Pink Ribbon

Pink Ribbon: The official symbol of breast cancer awareness. No entity owns the symbol, and anyone can use it. Some groups have trademarked stylized pink ribbons to claim as their own.

See also: Breast Cancer Brand; Cause Marketing; National Breast Cancer Awareness Month; Pink Ribbon Lifestyle


The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation (also known as Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Susan G. Komen) is largely associated with the color pink and the pink ribbon. However, Komen did not create the pink ribbon. Nor was pink always the color associated with breast cancer awareness.

Sixty-eight-year-old Charlotte Haley had been giving out peach ribbons to raise awareness about the lack of federal funding for breast cancer prevention. Several of her family members had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and she believed the National Cancer Institute had an obligation to focus more of its budget on cancer prevention.

To bring attention to her cause, Haley made peach ribbons, thousands of them, by hand. She attached note 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.”

Haley wrote editorials, contacted public women, and gave out the peach ribbons at local venues in her community to spread the message.

At about the same time, Evelyn Lauder (who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1989) joined with Alexandra Penney to collaborate on Self magazine’s second annual breast cancer awareness month issue. Lauder had been the guest editor of the first issue and was keen to expand upon its success. Penney and Lauder decided to create a symbol that would be distributed at Lauder’s cosmetics counters around the country. As the plans for the special issue were getting underway, Penney learned of Charlotte Haley’s peach ribbon.

Ribbon Queen

According to Penney, Self magazine contacted Haley to ask for permission to use her peach ribbon. They told her they wanted nothing in return, only to give the ribbon national attention.

Haley wanted nothing to do with the venture. An activist working to raise awareness about breast cancer and federal funding, she had no interest in commercializing the ribbon or the disease.

Self magazine was a commercial enterprise committed to moving forward with its own ribbon; it just needed another color.

Focus groups chose pink. It was safe as sugar and spice, a color to evoke traditional femininity and the goodness and decency it conveyed.

Capitalizing on assumptions about beauty, morality, and nurturance, the pink ribbon symbolized the virtuous and blameless aspects of breast cancer and the femininity the disease threatened. Though essentially a variation on the red HIV/AIDS ribbon, the pink ribbon disease was not associated with lifestyle factors that could easily construe a “blame the victim” mentality. Breast cancer afflicted mothers, sisters, wives, aunts, and grandmothers. Innocent bystanders.

Thanks to Lauder and Self magazine, the pink ribbon was introduced as their official symbol for breast cancer awareness during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in 1992.

Largely due the early breast cancer movement, breast cancer had already shifted from a hidden experience to a topic of polite conversation. The pink ribbon set the stage for the strategic use of symbolism and mass media to influence public opinion about the disease. It didn’t take long for cause marketers to transform the disease-specific symbol into a logo for the breast cancer brand.


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