The story behind the breast cancer pink ribbon

How did the pink ribbon symbolizing breast cancer awareness come to be?

Photo: Miguel Á. Padriñán/Pexels

By now, it’s safe to assume most people know: You see a pink ribbon and you immediately think of breast cancer awareness.

But have you ever stopped to wonder why?

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Why the ribbon? Who chose the color pink?

Half of this story started in 1979, when a wife of a hostage who had been taken in Iran was inspired to tie yellow ribbons around the trees in her front yard, signaling her desire to see her husband come home again, according to the website for Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

About 11 years later, AIDS activists saw the yellow ribbons that had been resurrected for soldiers fighting the Gulf War and turned the ribbon bright red, looped it, spruced it up and sent it onto the national stage during the Tony awards to represent those affected by AIDS.

With that, the stage was set for the breast cancer awareness ribbon, the website said.

Susan G. Komen, an organization that started in 1982, has used the color pink since day one. The first-ever Komen Race for the Cure logo design was an abstract female runner outlined with a pink ribbon, and it was used during the mid-1980s through early 1990s, the group says online.

The site continues, "In 1990, the first breast cancer survivor program was launched at the Komen National Race for the Cure in Washington, D.C. The survivors wore buttons that were printed in black and white. Later that year, the survivor program developed, and pink was used as the designated color for Komen to promote awareness and its programs. Pink visors were launched for survivor recognition.

"In 1991, pink ribbons were distributed to all breast cancer survivors and participants of the Komen New York City Race for the Cure. Then in 1992, Alexandra Penney, editor-in-chief of Self magazine, wanted to put the magazine’s second annual Breast Cancer Awareness Month issue over the top. She did this by creating a ribbon and enlisting the cosmetics giants to distribute them in New York City stores. And thus, the birth of the pink ribbon."

And now you know.

This story was first published in 2019. It has since been updated.