I got stellar school results, have a first-class undergraduate degree and was recently admitted into an Ivy League law school. But I have often felt that people don’t take me very seriously. Whether it’s the cab driver who short-changes me, the Post Office worker who patronises me while I’m collecting a parcel, or one of my classmates who cuts me off before making the exact same point, it seems that some people don’t assume very much of me. And I think it’s all connected to the way I look. Let me explain...
From a young age, I have been obsessed with the colour pink. Yes, I know it’s a cliché, a woman who likes pink... but I don’t care, I still love it.
I can't help but gravitate to it when choosing how to express myself. I wear at least one pink item without fail - be it my trainers, boots, a jumper, jumpsuit or blush co-ord set. And when it comes to my hair, what started with pink bobbles has eventually progressed braid-by-braid to today's full head of pink mermaid hair.
Being a ‘girly girl’
I feel confident wearing pink. It’s like my superhero cloak, emitting colour everywhere I go. However, as an adult, I can't help but feel judged based on my colour of choice.
“Every colour has positive and adverse traits", explains Applied Colour Psychology expert, Karen Haller, author of bestseller The Little Book of Colour. "What effects we experience really depends on how we’re feeling”.
In my experience, people seem surprised that I can hold an intellectual conversation. They're also shocked when I talk about all the ‘non-girly’ stuff I’m into like Cold Case, Law and Order SVU, or cinematic classics such as Heathers or Police Academy. "I’m surprised you would know what that was, Seun", my lecturer once remarked, eyes open wide, when I mentioned The Economist podcast.
“On the adverse side of pink,", Haller explains, "men can feel quite emasculated and women can feel, or appear to feel, very weak and very needy. Pink is definitely considered and is stereotyped for little girls, like blue is a boy’s colour. Quite often women will say to me: 'I don't wear pink because I don't want to be girly', because they're worried that people won't take them seriously."
This fear of looking 'childish' preventing women from choosing pink means assumptions are never challenged - a classic case of chicken and egg.
I should say that I still like ‘girly’ stuff. I can recite all the song lyrics to Disney's The Princess and the Frog word-for-word and live for the Whitney Houston production of Cinderella. The point is that I contain multitudes - we all do - and I should not be pigeonholed based on my fashion choices. But we human beings often like to put each other into boxes, or stereotypes, as it makes the world feel more 'knowable', rather than acknowledging just how complex the people around us are.
It is just the clothes?
It can be difficult for me to know where judgement based on my fashion choices starts and other forms of discrimination ends. The idea of 'intersectionality', initially coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, explores how those of us who are both Black and female often have to deal with "double-discrimination - the combined effects of practices which discriminate on the basis of race, and on the basis of sex".
Perhaps that is why, when I was daytime programming director for my university’s radio station, another student came into the broadcasting booth and mistook me for another Black girl and took it upon themselves to train me how to use the radio software I had actually trained them on a month earlier.
I honestly can't remember what I was wearing that day - maybe it was pink, maybe it wasn't. The point is less about the clothes I was wearing and more about this harmful tendency for people to stereotype based on appearances.
At my undergraduate university graduation, a family member took me aside and asked me: "Are you sure you want to be wearing all of this?", referring to my rose-coloured braids and pink outfit. "It will be in your photos, what will people think?".
They believed that having pink braids in my graduation picture would make me a target for people to mock, that I would be judged. And I would be lying if I didn't admit that I have been on occasion.
But despite these experiences, I remind myself why I dress the way I do. For me, wearing pink is like wearing joy. It allows me to express the more vibrant parts of my personality that tend to get suppressed within professional settings where colour is practically unheard of (and I can’t exactly Cosplay as a Black British Elle Woods).
“Pink is a very comforting colour because it's physically soothing", Haller says. "It’s all about caring, nurturing, compassion and empathy. It’s a colour very much for men and for women because it shows the softer side. It's not female, it's a feminine energy, which both men and women possess.”
"For someone to have the confidence to wear pink, they must be so comfortable and confident with who they are".
Which to me, makes sense. I wear pink because why should I let anyone's preconceptions or stereotypes determine how I express myself?
Countless women like Carmen Munroe, Gloria Steinhem, Flo Kennedy have shown that clever and powerful women can and should wear whatever they want, because, when you have something important to say, people will eventually have to pay attention.
Follow Seun on Twitter.
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