The Story Behind the Pink Ribbon


The origin of that pink ribbon may surprise you.

Once again, the ribbon has been cut and millions of sprinting women and men have begun the annual October marathon with an objective to raise money for cancer research. Various charities spend their contributions in different ways and it’s actually quite easy to track your donations these days with one of the independent sites on the Internet.

CharityWatch—founded 25 years ago, is said to be America's most independent charity watchdog. The company doesn’t merely repeat what a charity reports, but digs deeply through the records to let you know how efficiently a charity will use your donation to fund the programs you want to support.

Some of us have in innate trust for any charity with the word “cancer” attached to it. Many, of course, are doing good and honest work. If in doubt, check them out with one of the charity watch services.

That pink ribbon that seems to wrap around our planet each October is widely seen as the official symbol of breast cancer—at least of the female variety. It’s highly recognizable and carries a strong psychological tug, and is most often associated with the Susan G. Komen group, but that isn’t exactly where it started.

By the way, no one company or organization or foundation owns the rights to this worldwide symbol. However, individual pink ribbon designers can hold all rights reserved on their own designs. As an example, Avon has its own, as does Estee Lauder.

But around the world the pink ribbon itself is considered public domain.

So here then is the real story and the true link to the Pink:

Charlotte Hayey, who had battled breast cancer, introduced the concept of a peach-colored breast cancer awareness ribbon. In the early 1990s, the 68-year-old Haley began making peach ribbons by hand in her home. Her daughter, sister and grandmother had breast cancer. She distributed thousands of ribbons at supermarkets 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.”

As the word spread, executives from Estée Lauder and Self Magazine asked Haley for permission to use her ribbon. Haley refused saying the companies were too commercial. But “Self” really wanted to have her ribbon. The magazine consulted its lawyers and was advised to come up with another color. It chose pink, a color that focus groups say is soothing, comforting and healing — a far cry from what breast cancer really is. Soon Charlotte Haley’s grassroots peach ribbon was history, and her original idea became the pink ribbon that has come to be known as the worldwide symbol for breast cancer.

The breast cancer movement is much bigger than October. And it isn’t only about finding a cure or getting a mammogram or raising money. It’s about prevention and education and guaranteed treatment for everyone — women and men, rich or poor.

It’s a crusade that should unite all of us at every level. That pink ribbon, after all, is just the pretty tie that sits atop the box in which the gift of life has been wrapped, and where the hope of a cure has been waiting to be released—to become the perfect gift for each of us who knows cancer all too well.

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