The Issue With Pink
By Cynthia Kinyera
What first comes to mind when you think about that colour? Femininity, delicateness, romance?
Growing up, I didn’t like pink. I never had anything against the sight of the colour itself, but only what it represented. It was mostly subconscious, I never fully processed why I didn’t like pink until a few months ago.
For several decades now, pink has been associated with girlhood, to the extent that it now frequently signifies femininity itself. You know what I’m talking about — pink is for girls and blue is for boys. This aggressive stereotyping of colour based on gender is something a lot of us grew up with. As little girls, most of us were dressed in pink. We had pink toys and loved fictional princesses drowned in shades of magenta. This isn’t because of some inherent genetic preference, the reason for this is actually quite simple; targeted marketing. Pink hasn’t always been considered a “female” colour. For most of history, babies were dressed very much alike, irrespective of gender. It was not until clothes corporations in 1940s America pretty much decided that, “pink is for girls and blue is for boys” basing on a new fashion trend, and marketed it like crazy. The trend stuck. It is entirely common to see little girls who will only wear, watch and consume pink; to see “for girls” sections of supermarkets bathed in pink; to see companies create an entire line of products with only one pink item that is glaringly labeled “for women”. As much as blue is deemed for boys, there is no real masculine equivalent that rivals the pinkwashing of women’s products. It seems all the other colours are for boys and pink is left for the girls, but that’s a discussion for another day.
Girls love pink because it is an ideal sold to them. And it is sold very, very well.
It stopped being a colour; it began to represent all things delicate, all things pretty, and all things girl. Every female cartoon, every heroine, every girl idol was emblazoned in pink. It became something girls were pretty much expected to love; a societal conditioning.
So, back to the issue at hand. Why didn’t I like pink? Why would I, a girl and later a woman, have anything against the colour most associated with my gender? Ironically, it’s because I completely believed in the idea sold to me. I believed pink was too feminine for me. Even at age ten, I disliked the idea of being considered a “girly girl”.
The root of the problem is this: pink signified femininity, and femininity is usually considered a weakness. As a child I was surrounded by and accepted the idea that women who loudly expressed their femininity were less credible. Loving fashion, loving makeup, wearing pink; it all meant the same to me — a version of the Western world notion of the “dumb blonde”. In my eyes, women who were “too girly” were a little shallow, a little superficial, and a little less bright. It’s a very old dilemma, really. A woman who embodies the commonly accepted ideals of femininity is usually considered beautiful, and when a woman is very beautiful her intelligence is usually questioned.
Think about it. Marilyn Monroe. Paris Hilton. Kim Kardashian. Even your everyday neighbourhood slay queen.
There is something about a physically attractive and highly feminine woman that simply leads people to believe that she is dumb. Femininity — and therefore, “pinkness”— has been historically sexualised and fetishised. When a woman is considered exceedingly beautiful she is praised and put on a pedestal; and she is silmultaneously torn down and degraded. The fetishisation of beautiful women reduces them to mere objects to be admired; soulless pieces of art. People stop seeing them as thinking, logical beings, but merely something pretty to be looked at and enjoyed.
A pink woman, in the eyes of society, is only a body and not a brain. And that is why I did not like pink.
From a very young age, it was pointed out to me that my greatest strength is my mind, and I accepted that. I grew up having people subtly assure me that I’d never be one of the pretty girls, so I’d be better off sticking to my books. And, of course, I could not jeopardise my apparent strength, I could not afford to be an airhead; and therefore I did not like pink. Until my late teens I proudly described myself as a “T-shirt and jeans girl”, I rarely went out of my way in the name of fashion. But that changed. For most of my life, I believed reliance on feminine beauty to be something shallow and almost worthy of contempt, since beauty is often not worked for, and always fleeting.
It took me a long time to realise and accept this uncontestable fact: beauty is a strength. Money has been made, hearts have been won, kingdoms have been conquered, wars have been fought based on beauty. As a girl I was limited to only one type of strength. As women, we are told that we can’t be have equal passion for politics and makeup, for mathematics and high heels, for civil justice and hair care, for football and fashion, for science and the colour pink. We are narrowed into two groups of the beautiful and the smart, because we have been convinced that it is ridiculous to expect to be both.
So now, as an adult, I wear pink. It is still not my favourite colour. However, I am no longer afraid of being a “girly girl”. I do not feel superficial when I invest in makeup and hair, just as I do not feel superficial when I invest in books and self-education.
This isn’t just an article about the history and intricacies of the colour pink. Having a personal aesthetic preference or dislike for pink is not particularly relevant; at the end of the day the colour itself is arbitrary. There is nothing wrong with liking or disliking pink. Rather, this is an article about overcoming the internalised sexism that limits women to pursuing only one type of strength, and tells us we cannot demand to have more. You can be more. You can wear pink.