The Story Behind the Pink Ribbon

We all know October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month. And we all know the pink ribbons that sprout up this time of year and throughout the year, are worn to create awareness. So many of us have been impacted by this disease, but how did the pink ribbon come to represent breast cancer?

I wrote about it for the October 2010 issue of Rochester Woman Magazine, and learned the history of the pink ribbon and the controversy behind it.

How it All Started…

Ribbons are a symbol of support. We wear ribbons  to support a cause, research and awareness, or to support a loved one.  For decades, people have been wearing ribbons to show their support for  cancers, the troops or AIDS.

The movement began  during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979,when the wife of a hostage tied  yellow ribbons around trees in her front yard. The nightly news  explained the ribbons were a symbol of hope for her husband’s safe  return. Suddenly, yellow ribbons spread across the country in support of  the hostages in Tehran.

When the popularity of  the yellow ribbon surged again during the Gulf War, AIDS activists  asked, “What about something for our boys dying here at home?” The  activist art group Visual AID is credited with changing the yellow  ribbon to red – the color of passion – in honor of those living with  HIV/AIDS.

By this time, the stage was set for the pink ribbon to emerge. It all started when the Susan G. Komen Foundation began handing out pink visors to more than 8,500 walkers in its Race  for the Cure in 1990. The following year, the foundation handed out pink ribbons to all the participants in the New York City race.

While the Susan G. Komen Foundation was the first to distribute the pink  ribbon in support of breast cancer, there are other who are believed to  be the originator of the pink ribbon. In 1992, Alexandra Penney, the  editor-in-chief of Self Magazine, had the idea to pin ribbons to each  cover of their second National Breast Cancer Awareness Month issue.  Realizing it was impractical to pin ribbons to the cover of every  issue, she partnered with Evelyn Lauder of Estee Lauder, who had the  idea to distribute ribbons at the company’s cosmetic counters.

Around the same time, however, 68 year old Charlotte Haley was creating peach  ribbons in her dining room. She had a history of breast cancer in her  family and she attached a card to the ribbons that read: The National  Cancer Institute annual budget is $1.8 billion, only five percent goes  to cancer prevention. Help us wake up our legistlators and America by  wearing this ribbon.”

Self Magazine contacted  Haley asking her to collaborate with them with one stipulation; she had  to hand over the concept of the ribbon. Haley refused, fearing the  ribbon would become commercialized. And so, they changed the color of  the ribbons from peach to pink. Estee Lauder distributed 1.5 million  pink ribbons in the fall of 1992 popularizing the ribbon as a symbol for breast cancer and spreading the myth that Evelyn Lauder was the creator of the pink ribbon.

Today, pink is widely  recognized for respresenting support for breast cancer. But the pink  ribbon has not been without its share of controversy. More and more  corporations began endorsing pink products in support of breast cancer,  but these products are not always used to put money back into the cause. Some products are meant only to promote “awareness” and do nothing to  raise money for cancer research, leaving some to wonder whether these  corporations are using pink simply to make a profit.

We wear ribbons to honor survivors and those who are currently fighting an illness. But they also show support for the friends and relatives who  encourage their loved ones during their battles and honor those whose  battles were lost. Ribbons show support for the doctors who help those  in need and the researchers who work toward a cure. In addition to being a symbol of suppport, ribbons are also a sign of hope. They represent  our hope for survival and hope for a cure.

This October, when you see pink products, don’t assume your purchase will go toward the cause. Whenever possible, read the fine print!

Information was acquired from PinkRibbon.com (Official Website) International  Breast Cancer Awareness and Funding and Komen.org the official site for  Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

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2 thoughts on “The Story Behind the Pink Ribbon

  1. Yes we see the pink every where this time of year
    I think that people see the pink products and do assume that a portion will go for the cause, I’m guilty of it myself, I don’t think that it’s right for companies to “cash in”

  2. I think it’s awful for companies to profit from those who purchase pink products, believing they are supporting the cause! I don’t think it’s enough to sell pink products just to “create awareness” – if they’re going to go pink, they should be raising money too!

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