Walking down the street on your way to get lunch, you see a young man walk by with a blue awareness ribbon pin on his lapel. But wait – what’s he raising awareness of? Is it for victim’s rights? Hurricane victims? Maybe Huntington’s disease. Wait – was it light blue or dark blue? Light blue could be prostate cancer. Dark blue, maybe Epstein-Barr virus. There are well over 50 different causes associated with the color blue alone, particularly when you add in navy, periwinkle, and color combinations. And when you consider all of the different ribbons, you’ll find that about 500 different diseases, conditions, and causes have specific ribbon colors associated with them.
Awareness ribbons make a meaningful statement. The red HIV/AIDS ribbon that first began appearing on lapels in 1991 was a visually striking reminder of the crisis, and it has become an internationally recognized symbol for the cause. Using ribbons as a way to raise awareness spread from there. For many people who suffer with an illness, who struggle to live with a life-altering condition, or who want to bring attention to a crisis situation, wearing a ribbon can bring a feeling of pride and visibility.
But with nearly 500 different causes represented by awareness ribbons, how much does a ribbon mean outside of a particular community? The red ribbon and its historical association with HIV/AIDS, the pink ribbon for breast cancer, the yellow ribbon to support our troops – most people know these associations, although all of those ribbon colors are used for other causes as well. Do people know what orchid or lavender or burgundy mean?
Ultimately, maybe it’s not so important to know off the top of your head what a pearl-colored awareness ribbon means if that leads to you asking or looking it up. Wearing a silver ribbon to represent CMT disease may simply make the wearer feel seen and recognized, since it’s considered a rare condition. Many organizations also use awareness ribbons as a fundraiser or giveaways to conference attendees. And while colors like blue and green and red might be used to represent dozens of different causes, each of those ribbons also represents a person who someone loves.