The Cost of Silky Soft

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Krystal Kim was 10 years old when she joined her town’s baseball team. It was the 1970s. It was a big deal because it was the first year that they were allowing girls to play. Before her first practice, her mom had a talk with Krystal about body odor. And from that day forward, she used Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder almost everyday, sprinkling it on her body and in her underwear. 

Nearly four decades later, when Krystal was 47 years old, she went in for fibroids surgery. It went well and a year later, in 2014, she went in for a follow up ultrasound. She was feeling healthy. But the doctor found something in her ovaries during the ultrasound; it looked like it might be cancer. They needed to do an exploratory surgery right away. 

When Krystal woke up from surgery, the doctors told her they had found cancer in her ovaries and they had done a full hysterectomy. They told her she would need to start chemo for her ovarian cancer right after she recovered from surgery. It all happened so fast and she had a lot of questions. Ovarian cancer is rare, but one of the most deadly cancers; the five year survival rate is about 50 percent. Dazed, Krystal went home to recuperate.

While she was healing, she spent time on Facebook and as she scrolled, she started seeing articles about a connection between ovarian cancer and J&J baby powder. At first, she was a little skeptical. But it did make her wonder: Could baby powder have caused her cancer? Krystal decided to fill out an online questionnaire about her cancer and about her baby powder habits. And soon after, she got a call from a lawyer. After a lot of conversations with the law firm, Krystal signed on to join a group of women suing Johnson and Johnson, alleging that the company’s baby powder caused their cancer. And as it turned out, she was one of thousands. 

In this episode of Bodies, we look at how Johnson and Johnson used marketing tactics to target women of color. How did normal body odors become stigmatized and racialized? Who holds the power in determining if our products are safe? Who can we trust?



Read the full transcript here.


Host and Producer: Allison Behringer
Associate Producer: Hannah Harris Green 
Reporter Kalaisha Totty 
Editor: Stephanie Foo
Composer/Sound Designer: Dara Hirsch
Mix engineer: Myke Dodge Weiskopf 
Additional editorial support: KalaLea, Camila Kerwin, Lisa Krieger and Catherine Stifter
Story Consultants: KalaLea, Caitlin Pierce, Cass Adair
Research Assistant: Liz Charky 
Managing Producer: Kristen Lepore

This episode was made with support of the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism California Fellowship.