Member Perspective: ‘Stop Trying to Make Cancer Pretty’

The following is a Q&A that our Campaigns Coordinator, Alyssa Figueroa, did with BCAction member Sandra Allegrini regarding an article recently published on The Huffington Post with the headline “Making Cancer Pretty.” Sandra has been a member of Breast Cancer Action since 1993 after her first breast cancer diagnosis.

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By Clarisselitiatco (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Alyssa Figueroa (AF): What was your reaction to the article, “Making Cancer Pretty”?

Sandra Allegrini (SA): Initially the title, ‘Making Cancer Pretty,’ was just an affront because it reinforces the idea that if we put some makeup on [cancer], we can cover up all the nasty stuff behind cancer. In an industry that continues to put things that are carcinogenic, like parabens and phthalates, which are endocrine-disruptors, in their products, and then says that they support breast cancer awareness—well, I’m very aware of breast cancer. I don’t need awareness, I need somebody to fix it.

We’re getting there slowly, but I just think when you have articles like that, it gives the wrong impression. When I was diagnosed, I went to events like this—I don’t know if it was “Look Good Feel Better,” but it was, ‘Come in and we’ll give you some makeup and we’ll show you how to do your makeup while you’re going through chemo.’ But it’s old makeup. It’s makeup that has parabens or fragrances in it. And we just keep glossing over [these facts]. It makes those that provide the makeup feel good, but they are promoting the problem.

Beauty products, the author wrote in this article, ‘could reverse the tolls of chemotherapy.’ Have you ever gone through chemotherapy? You can’t put makeup on and reverse what it’s doing to you. And those tolls of chemotherapy are life-lasting for many women. It doesn’t go away by putting a little makeup on.

AF: How does your reaction relate to your experience with breast cancer? You were diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993?

SA: Yes, twice, in 1993 and in 2009. My reaction to this article was based on my experience with breast cancer. I don’t think that you can tell me that the beauty industry is interested in finding a cure for breast cancer. I don’t see it on any level. I don’t see it with Revlon. I don’t see it with the walks or sticking a pink ribbon on my lapel in October. In fact, I won’t wear pink in October. And I like pink! But I’m not going to wear it in October. So it’s from that perspective. [No one is] getting it.

AF: Why do you believe the cosmetic industry is not addressing the realities of breast cancer?

SA: I don’t know that an industry like that can address it. I think it’s too serious a thing. It’s a business, right? They’re in the business of selling makeup. Those two things are contradictory. ‘I’m in business so I want to sell this product, so in order to sell this product, I have to make you want it. So I give it to you in many ways. I give it for free to some people. I give you samples.’ If you try something or you touch it, you’re more likely to purchase it, right? They do that at makeup counters all the time. ‘So just by giving you my makeup I’m going to make you purchase it later. I have a greater probability of making a sale later than I do now by giving it to you for free.’ But your product may be causing breast cancer because of your ingredients.

AF: Earlier you said you won’t wear pink in October. Can you say more about why?

SA: I’m not going to wear a pink ribbon. Breast cancer is not a pretty disease. It’s a horrible disease, as are all cancers. You can say that for all of them. And it just feels like we gloss over it all. If I give you some makeup or a pink ribbon to wear, you feel good because you think you’re doing something good, but you’re really doing nothing and we’re doing more for the industry than for people who have breast cancer. It just feels wrong to participate in that. 

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