Pink and Blue: Coloring Inside the Lines of Gender

Fascinated by her daughter’s early obsession with pink, a photographer explores the two hues’ influences in children’s lives.

When JeongMee Yoon’s daughter was five, she wanted to wear only pink. Yoon, a South Korean photographer, knew that her child’s preference was shared by legions of young girls. But she was so intrigued by that seemingly universal inclination that she began the “Pink and Blue Project,” an ongoing photographic series of the two colors that are most frequently associated with girls and boys worldwide.

“I wanted to show the extent to which children and their parents, knowingly or unknowingly, are influenced by advertising and popular culture,” Yoon says. “Blue has become a symbol of strength and masculinity, while pink symbolizes sweetness and femininity.”

Linking gender with these colors is relatively recent, according to Jo Paoletti, a University of Maryland American studies professor. In the 19th century pastel colors were fashionable in most of Europe and the United States and were worn “to flatter the complexion, not denote gender,” she says. In the early part of the 20th century, gender distinction in clothing hues began to emerge, she says—and by 1940 pink and blue took root as the intensely gender-associated colors they continue to be today.

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