Just last month, 300 pound NFL linemen took to the gridiron to do battle while sporting hints of pink in their uniforms. Throughout “Pinktober,” products like cosmetics and cleaners, lotions and laxatives supported breast cancer awareness. While some have criticized what they see as an over commercialization noting that breast cancer awareness month itself was even started by a pharmaceutical company, the positive impact on women’s health has been dramatic as early diagnosis of breast cancer has led to significant improvements in five year survival rates for those diagnosed.
Like many national movements, this tsunami-like wave of awareness began as a small ripple. The notion of using a colored ribbon as a social cause symbol began in the 1970’s when the song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” inspired Penny Laingen, wife of an Iran hostage, to use a yellow ribbon to show support for her husband and the other hostages. The initial color for breast cancer awareness was actually peach and created by Charlotte Hayley, a breast cancer survivor who handed out the ribbons in a grassroots effort. Then in 1991, cosmetics mogul Evelyn Lauder, as a guest editor for SELF magazine, wanted to work with Hayley and have the ribbons at cosmetic counters; Hayley declined thinking this was too commercial, so lawyers for SELF recommended changing the color. In the fall of 1991, volunteers for Susan G. Komen gave out pink ribbons at a race in New York City and the rest is history.