Pink ribbon

Pink ribbon

The pink ribbon is an international symbol of breast cancer awareness.

History of the pink ribbon

The first ribbon that was represented as a meaningful object in history was the yellow ribbon that was mentioned in a marching song, which was sung by the military in the United States. In the year 1917 George A. Norton copyrighted the song for the first time. The title of the song was "Round Her Neck She Wears a Yeller Ribbon". In the 1940s the song was rewritten by several musicians.

In the early 1970s the song Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Ole Oak Tree was released, based on this song a wife of a hostage in Iran, Penney Laingen, was the first who used the ribbon as an awareness symbol. She tied yellow ribbons around the trees, to illustrate the desire of her husband coming home. Her friends and family members followed the trend due to loyalty. As all Americans were able to see this message, the “ribbon became a medium”.

In the 1990s, AIDS activists were inspired by the ribbon medium, and decided to make ribbons for the people that fight against AIDS. The ribbon that represents AIDS became red as this is the color of passion. During the Tony awards, a photo was taken of the actor Jeremy Irons, who had the bright red ribbon pinned on his chest. As the public followed the awards, the ribbon was an eye catch and became popular overnight. The year 1992 was declared by The New York Times as “The year of the Ribbon”.

In the fall of 1991, the Susan G. Komen Foundation handed out pink ribbons to participants in its New York City race for breast cancer survivors. []

The next year, Alexandra Penney, who was the editor in chief of [ Self] , a woman health magazine, was working on the second annual National Breast Cancer Awareness Month issue. Evelyn Lauder, who was the senior corporate vice president at Estee Lauder, was invited to be the guest editor of the NBCAM issue edition in 1992. Penney and Lauder came up with the idea to create a ribbon and to enlist the cosmetics giant to distribute it in stores in New York City. Evelyn Lauder then promised to spread the ribbons in the entire country, but a color for the ribbon was not decided on at the moment.

Charlotte Hayley, who battled breast cancer, produced peach color ribbons. She sold them with a card saying, “The National Cancer Institute annual budget is 1.8 billion US Dollars, and only 5 percent goes for cancer prevention. Help us wake up our legislators and America by wearing this ribbon”. [] Her message spread fast. This made Penny and Evelyn Lauder interested in Hayley’s concept. They saw the initiative to adapt to Hayley’s idea by working with her. But Hayley rejected the offer saying that they were too commercial.

After discussing opportunities with Lauder, Hayley and the lawyers, they came up with a "new" color. The new color of the ribbon was pink and became an international symbol for breast cancer awareness.

Organizations and programs

The aim of [ Pink Ribbon International] is to create a supportive community worldwide and to inform patients, specialist, families and friends about Pink Ribbon and Breast Cancer.

During Breast Cancer Awareness Month each October, people raise money by organizing activities such as theme parties or a "pink day" (when employees wear pink clothing or accessories) at work. The money raised is donated to the organizers' choice of breast cancer care or research programs.

The original 'pink day' is called [ wear it pink] and is organized by Breast Cancer Campaign. In 2006 this event raised £3.5m in a single day, and 2007 marks its sixth anniversary. Breast Cancer Care's [ In The Pink] which raised £800,000 in 2006.


Each October, hundreds, if not thousands, of products are emblazoned with pink ribbons, colored pink, or otherwise sold with a promise of a small portion of the total cost being donated to support breast cancer awareness or research. []

The first breast cancer awareness stamp in the U.S., featuring a pink ribbon, was issued 1996. As it did not sell well, a new stamp with an emphasis on research was designed. The new stamp does not feature the pink ribbon.

In Canada, the Royal Canadian Mint produced a silver commemorative breast cancer coin. [] 15,000 coins were minted during 2006. On one side of the coin, a portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth is illustrated, while on the other side a pink ribbon has been enameled.

Additionally, 30 million 25-cent coins were minted with pink ribbons during 2006 for normal circulation. [] Designed by the mint's director of engraving, Cosme Saffioti, this colored coin is the second in history to be put into regular circulation. []

Intellectual property status

In most jurisdictions, the pink ribbon is considered public domain. However, in Canada, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation claims ownership of the ribbon as an official mark, a special form of trademark reserved for governmental and charitable organizations. []

Critical movements

Pink Ribbons, Inc

Associate professor of kinesiology and health studies at Queen’s University [ Samantha King] describes in her 2006 book, Pink Ribbons, Inc: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy how breast cancer has been transformed from a serious disease and individual tragedy to a market-driven industry of survivorship and corporate sales pitch. []

King writes that, in an unprecedented outpouring of cause-related marketing, large businesses have turned their formidable promotion machines on the promotion of breast cancer awareness, while also opposing public health efforts (such as stricter environmental legislation) and stifling investigation into why and how breast cancer affects approximately one woman in 10 in the developed world. King questions the legitimacy of privately funded efforts to stop the epidemic among American women and the consistent NBCAM emphasis on screening (such as free mammograms) instead of fundamental research into causes. She also questions the corporate focus on breast cancer, which kills one-tenth as many woman as heart disease, the #1 killer of women. More women get skin cancer than breast cancer, and more women die from lung cancer than breast cancer, she notes, but these other diseases do not attract the same level of corporate -- or consumer -- attention.

Breast Cancer Action

San Francisco-based Breast Cancer Action has renamed the annual awareness campaign "Breast Cancer Industry Month" to emphasize the costs of treatment. [] Their "Think Before You Pink" campaign urges people to "do something besides shop." [] After explaining that some "pink" sponsors are polluting industrial giants or spend more money on breast cancer-themed advertisements than they actually donate towards research or treatment, BCA asks consumers to reflect thoughtfully on questions like, "How much money was spent marketing the product?" or "What is the company doing to assure that its products are not contributing to the breast cancer epidemic?" This group has particularly excoriated major cosmetic companies such as Avon, Revlon, and Estee Lauder, which have claimed to promote womens health while simultaneously using known and/or suspected cancer-causing chemicals, such as parabens and phthalates in their products. []

Other meanings of the pink ribbon

A pink ribbon is used to tie up a brief for delivery to an English barrister. The pink ribbon in this context is usually described as 'pink tape' or 'legal tape'. Also see 'red tape'.

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