There is a short, but interesting history to the pink ribbon that is now immediately associated with breast cancer awareness the world over. That history is not without controversy.
Ribbons have been used to symbolize things for hundreds of years. In the 1990s, though, they were in vogue as a way to quickly symbolize any of a number of social causes. Yellow ribbons, originally meant to raise awareness of hostages in crisis, became the symbol of "bring the troops home safely." Red ribbons were adopted, very popularly, to raise awareness for AIDS. The pink ribbon itself is largely associated with the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which gave pink ribbons to marathon runners in 1991.
Peach, pink, and pink and blue
The original breast cancer ribbon was likely the peach-colored ribbon produced by Charlotte Haley, an activist who headed a grassroots campaign to lobby the National Cancer Institute towards putting more resources into breast cancer research. This began about the time the Komen Foundation offered pink ribbons to marathon participants in its annual New York run.
In 1992, the pink ribbon was adopted as the official symbol of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and shortly afterwards, Alexandra Penney (editor-in-chief at Self
Penney and Lauder approached Haley about using her peach ribbon, but she refused, believing it would become too commercial, so the moguls went with the pink ribbon instead.
Eventually, a pink ribbon with a blue stripe was also adopted by groups to raise awareness of male breast cancer and is most often associated with the John W. Nick Foundation.
Today, the pink ribbon is almost universal, globally. The color pink is also often used to symbolize standing in awareness and support of breast cancer sufferers and survivors.
Not without controversy.
Of course, the pink ribbon is also often controversial. Usually in a political way. Leading this view is the Think Before You Pink group, which seeks to expose some foundations for their spending habits and high executive salaries. That and what's now become known as "cause-related marketing," the use of social causes like breast cancer (which are fairly "safe" politically) to publicize a company or brand.
These are concerns, obviously, and any charity that's acting less than charitable should be outed to those who donate to it.