October is Breast Cancer Month
It’s pink for breast cancer. The pink ribbon is everywhere. It’s synonymous with breast cancer awareness. And every year I wonder how and why it was that a pink ribbon became the symbol for the fight against breast cancer. This year I decided to delve.
For some of us, when we hear the word pink, some expressions come to mind: pretty in pink, pink is so girly or in the pink.
Agreed – pink is uniquely feminine in our society today, and often represents a person full of health and vibrancy. It seems to be an indicator for renewed health and survival.
So no surprise pink would become a symbol for breast cancer awareness. I wanted to be sure that these were the reasons pink was chosen to be the breast cancer awareness color.
As I researched for more information I was surprised to learn there really is a story to using pink and designating a pink ribbon as a symbol.
Using colored ribbons as symbols for different causes was not new
We had red for AIDS, and yellow to show support for Armed forces. Both these symbols had been around and gained popularity. In fact, the New York Times named 1992 the year of the ribbon.
Just a refresher on that story: In 1979, Penny Laingen, wife of a hostage taken in Iran, was inspired by the song to tie yellow ribbons around the trees in her front yard. The ribbons signaled her desire to see her husband home again and the yellow ribbon became a message, springing up across the country in solidarity. That was step one.
Step two occurred 11 years later, when AIDS activists looked at the yellow ribbons that had become resurrected for soldiers fighting the Gulf War and turned a ribbon bright red, for people dying of AIDS.
The groundwork was laid for a ribbon. The story about the pink ribbon is lengthy and not without some controversy, so I’ll do my best to give you the essence of it.
The way it goes is, the ribbon color could have/should have been peach. What?
The presence of a pink ribbon already existed when the Susan G. Koman Breast Cancer Foundation gave out pink ribbons to every participant in the 1991 fall race. But it hadn’t become a national symbol.
It needed something bigger. In 1991 Self magazine (doing its first October edition for breast cancer awareness) collaborated on the edition with Estee’ Lauder’s senior corporate vice president (a breast cancer survivor). It was a hit. And then, for the 1992 edition, the Self magazine editor in chief, Alexander Penny had a flash – she would create a special ribbon and enlist the cosmetics giant to distribute it in NYC stores.
Evelyn Lauder promised to put the ribbon on cosmetics counters across the country.
What happened one week later?
Penney, heard about a woman named Charlotte Haley, a 68 year old woman who had battled breast cancer and lost family members to the disease, and was promoting a peach-colored ribbon for breast cancer.
By the time Self magazine called Charlotte Haley, thousands of peach colored ribbons were in circulation. Charlotte did not want to team up with anyone – she said it would be too commercial.
So they asked their lawyers what to do and they said, “Come up with another color”. So they chose pink.
“Pink is the quintessential female color”
This was said by Margaret Welch, director of the Color Association of the United States. “The profile on pink is playful, life -affirming. We have studies as to its calming effect, its lessening of stress….You can’t say a bad thing about it.”
Pink is, in other words, the antithesis of cancer.
Over the years the pink ribbon has popped up everywhere: t shirts, chocolate covered kisses, wreaths, signs, nails and many more. How could I end a blog post about a color (and an important one at that) without a collage?
In the spirit of Breast Cancer Month
Too many women lose their lives far too soon to Breast Cancer. Early detection saves lives. It’s time for us all to make sure that we are breast aware and that our daughters are too.
Being breast aware simply means knowing what your breasts look and feel like so that you can examine them on a monthly basis to make sure there’s nothing untoward and if there is making sure we address it with our doctors as soon as possible. If you find anything out of the ordinary get it checked.
Here’s a handy FREE app for Android and iPhone to help you if you don’t know how to check yourself ibreastcheck.