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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.
The first known use of a pink ribbon in connection with breast cancer awareness was in the fall of 1991, when the Susan G. Komen Foundation handed out pink ribbons to participants in its New York City race for breast cancer survivors.
The pink ribbon was adopted as the official symbol of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month the next year, in 1992. The pink ribbon was derived from the popular red ribbon for AIDS awareness. Alexandra Penney, the editor-in-chief of the women's health magazine Self, and breast cancer survivor Evelyn Lauder, the senior corporate vice president at the cosmetics company Estée Lauder created a ribbon for the cosmetics giant to distribute in stores in New York City.
Estée Lauder and Self initially approached Charlotte Haley, who had begun a peach-coloured ribbon campaign to press the National Cancer Institute to increase its budget for cancer prevention research. Haley refused to be part of what she felt was a commercial effort, so Estée Lauder and Self changed the color of their ribbon to light pink in 2005, to circumvent Haley's efforts to stop them.
A pink and blue ribbon is sometimes used to symbolize breast cancer in men, which is relatively rare. The pink and blue ribbon was designed in 1996 by Nancy Nick, president and founder of the John W. Nick Foundation to bring awareness that "Men Get Breast Cancer Too!"
The pink ribbon represents fear of 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, hundreds, if not thousands, of 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.
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.
In most jurisdictions, the pink ribbon is considered public domain. However, in Canada, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation claims ownership of the ribbon as an official mark, a special form of trademark reserved for governmental and charitable organizations.
The Women's International Motorcycle Association and other women's motorcycle clubs organize Pink Ribbon motorcycle charity rides during which riders are known to decorate their motorcycles with pink brassieres.
The Pink ribbon campaign 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.
The misuse of marketing campaigns by businesses using the pink ribbon on their products have been described as pinkwashing, a portmanteau of pink ribbon and whitewash, which was coined by Breast Cancer Action. They use the term to highlight companies or products which feature a pink ribbon without donating more than a negligible or token amount of money to a charity or with no transparency regarding where the funds are going.
It also describes the use of a pink ribbon on products with known or suspected links to cancer. The use of breast cancer or the pink ribbon in cause marketing to promote products such as firearms or pornography has also drawn controversy.
Associate professor of kinesiology and health studies at Queen's University Samantha King claims in her 2006 book Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy 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, which highlights instances of corporate misuse of the pink ribbon and other issues around the campaign.
San Francisco-based Breast Cancer Action calls the annual awareness campaign "Breast Cancer Industry Month" to emphasize the costs of treatment. Their "Think Before You Pink" campaign urges people to "do something besides shop." The group 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.
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