Brightly colored, rubbery wrist bands are an affordable fashion jewelry trend. But these soft bangle bracelets are a trend with a purpose. Each colored band represents a particular disease or societal concern. The hope is that people will be reminded of those issues when they see the bracelets worn. This "raised awareness" of issues can lead to increased research into cures for disease and better funding of programs designed to help those in need.
Charitable causes can also benefit directly from sales of some awareness bracelets. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of certain bracelets goes directly to the corresponding charitable organizations.
Awareness Bracelet History
The first awareness wristband was created by the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which was founded in 1997 by world-renowned cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong. The purpose of the Foundation is to assist cancer survivors with life after a cancer diagnosis. The yellow silicone Livestrong® bracelet (named after the Foundation's education program and colored to match Lance Armstrong's cycling jersey) is sold by the Foundation to raise funds for its educational program, and to promote awareness of its causes generally.
The bracelet became especially popular after it was featured on an episode of Oprah in February 2005. According to the Lance Armstrong Foundation, 32 million people were wearing the yellow Livestrong® wrist band in February 2005.
Awareness Colors and Messages
The popularity of the Livestrong® bracelet led to creation of many similar bracelets promoting awareness of other societal issues. Bracelets are now available in most every color, promoting awareness of everything from adoption to worker safety.
Some wristbands that mimic the style of the original Livestrong bracelet veer from the original idea of promoting awareness or raising funds. These include red, white, and blue "USA" bands, a (somewhat depressing) black and white "God Bless the Dead" band (from www.awarenessdepot.com [offsite link]), a blue (as in "blue state") "Don't Blame Us" band (I was unable to find a source for these, but they reportedly exist), and a rainbow "Peace" band (sometimes available on eBay).
You can even have your very own awareness wristband manufactured, in the color of your choice and debossed with your own message - if you're willing to buy in bulk. (See www.siliconeband.com [offsite link], for example).
Where to Buy
The original Livestrong® bracelets can be purchased directly from the Lance Armstrong Foundation for $1.00 each, with a minimum order of 10 bracelets (www.laf-store.org [offsite link]). If you purchase bracelets from the Foundation, 100% of the proceeds go to this charitable cause.
Livestrong® bracelets are also sold individually by numerous resellers. Be aware that when you purchase the bracelet from a reseller, all proceeds above the initial $1.00 do not go to the Lance Armstrong Foundation, but are profit retained by the reseller.
Wristbands of other colors and causes can be found relatively easily on the Internet, at some drug stores, and even at gas stations.
Awareness Bracelet Controversies
Awareness wristbands have become so popular and numerous that they have given rise to some controversies. Some critics denounce sales of the bracelets by resellers, arguing that consumers may be misled into believing the price of a bracelet is donated to the corresponding charity when it actually is not.
This issue really comes to light with a browse through eBay listings, many of which offer "Livestrong type" bracelets which are stamped with the word "Livestrong" and are available in colors other than yellow. Be aware that these bracelets are counterfeits and no proceeds from their sale go to the Foundation or any other charitable cause.
Another concern has been identified by Slate journalist Timothy Noah, who describes a "tragedy of the commons" with the bracelets. He argues that because there are many more charitable causes than colors, the bracelets lose meaning since it's impossible to tell which issue is represented by a bracelet based on its color. This wasn't a problem in the beginning when the Livestrong bracelet was the only awareness wristband. The unique, bright yellow wristband was easy to recognize.
Noah points out that with so many colors and causes, the bracelets have lost their awareness-creating value and have instead become just another fashion trend. In fact, Noah's late wife, esteemed journalist and cancer victim Marjorie Williams, was outwardly against awareness wristbands for that reason.
If criticisms like these don't deter you from wearing an awareness wrist band, you might at least consider leaving yours at home - or instructing family members to remove it- if you are admitted to a hospital. It turns out that colored silicone wristbands are similar in appearance to the color-coded wristbands used by hospitals to symbolize certain care instructions.
Unfortunately, hospitals often use yellow bands (very similar in color to the Livestrong® bracelet) to designate patients with "do not resuscitate" orders. Some hospitals reportedly are covering patients' awareness bracelets with tape to avoid confusion - but the safest bet may be not to wear the bracelets at all.
In addition to designing the first awareness wristband and developing an educational program for cancer survivors, Lance Armstrong has written several books. These titles are available from Amazon:
Information from the following sources was used in this article:
The Daily News Tribune (Boston area)
The Lance Armstrong Foundation
Links marked with the [offsite link] designation point to websites not associated with BellaOnline.com. BellaOnline.com is not responsible for the material found there.