The pink ribbon is an international symbol of breast cancer awareness. Pink ribbons, and the color pink in general, identify the wearer or promoter with the breast cancer brand and express moral support for women with breast cancer. Pink ribbons are most commonly seen during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Charlotte Haley, who had battled breast cancer, introduced the concept of a peach-colored breast cancer awareness ribbon. She attached them to cards saying, “The National Cancer Institute’s annual budget is 1.8 billion US dollars, and only 5 percent goes to cancer prevention. Help us wake up our legislators and America by wearing this ribbon.”
Haley was strictly grassroots, handing the cards out at the local supermarket and writing prominent women, everyone from former First Ladies to Dear Abby. Her message spread by word of mouth. Haley distributed thousands of these cards.
The peach colored ribbon of Haley aroused interest from Alexandra Penney, editor in chief of Self magazine, who was working on Self magazine's 1992 National Breast Cancer Awareness Month issue. She saw the initiative to adapt to Haley's idea by working with her. But Haley rejected the offer saying that Self's initiative was too commercial.
Unable to use Haley's peach ribbon for legal reasons, Self magazine and others interested in promoting breast cancer awareness with a ribbon as a symbol decided to go pink.
The pink ribbon represents the courage to fight breast cancer, hope for the future, and the charitable goodness of people and businesses who publicly support the breast cancer movement. It is intended to evoke solidarity with women who currently have breast cancer.
Breast cancer organizations use the pink ribbon to associate themselves with breast cancer, to promote breast cancer awareness, and to support fundraising. Some breast cancer-related organizations, such as Pink Ribbon International, use the pink ribbon as their primary symbol. Susan G. Komen for the Cure uses a stylized "running ribbon" as their logo.
While specifically representing breast cancer awareness, the pink ribbon is also a symbol and a proxy of goodwill towards women in general. Buying, wearing, displaying, or sponsoring pink ribbons signals that the person or business cares about women. The pink ribbon is a marketing brand for businesses that allows them to promote themselves with women and identify themselves as being socially aware. Compared to other women's issues, promoting breast cancer awareness is politically safe.
Each October, many 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.
Wacoal launched a bra in 1999 known as the Awareness Bra, which features a pink ribbon on each band to remind women to be conscious of their breast health. In 2001, the Fit for the Cure campaign was launched to raise funds for breast cancer awareness and research. Wacoal donates to Susan G. Komen for every woman who participates in a complimentary fitting during Fit for the Cure.
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 claimed ownership of the ribbon as a trademark until it was voluntarily abandoned.
The pink ribbon is frequently used in cause-related marketing, a cooperation between non-profits and businesses to promote a product that also supports a cause. Because the pink ribbon is not licensed by any corporation, it is more open to being abused by businesses that donate little or none of their revenue to breast cancer research. While companies such as Estée Lauder have distributed over 70 million pink ribbons, and donated over $25 million to breast cancer research, other companies have been discovered using the pink ribbon inappropriately—either by not donating their profits, or by using the pink ribbon on products that include ingredients which cause cancer.
Activism against pinkwashing targets breast cancer awareness and donation campaigns that are merely an alibi. The origins of activism against pinkwashing have been dated to a 1985 Breast Cancer Action (BCA) campaign. In 2002 activism against corporate pinkwashing gained international media coverage when the BCA launched its "Think before You Pink" campaign against companies or organisations "that claim to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product, but at the same time produce, manufacture and/or sell products that are likely to cause the disease." The "Think Before You Pink" campaign urged people to "do something besides shop." The BCA has particularly excoriated major cosmetic companies such as Avon, Revlon, and Estée Lauder, which have claimed to promote women's health while simultaneously using known and/or suspected cancer-causing chemicals, such as parabens and phthalates in their products.
As alternative to pinkwashing the BCA runs an annual awareness campaign "Breast Cancer Industry Month" to emphasize the costs of treatment. The Susan G. Komen Foundation, founded 1982 to end breast cancer forever, has also been criticized for pinkwashing because its corporate partnerships amount to little more than cause related marketing that encourage a culture of consumerism. In response to this criticism the Komen Foundation and the then New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman established guidelines to help consumers understand what their donations support. The use of breast cancer or the pink ribbon in cause marketing to promote products such as firearms or pornography has also drawn controversy.
In her 2006 book Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy Samantha King claimed that breast cancer has been transformed from a serious disease and individual tragedy to a market-driven industry of survivorship and corporate sales pitch. The book inspired a 2012 National Film Board of Canada documentary, Pink Ribbons, Inc., directed by Léa Pool.
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