October is known as Breast Cancer Awareness month, during which the iconic and symbolic pink ribbons are everywhere. For the masses and in the media, the pink ribbon embodies the breast cancer movement. But have you ever thought about how the pink ribbons came to symbolize breast cancer awareness and what it has meant along the way?
The History of the Ribbon as a Token for Awareness
The merging of the ribbon as a symbol of remembrance and awareness came about from two specific moments. The first beginning in the early 1970s when many women used a yellow ribbon to remember their loved ones serving in the military, which ultimately inspired the song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando & Dawn. The ribbon acted as the medium and the messages for Americans to show their support for their family members serving overseas.
About a decade later, the activist art group Visual AIDS resurrected the yellow ribbon. They turned it bright red, spruced it up and sent it onto national TV during the Tony Awards. While pinned to the chest of actor Jeremey Irons, the awareness ribbon as we know it today had arrived. From then, it was almost an overnight effect and many charity organizations tied their cause with their own individual color.
How the Pink Ribbon Came About
Following the 1991 Tony Awards, the then editor in chief of Self Magazine, Alexandra Penney, was planning for the magazine’s second annual Breast Cancer Awareness Month issue. In pursuit of following up on the previous year’s success, which was guest edited by Evelyn Lauder, senior corporate vice present of Estee Lauder and a breast cancer survivor, Penney’s big idea was to create a symbolic ribbon. With the help of Estee Lauder, they would distribute it on cosmetic products across the country.
In the meantime, Penney caught wind of a 68-year-old woman named Charlotte Haley, who was the granddaughter, sister, and mother of women who had battled breast cancer. Charlotte Haley had been hand-making peach-colored looped ribbons in her home. In a grassroots effort, she handed them out in her community in addition to mailing them to prominent women with cards that read: “The National Cancer Institute annual budget is $1.8 billion, only 5 percent goes for cancer prevention. Help us wake up our legislators and America by wearing this ribbon.”
When Penney reached out to Haley in hopes of going in on the ribbon project with her, Haley declined Self magazine’s offer, saying the Self’s initiative was too commercial.
To avoid legal issues, Self magazine, in conjunction with Estee Lauder, changed the peach ribbon to pink, and the rest is history.
The Impact of the Pink Ribbon
Since its creation, the pink ribbon has quickly become synonymous with breast cancer awareness. As a result of the ribbon’s exposure to the masses, global awareness of the disease has been exponentially raised, ultimately increasing early detection of breast cancer. It has also heightened the awareness and understanding of the importance of regular self-examinations and increased funds for research to find a cure. The pink ribbon symbolizes health, vitality, empowerment and the allegiance of women. So this October, show your support of the breast cancer community by donating your time or money to the cause and supporting the pink ribbon with pride.