Each October, stores put up displays and merchandise featuring two different color schemes. One is the orange and black items that symbolize Halloween. The other is a soft, feminine pink … as in pink ribbons. The pink ribbon symbol of breast cancer awareness is everywhere this month, for a good reason. But beware that, while it is nice that things are sprouting pink ribbons, purchasing items adorned with the ribbon may not always benefit the breast cancer cause.
The pink ribbon first became associated with breast cancer in 1992. The yellow ribbon, as a symbol, originated in the Civil War, was a cheesy hit song (Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree) and was resurrected for the 1980 Iran Hostage crisis. The AIDS red ribbon was created in 1991. The next year, Charlotte Hayley, whose family members had battled breast cancer, made peach loops that she attached to cards encouraging that more money goes to cancer prevention. She distributed thousands of the cards and drew national attention. Self magazine, which was preparing its 1992 Breast Cancer Awareness month issue, approached her about using her ribbon. She did not want to work with them, so they came up with another color – pink – that has since become an iconic color symbolizing breast cancer.
Proliferation of Pink Products
Since then, brands that cater to women put out “pink” products, usually adorned with the ribbon, each October. This year is no exception, with Anne Klein, Stella McCartney, Mark Jacobs, and countless others. The post office and Yoplait yogurt always issue special stamps and Yogurt packages. Even children’s sites, like Stardoll, sprout pink in October. Kellie Pickler, who shaved her head to match a friend battling breast cancer, has released a new fundraising single with Amy Grant. Panera has a Pink Ribbon Bagel, with cherry flavored chips, dried cranberries and cherries inside. Hard Rock Cafes have pink merchandise, drinks and tortilla chips this month, and their hotels have rooms with pink sheets.
Some options are well meaning, but strange for other reasons. A case in point is the NFL’s proliferation this month of pink ribbons on footballs, wristbands and fields, along with the requisite pink merchandise for sale (NFL hoodies, caps, hats in pretty pink). It seems incongruence in a time when the NFL is being criticized for insensitivity to woman, given the recent domestic violence controversy.
Where is the Money?
The issue with a lot of these items adorned with pink ribbons is that, while they might remind people about breast cancer, do they really benefit breast cancer research or patients? The perception, or even the sales pitch with many, is that a portion of the money will go to breast cancer research. That is not always true. And, when it is true, the amount may be miniscule.
For example, Yoplait yogurt puts pink lids on its products this time of year. The company donates 10 cents for every pink lid mailed back to them, not based on sales. If someone ate three yogurts a day, every day, for a month, that only raises $9 – and only if the purchaser cleans them off and mails them back, probably incurring a few dollars in postage costs.
Compounding the issue, not all items with pink ribbons even benefit breast cancer. The symbol and color may be used a lot in October, like orange and black, but that does not necessarily mean it’s proceeds go anywhere but the manufacturer. Before buying anything, consider how much of the purchase is going toward what charity. So, when browsing the various items with pink ribbons sprouting on shelves this month, shop but beware of what is up and where the money goes.
By Dyanne Weiss