Origins of the Pink Ribbon

These days ribbons are worn for many different causes. Red signifies AIDS awareness. A yellow ribbon has long represented support for armed forces. However, one of the most prominent ribbon colors is pink, which aims to raise awareness of and support for breast cancer.

Pink is a color that is uniquely feminine, and it also represents a person full of health and vibrancy; think of little babies pink with life. Pink is also a color that seems the complete antithesis of cancer, and thusly inspires hope for renewed health and survival.

There is some controversy surrounding the origins of the breast cancer mascot... the pink ribbon. There are also suggestions that the ribbon was intended to be peach and not pink.

In 1992, just about every organization started using ribbons to raise awareness. The New York Times actually dubbed 1992 "The Year of the Ribbon." Alexandra Penney, the then-editor of Self magazine, wanted to create a ribbon for the publication's second annual Breast Cancer Awareness Month issue. The previous year she had worked with cosmetics giant Estee Lauder. Evelyn Lauder, the senior corporate vice president, was herself a breast cancer survivor. Penney thought a collaboration between the magazine and Lauder could see a ribbon on cosmetic counters across the nation, and help sell a few magazines in the process.

The trouble was Penney had read a story about a 68-year-old woman, Charlotte Haley, who was producing handmade ribbons in her home. Haley had a number of people in her immediate family who had battled breast cancer and her handmade "peach" ribbons intended to raise awareness about the limited government funds being used for breast cancer research. Haley's message was spreading by word of mouth.

Penney and Lauder contacted Haley and wanted to further collaborate on the peach ribbon theme. However, Haley didn't want to be involved, saying the effort would be too commercial. She refused to turn over rights to the use of the peach ribbon. As a result, Penney consulted with attorneys who said to come up with another color, and pink was eventually chosen.

Pink had already been associated with breast cancer in the past. Just a few years earlier, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation had given out pink visors to its "Race for the Cure" participants. It had also created a pink ribbon.

The pink ribbon quickly took off by leaps and bounds. Millions were distributed by Estee Lauder. There are many philanthropic and commercial businesses who now use the pink ribbon in their breast cancer marketing plans. Every October, women are urged to don pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. One can find the pink ribbon adorning everything from cereal boxes to cans of cleanser.

Many embrace the pink ribbon as a symbol of hope, one that has done its share of work toward spreading the word about the need for more breast cancer awareness and research.

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