All my life, if offered a choice of something in a selection of colours, I would quickly exclude the pink from the running…like it simply wasn’t a choice; not for me. Too girlie, to stereotype, so many unfortunate connotations attached to it – for instance, ‘pink’ is so often prefixed with so many of those other cringy words: ‘lipstick-’, ’hot-, ‘girlie-’, ‘candy-‘, ‘baby-‘…ughh! Its associations are with some of my least favourite things; throw me a word association test and my mind will flood with thoughts of Barbie dolls, of cheap and nasty sweat-shop toys, of candy-pink nail varnish and gloopy lipstick; and, worst of all, pink has become synonymous with the kind of girliness that invites assumptions of weakness and the potential to exploit or belittle. The cultural associations have been so overwhelming, during my lifetime, that this colour has always felt like it had very little to do with me, even as an artist who paints a whole spectrum of them.
When my daughter was little, the hardest era to get through, aesthetically speaking, was when she wanted to fill the house from top to bottom with pink plastic toys and to teeter around in pink plastic shoes and a pink princess dress just to go to the shops (and, having just passed a gaggle of such tiny girls on my way home, I see this is still in vogue). I don’t mind people liking pink but its become such a cultural insistence that girls be forced through the pink-phase as soon as they watch TV, mix with other kids or choose clothes and bedroom accessories from what is most readily available that it feels like they are forced off track and away from their own natural inclinations before they even have time to think. My own daughter’s steadfastly favourite colour was blue until she got into the girl-crowd at school; and is again, now she’s grown out of the herd behaviour and does her own thing. This kind of cultural bullying always gets my goat and so, in my usual stubborn way, I’ve tended to steer clear of pink and its associations, all my life.
Yet lately, I’ve been noticing how pink is sneaking into my world from seemingly all angles, as though it has a point to make. Starting with those soft pink poppies I painted at the end of last year, I moved on to where the dominant colour of my last two…no, three…paintings is pink; I even invested in a tube of Old Holland paint, on a total whim, because the colour leapt out of the colour-chart at me…and that colour is “Brilliant Rose” (since which its been such a firm favourite that my recent work speaks for itself). Perhaps the word rose is the clue – I’ve just shared in my other blog how rose is cropping-up as the ingredient in some of my very favourite products these days, from the rosehip oil used in my skincare to rose absolute oil for my aromatherapy to rose petals on my chocolate; its as though the health benefits of this most loving of colours are demanding to be acknowledged everywhere I go.
A couple of months ago, though I hardly noticed what I was doing at the time, I bought a scarf with subtle pattern of painterly roses and, since then, hints of pink have started to make cautious but steady inroads into my wardrobe as if to give me an excuse to be able to wear it more often. Maybe the roses are trying to tell me something and maybe its all about recognising that, like them, I am able to soften up around the edges at last, to be able to stop putting on the big front of absolute independence and super-strength that used to be my way, knowing as I now do that strength comes from the inside and can wear any colour it likes. Maybe its all about love asking to be let in.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been passionate about roses but the ones in my garden are deep bordeaux red and blush yellow, not pink; though I admit I’ve sometimes wondered why I didn’t surrender to the lovely vintage pink ones I always gravitate towards in other people’s gardens when I did my planting. Maybe the tide is changing, maybe its an age-thing, an “I can carry it off and not look fluffy in this colour” thing; maybe I sense it could look really striking against my increasingly white hair, which is just begging for new vibrant colours to be put against – and nothing is more vibrant, more powerful, more outspoken than a really strong pink.
As if to make that point, I just bought a new rain coat and, out of all the colours available, this time I surprised myself by ordering the most in-you-face, fluorescent pink imaginable. In that moment when the parcel arrived and I lifted it from the box, wondering briefly “have I just made a terrible mistake”, my doubts were swept over by the almighty thrust of colour that leap up from the wrapping, followed by a gush of excitement to try it on that no navy blue or khaki rain coat could ever have given rise to. I LOVE it and want it to rain just so I can keep wearing it – and, can honestly say, I never felt more transformed and cheered-up by an article of rain clothing; the darkest, dreariest days will never be gloomy again!
Perhaps its because I know I can wear pink with strength now, without the girlie connotations, without the old-stereotype cultural baggage hung around what it supposedly means to be female. Call me oversensitive but, I think I already detected a subtle shift in the way a guy just treated me in my pink coat compared to when I wear my brown one; a bit like the kind of differences women report when turning blond after being brunette. It didn’t bother me like it would have done in the past; I just smiled to myself and let him get away with his stereotype assumptions, his subtle condescension, his cultural coding system for ‘getting to know me’ (all of which is due for a major rewrite just as soon as we decide we’ve had enough of bowing to those crazy set ideas). To do anything with pink, you clearly need even more inner gumption, a whole lot more self-knowing and nothing-tips-me-over attitude (and a sort of Mona Lisa smile) than most colours ever call for so maybe I just graduated and I think pink and I are due to begin a new love-affair and to have some fun together – on my terms.