The Secret Story Behind the Pink Ribbon

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The pink ribbon is one of the most recognizable images for breast cancer awareness. Being that we’re in the middle of October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we thought we’d dive deeper into the story behind the iconic image now featured on everything from print advertisements to kitchen appliances to jewelry to football fields.

 

Let’s go back to 1979, when the first use of a ribbon was used publicly to raise awareness for a cause. Penney Laingen tied yellow ribbons around trees in her yard to signal to her a husband, a hostage taken in Iran, to come home. Actor Jeremy Irons then wore a red ribbon during the Tony Awards to raise awareness for AIDS. In fact, The New York Times declared 1992 “The Year of the Ribbon” when almost every charitable cause adopted a ribbon.

 

It was Charlotte Haley, a breast cancer survivor, who created the original breast cancer ribbon in 1991. Except, it wasn’t pink. Haley hand made peach ribbons and attached them to a postcard reading, “The National Cancer Institute’s annual budget is 1.8 billion, only 5 percent goes for cancer prevention. Help us wake up legislators and America by wearing this ribbon.” Girl boss much? You bet!

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Charlotte Haley, the creator of the “original” pink ribbon (except hers was peach).

So now you’re wondering—how did this peach ribbon become pink? Self had heard of Haley’s efforts (she had distributed thousands of ribbons) and approached her about using the image in their second annual Breast Cancer Awareness issue. Marketing executives Alexandra Penney and then editor-in-chief, Evelyn Lauder saw major potential in branding this image. Haley, however, thought their idea was too corporate and turned it down. Self’s legal counsel advised that if they changed the color, they wouldn’t need Haley’s approval to use her idea. So, they changed it to that soft pretty pink we now associate with breast cancer awareness.

 

The bubble gum pink ribbons were then given to participants in the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation’s New York City Race for the Cure and were distributed at Estée Lauder counters. Along with the 1.5 million ribbons Estée Lauder gave out, there was also a breast self-exam card, and every person who took a ribbon had their name on a petition that got sent to the White House to ask for an increase in funding for breast cancer research.

 

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