The Pink and the Black

The unconscious meaning of colours

Posted Mar 16, 2012

I've noticed it several times: the girl whose hair is held by one pink scrunchie and one black scrunchie; another girl with black trimmings around her pink schoolbag; another with a pink stud in one ear and a black stud in the other.

Even in schools with strict uniforms, young people will always find ways of using their appearance to say something important about how they see themselves or would like to be seen. Hairstyles are obvious but young people might also do it through small bits of jewellery, wristbands, watches or through the stickers on their bags: they'll individualise their appearance. The way they look is a statement and they hope that other people will understand that statement the way it's intended to be understood.

No young person will ever admit to planning these things. And they don't plan them because these are largely unconscious communications. But they're still communications: communications about the way I see myself, the way I'd like to be seen, the way I'm feeling about myself, the kind of person I'd like to be....

Colours typically communicate moods and qualities. I'm green, new to this.... You're in a black mood.... He's feeling blue.... The red mist came down on me.... You yellow coward.... Of course, the same colour can mean different things - white might represent purity but might also represent peace or surrender or emptiness; red might represent love but might also represent anger. The cultural significance of colours changes from country to country and from decade to decade. Where I live, pink currently represents girliness or innocence or light-heartedness; black represents fear or depression or wrong-doing or death....

A pink scrunchie and a black scrunchie.... In my experience, pink and black together represent a dilemma for young people. How can I be girly and fun and silly while also being deadly serious and angry about so many things in my life? How can I enjoy my life now while knowing that one day I'll die? How can I manage to stay innocent when part of me wants to know everything? How can the pink part of me co-exist with the black? I think that's what the girl with the pink scrunchie and the black scrunchie was asking me and was asking the world.

It's difficult to resolve this dilemma. Pink things and black things seem contradictory and so one response is for young people to split the world into either fun, pink things or serious, black things; things that are good or things that are bad; people who are good or bad; experience which is brilliant or awful. It's as if the pink and the black can't co-exist. A pink bedroom starts to feel out-of-date and childish so it gets re-painted, entirely black. "You've changed so much!" say the horrified parents. "You're not like you used to be!"

Their son or daughter smiles, thinking, "Good! You've noticed!"

I sit with another girl who's come to see me for counselling. I notice that she has a pink sweatband around one wrist. Sure enough, imprinted on her sweatband is a black skull-and-crossbones.

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