Girls had the colour thrown at us from a young age. On the day we were born, it defined precisely who we were. Our pink GAP baby grows demonstrated the only real constitution of identity we had at the time. Shit-stained or not, we looked quite cute wobbling around in them whilst our chuffed parents paraded us home with their pink ‘it’s a Girl!’ balloons. We squeezed our Cinderella toes into pink ballet slippers and dressed our prized Barbies in pink mini skirts we hoped one day to own. The girls’ aisle in Toys R Us was a dreamy spread of cotton candy dreams. Everything in it was on our Christmas lists, and even Santa understood how much we loved pink.
Indeed, pink is unequivocally associated with our sex. It is intertwined with the interests we have had similarly prescribed for us – the barbies, babies and toy hoovers, the makeup kits and the fashion magazines. In shops like Toys R Us – smaller and weirdly smellier than fondly remembered – the boys sections are marked by variety. While our lot consisted of styling, mothering and cooking masked in pretty pink, they had the choice of all sorts of adventurous stuff including building, science, magic and sports.
In a chapter entitled ‘Girls’ in ‘Everyday Sexism’, Laura Bates captures this unbalanced social reality. She notes that the “breadth of choice available to boys, from building sets to sporty games, LEGO to woodwork, remains markedly wider than that presented in pink.” In turn, “girls are not only being denied access to scientific and adventurous toys; they’re also presented with such a narrow range of options that domesticity and stereotypically ‘female’ duties are shoved down their throats before they’ve even reached the age of five.”
In a theme that runs through to adult life, boys have options that encourage skill and self-improvement rather than domesticity and self-reflection. In magazine racks for instance, typical “mens” mags – after the naked women shelf – include publications about business, science, politics, nature, cars, and history. A variety of interests is encouraged, and moreover, so is self-education. Meanwhile an aisle down, women are recommended some great fashion magazines, some more fashion magazines, conflicting messages about weight and general appearance, home and garden magazines, and a few about cooking. Pink represents this collection of the “girly” best of all. As Laura argues, these magazines constitute a “bombardment of media messages bulldozing young girls towards pretty pink pliancy,” as opposed to the “platform on which boys may build their own identity.” Whether we embrace it, go along with it, or reject it, pink is affiliated with the “girly” and connotes society’s ideas of what this should entail.
At Illustrated People, we’re breaking the rules and pink stands for none of these things. Our office is a bubble of pink plant plots and pastel fake fur. Our pink clothes are juxtaposed with funny and assertive statements, confident prints, and in our recent Ed Hardy collaboration, with bold and provocative tattoo designs. We wear them with ripped jeans and clumpy boots just as we wear them with stilettos and painted toes. For us, the colour doesn’t have to be synonymous with “pretty pink pliancy.” The IP girl is confident in herself, her style and her capabilities, and is unapologetic about having an opinion and expressing herself. Our clothes are for the women who aren’t afraid to make a statement. We question what we are told to be, including all that the “girly” colour represents.
In a time where feminism litters social media has become a buzzword for advertising and journalism, what women “should” do is being called in to question every day. Girls on Instagram go nude in defence and promotion of their right to, and preach empowerment through doing what our magazine aisles tell us good girls shouldn’t really do. Others refuse to showcase their sexuality at all, but with the same aim. Although opinions on how we can empower ourselves clearly differ, expressing them and participating in discussion is more prominent than ever. It is consistently played out in popular culture and public discourse, and as a generation we are challenging the ideals imposed on us. We should decide whether we embrace or reject them, and find a middle ground that suits each of us – like wearing an IP T-shirt in candy-floss pink that also says “DUMP HIM”, or “NO” 35 times. Society still wants us to think pink, but we feel more that the choice is ours.
Words by Rosie Byers