tackle injustices against the naturally thin. Blessed with gorgeous, healthy children this mom can only suffer the right brand of compliments? A thread of supportive comments suggests there are plenty of sensitive moms who don’t think this is as silly as I do, but instead are aghast when someone wants to nibble Matty’s fat little toes. I imagine all of them sewing small burqas to shield gorgeous children from gender-role stifling compliments of evil anti-feminists. But telling someone in the checkout line that her baby is “delicious” is lovely, goddamit. There is NO OTHER WAY to receive this aside from, “thank you” or “I know, right? I just want to bite him!” The compliment may be trite or old-fashioned, but it’s a kindness from a stranger and should be paid forward with something much, much better than a rant about how not to say nice things about a baby.

And sure, we know what she’s getting at… after all, we’re all feminists (see paragraph 2). And language used thoughtlessly can certainly feed all sorts of stereotypes we would like to obliterate. But, if your children elicit these responses regularly enough to rally a rant against them, then you are throwing that cute baby out with the politically incorrect bathwater. Have the self-awareness to realize the world’s appreciation for your stunning children might not be knicker-bunch-worthy. Acknowledge a sincere kindness–hell, even a passing and corny kindness– as just that. And when we recognize the beauty of a child, this is not a willful neglect of his other traits, or a condemnation of all un-pretty babies (which do not exist, anyway).

Me, I’m much more concerned about why Suzie won’t be encouraged to pursue astrophysics. And if you want to compliment my boys on their cuteness and future prom date fitness, fire away. I’m going to thank you, and agree with you, and pour you a Prosecco.

My boys when little... big time flirts

My boys when little… big time flirts