Breast Cancer Awareness and the Pink Ribbon
Once you or someone you love has been diagnosed with breast cancer, everything seems to be coming up pink as you become immersed in the world of breast cancer awareness. Is the color simply a media blitz or does it symbolize what it was intended to do; that is, to create a way to provide both financial and personal support to those who have breast cancer? How did the pink ribbon come to symbolize breast cancer awareness?
The ribbon is a symbol used to connote awareness and support. It had its origins in the yellow ribbon used in the early to mid-1900s in a United States military marching song. Then the song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” inspired Penney Laingen, the wife of one of the hostages held in Iran from 1979–1981, to use the yellow ribbon to show support for her husband and other hostages and to remind others of their plight. Her family and friends joined her in her efforts and today Americans continue to use this symbol as a powerful reminder of the men and women who are serving our country abroad.
In the past decade or so, many different colored ribbons have become the medium for bringing about awareness. For example, AIDS activists use the red ribbon to show their support. During the Oscar and Tony awards ceremonies, which recognize achievement in American entertainment, many of the celebrities in attendance have donned red ribbons to bring awareness and support of this important cause to a wide audience.
The first color to represent breast cancer awareness was not pink, but peach. Peach ribbons were distributed by Charlotte Hayley, who provided them along with a card inviting women to join together to make a statement to politicians in particular, and to Americans in general, that more dollars were needed for breast cancer prevention.
The cosmetics industry got on board in 1991 to promote breast cancer awareness with the help of Evelyn Lauder of Estée Lauder Cosmetics and Alexander Penney, the editor-in-chief of SELF magazine. When Evelyn Lauder and Alexander Penney were working on their breast cancer awareness promotion, they liked Charlotte Hayley's concept of giving ribbons to promote the support of breast cancer awareness. Lauder, Penney, and Hayley worked together to come up with the pink ribbon symbol for breast cancer awareness.
The first breast cancer organization to hand out pink ribbons was the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, which handed out the ribbons to runners at its annual road race in the fall of 1991 in New York City.
Today, the pink ribbon is synonymous with the breast cancer effort and continues to serve as a symbol of awareness, education, and support, not only during October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but throughout the year. Marketing has taken this concept to such a high level that one may begin to dislike the color because of the commercialization of the cause. The market is inundated with pink products used in breast cancer fundraising efforts. From the traditional clothing items such as T-shirts, hats, socks, and jackets to pink dice, playing cards, jewelry, and golf balls, to food products such as gummy ribbons, M&Ms, pink cocktail drinks — the list goes on. Even the United States Postal Service has a breast cancer stamp that supports the cause. For anyone who has gone through breast cancer treatments, pink has its purpose. Many feel that wearing pink may trigger someone's memory to get a mammogram, to raise awareness of the disease, show that it is an important cause to many men and women, and to raise money for patient support and for research for its cure.
In Her Own Words
I have developed a strong dislike for the color pink. Especially pink ribbons. Being a “girlie girl,” I always thought pink was a pretty color. But, immediately after my diagnosis, I saw pink ribbons were everywhere. I found myself becoming offended at the sight of pink ribbons on cars because on the rare occasions during treatment when I wasn't thinking about cancer (or my next infusion, or a doctor appointment, or a test result, etc.), I would see a pink ribbon on the back of someone's car and BOOM! There it was — right in my face.
— Chelsey, age 41, 2-year survivor
There are also anti-pink breast cancer advocacy groups, such as Breast Cancer Action in San Francisco, which encourages people to “do something besides shop,” and emphasizes that the amount of money spent on theme advertising would be better spent going directly to research. The group also sports buttons that are black and red and say “Cancer Sucks,” delivering a much more direct message and certainly an ice-breaker in conversations about breast cancer. The group also focuses on environmental factors that might contribute to breast cancer, such as toxins used in the cosmetic industry and other commercial applications that promote cancer's growth, delivering the message that prevention of breast cancer needs to be the goal. Some proponents of the anti-pink ribbon concept feel that the color pink connotes a soft and feminine image and that the fight against breast cancer requires a bold, aggressive message to make an impact on this disease.
In general, one should always look at where the money goes for the pink promotional items you buy and what percentage goes to breast cancer support, research, etc. Also examine the integrity of the companies that you support to determine if they are environmentally friendly in their methods.
Did you know you can buy a pink and white striped mattress made by Vera Wang and that there is a Delta pink plane to support breast cancer? From bed to plane, you can quietly lay your body down at night on it or you can fly in the pinkness of breast cancer awareness. But the choice is always yours!
Whether you go with the pink flow or not will depend on your personality and where you are in your breast cancer treatment. Recognizing that there are as many different ways to support breast cancer awareness as there are different ways to reach people from various backgrounds, the important end result of raising awareness and increasing support is to find a cure for breast cancer and, better yet, prevent its occurrence.