Origins of the pink ribbon

This month, being breast cancer awareness month, many of you will be wearing pink ribbons, the symbol of breast cancer awareness and support we have all become so familiar with. But have you ever given any thought to  the origins of the pink ribbon and how it started life as the breast cancer awareness symbol?

The pink ribbon actually started life as a peach coloured ribbon and the first person to use it as a symbol of solidarity with those diagnosed with breast cancer, was a lady called Charlotte Haley.

In 1991, Alexandra Penny,  editor-in-chief of Self, a woman’s health magazine, was working on the second annual National Breast Cancer Awareness Month issue. Evelyn Lauder, senior corporate vice president at Estee Lauder, was invited to be the guest editor of the NBCAM issue edition. They  had heard about Charlotte’s peach ribbons and approached her to see if you would let them use the concept for their own campaign, but Hayley rejected the offer, saying that they were too commercial. Criticism of the concept is still alive today  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 to a market-driven industry of  corporate sales pitch (but that’s a discussion for another day!).

Lauder and Penney consulted with  their lawyers, to determine where to go from here with the concept and they came up with a “new” color. The new colour of the ribbon was pink and has become an international symbol for breast cancer awareness in the intervening years.