Colored ribbons are becoming the political buttons of the '90s.
Yellow ribbons symbolized support for troops during the Persian Gulf War while red ribbons are used by several groups -- Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the National Red Ribbon Week promoting drug prevention and, most noticeably, those promoting AIDS awareness.
Enter pink to symbolize breast cancer awareness. Still in its infancy, the pink ribbon project is getting a major boost from the Estee Lauder cosmetics empire and Self magazine during October's National Breast Cancer Awareness month.
Self's October cover features a photo of a pink ribbon with the line "support breast cancer awareness month," and inside the magazine offers a free ribbon to readers who send in a self-addressed envelope.
Some 700,000 pink ribbons are also being given away at Lauder cosmetics counters in department stores across the country this month. At the same time, customers are also offered a card to sign reading, "I pledge my support for continued diligence in the battle against breast cancer."
The cards will be personally delivered to President Bush and Congress in November by Alexander Penney, Self's editor, and Evelyn Lauder, senior corporate vice president at Estee Lauder who also helped raise more than $20 million for the new breast cancer treatment and research center named in her honor at Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York.
"Almost all our ribbons are gone, but we'll get more and our jar is full of names," says Kathy Martinez, an Estee Lauder cosmetics representative at a Nordstrom store in San Jose, Calif. She says many of the customers who pick up a ribbon and sign cards "tell you their personal stories" of fighting breast cancer or those of friends and relatives.
The exact origins of the pink ribbon campaign are unclear, but most observers attribute it to the success of the AIDS ribbons, which received publicity boosts from celebrities wearing them at the Emmys, Grammy and Oscars awards ceremonies.
"Some women have expressed the idea it's too much a copycat of AIDS,and that we ought to find our own special symbol to be immediately understood as breast cancer awareness, but there has been no concerted effort to do that," says Joann Schellenbach, national media relations director for the American Cancer Society.
The appeal of a ribbon as a symbol is understandable, she says. "A ribbon is easy to do and you don't have to get one from Estee Lauder, you can make your own."
Gay Crawford, a volunteer and state chairwoman of the American Cancer Society's breast health awareness projects this month, says she thinks the pink ribbons "sound wonderful. I think anything we can do to make people understand how important breast cancer is as a disease and how it affects women is important. My surgery was 18 years ago next month and not a lot of progress has been made since then; it's frustrating to me."
While the current push is to wear the pink ribbons during October,many believe they will be worn much longer.
Ms. Schellenbach says, "There is a growing activism and concern on the part of women who want to stand up and be counted." She cites a letter-writing campaign the American Cancer Society sponsored a year ago with a goal of 175,000 letters to Congress that generated more than 600,000.
"There's real concern out there," Ms. Schellenbach says. "I imagine it will extend beyond October."