Does Pink Stink?

Given world events, this may seem a trivial topic of discussion, but to me, it is important and I will tell you why. Recently I was questioned whether the content of my book was inclusive enough based solely on its design. The concern was that the design was too stereo-typically girly, “too pink and princessy”. I am not entirely sure if the implication was that there is a large segment of 10-12 year olds who would be put off by the colour Pink or if it was more that the parents/educators who purchase the book would find the colour and/or flourishes inside the book to be politically incorrect. I suspect it is the latter.

‘Just Be You, Girl’ was written for the sole purpose of helping young girls find the power to define themselves and celebrate their uniqueness – in other words, not to fall prey to the stereotypical definition of what a girl should be. Aware of the debate surrounding the Pinkification of our daughter’s generation, I struggled with this issue when designing the book. Should I purposefully remove all suggestions of ‘stereotypical’ girl designs – eg. shades of pink or purple, flowers, swirls and twirls?

Clearly, I chose not to. The front cover illustration was specifically commissioned to not include an image of a girl so that no one girl would look at it and think ‘that’s not me’. The cover is meant to illustrate the different facets of what being a girl might mean to the reader – running shoes beside dress shoes, make-up on the table with a soccer ball under the table, hair ribbons next to awards. With regards to the colour choice, I did in fact question my daughter about using the colour pink as we had several different colour options, but she liked this option best and since I could not come up with a concrete reason to override that decision, I listened to my target audience.

But did I miss the mark? Will all the information, education and inspiration in the book be overlooked because of the inclusion of a specific colour on the cover? Does Pink Stink? Depends on who you ask.

In her thought provoking book “Cinderella Ate My Daughter”, Peggy Orenstein argues (among many other interesting points) that the purposeful marketing of Pink to girls “could even remind girls to shun anything that isn’t pink and pretty as not for them, a mind-set that could eventually prove limiting”.

In support of this thesis, but much more direct in their approach is the “Pink Stinks” campaign launched in the UK. According to the founders:

“Pinkstinks confronts the damaging messages that bombard girls though toys, clothes and media. Girls’ products overwhelmingly focus on being pretty, passive and obsessed with shopping, fashion and make up - this promotes a dangerously narrow definition of what it means to be a girl. These ‘Girly’ products and concepts are marketed, for the most part, under the umbrella of pink. Pink has become the ubiquitous brand colour to represent modern girlhood. This restrictive conditioning and colour-coding rears its ugly head from the moment a girl is born and continues into adulthood – with repercussions for both sexes.”

But is the colour really the problem? Pink may be the signpost, but is it in fact the core of the issue? I clearly agree there is a problem with the objectification of girls by marketers that target an ever-younger audience. But do I believe that if we erase Pink from the colour spectrum, this issue will magically disappear? That marketers won’t simply appropriate another colour? And is it possible to reverse the signpost? Can Pink point to something else? The thousands of women who wore the Pink Pussy hats at the Women’s March on Washington think so.

Per the Pussyhat Project, “Pink is considered a very female color representing caring, compassion, and love- all qualities that have been derided as weak, but are actually strong. Wearing pink together is a powerful statement that we are unapologetically feminine and we unapologetically stand for women’s rights!”

In the end, I made my choice and not only because my daughter liked the design. I agree with much of what Peggy Orenstein wrote and I support many of Pinkstinks’ objectives (their campaign targeting Sainsbury was astonishing in the fact that it was even necessary). But ultimately, I believe more in the power of persuasion than the tactic of censorship. We absolutely need to hold Marketers and Influencers accountable, but somehow, banning all things pink and pretty seems counterintuitive. If I reject my daughter’s wishes for anything ‘pink and girly’ because Marketers have laid claim on these things for their nefarious deeds am I not somehow reducing her choice and empowerment even more? Do marketers literally get to hijack an entire colour from the world? I don’t think so. And when it comes to my book, if you don’t like the colour or some of the imagery that is so okay. Use that to start a discussion with your daughter about this very topic because the whole point of Just Be You, Girl is to open a young girl’s eyes to the world around her, ask her to question preconceived notions and hopefully teach her to not judge a book by its cover.

Written in an easy conversational style, this beautiful 200 page book, filled with beautiful imagery, is designed to inspire and engage the young reader. Educational and empowering, JBYG teaches girls how to recognize and handle the influences that can affect their self-perceptions so that they ultimately learn to look within themselves to find their strength and beauty.