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Page last updated at 12:27 GMT, Thursday, 8 January 2009

Should we not dress girls in pink?

Ballet outfit

By Claire Bates

Ask a little girl what her favourite colour is, and chances are she'll shout "pink". Toy aisles and clothing rails are packed with this shade, but is nothing but pink for girls harmful?

How different it was in the early 1900s, when blue was for girls and pink for boys.

Girl in pink
Any colour so long as it's pink

The Women's Journal explained it thus: "That pink being a more decided and stronger colour, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl."

DressMaker magazine agreed. "The preferred colour to dress young boys in is pink. Blue is reserved for girls as it is considered paler, and the more dainty of the two colours, and pink is thought to be stronger (akin to red)."

What prompted the switch is unclear, but it had been made by the time Adolf Hitler ordered the classification of homosexuals. Those deemed "curable" were sent to concentration camps and labelled with a pink triangle. This suggests that by then, pink was associated with femininity.

But some commentators now believe pink dominates the upbringing of little girls, and this may be damaging.

Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood, says the "total obsession" with pink stunts girls' personalities. "I am very worried about it. You can't find girls over the age of three who aren't obsessed with the colour. It's under their skin from a very early age and severely limits choices, and decisions.

The effect of pink is temporary - it is not the profound negative effect that is being argued
Michael Gurian

"We have got to get something done about the effect marketeers are having. We are creating little fluffy pink princess, an image of girliness, that is very specific and which some girls don't want to go along with, but due to overwhelming peer pressure, are having to conform to."

So successful have toymakers been in creating a girl's world painted purely pink, that a study by speech therapists in Durham shows children having no problem identifying the colour blue, but saying "Barbie" when shown pink.

Nature not nurture

But therapist and researcher Michael Gurian, who is based in the United States, says too much pink doesn't have a profound effect biologically - because it can't.

Sword play
Are girls now less likely to play rough?

He says humans are programmed in a certain way and no amount of contact with external influences can change that.

"Everyone is hard-wired with four things - gender, a talent set, personality and differing ability to deal with trauma.

"I agree that if you are saying the environment has no effect on these, you go too far the other way, but the effect is negligible."

Mr Gurian, the author of Nurture The Nature, says the only thing that can profoundly change the way a girl is programmed to develop is a chemical imbalance or some kind of serious trauma.

For example, he says images of thin models and actresses do not cause a person to become anorexic - there are more complicated factors at work.

It is the same with over-exposure to pink (or any other single colour that might have been assigned to girls).

"Scientists all argue the same thing - you cannot have a biological organism without having an environment for it to exist in, but that environment does not change the very basic make-up of that organism.

"The effect is more temporary. It is not the profound negative effect that is being argued."

Eye for colour

Enter any toy store or children's clothing department and it's easy to spot the gender divide - one side is floor-to-ceiling pink, the other camouflage shades with the odd dash of orange and blue. Hence discussion boards on parenting websites bemoan the fact it is "impossible" to buy any other colour for girls.

Pink toys
My girls love pink - it's their favourite colour, but equally they are happy in the garden wallowing in mud
Mum-of-two Maria Dawes

As girls are more aware of colour than boys - they put more colour in their drawings, for example, and learn colour names more quickly - it is no surprise that toy manufacturers have latched onto a certain shade to pitch at girls. "It could've been any colour," says Mr Gurian.

Boys too have their own stereotypes and colour palette to contend with, but feminists argue that these aren't as marginalising. Girls are already fighting inequality, they say.

Mr Gurian says those who rail against pink think it means "girl, girl, girl, which means not smart, which means oppressed".

But girls believed to have been harmed by too much pink are actually either "traumatised by something, or not given the opportunities to develop their natural talents. That has nothing to do with pink."

Maria Dawes, a mother to two girls aged four and three, says: "My girls love pink - it's their favourite colour, but equally they are happy in the garden wallowing in mud. Surely this is all just about balanced and sensible parenting?

"Exposure to all things pink does bother me a bit, but in the end, they will make their own decisions as they mature."

Mr Gurian himself has two teenage girls. "My daughters love pink, but are very successful young women. Their love of pink and of girl stuff has not held them back."

Ms Palmer, too, has a daughter, and when she was little she played with a pastel-pretty My Little Pony.

"I tried hard for her not to have one, but she did. We were rock bottom broke though, so I couldn't give in to the pink pester power too much, thankfully."

Below is a selection of your comments.

I agree the colour itself is not dangerous (I'm happily wearing bright pink at the moment), it's more a symptom of how society likes to box girls and women in, by expecting very specific things from them. I agree that stick-thin models don't cause anorexia, but they do cause feelings of inadequacy in a lot of girls and women (myself included).
Harriet R, Bristol, UK

I always used to love pink as a child - I was given pink towels, pink fairy dresses and pink toy rabbits while my sister was given the same in blue. I was glad until about eight, when I wanted to grow out of it. Unfortunately my relatives disagreed and I used to die a little inside whenever I opened a present to find a bright pink pair of trousers or another pink fluffy animal. But I don't think I've been damaged by it, except I now loathe pink. I had to get my bedroom carpet changed because it was a particularly bright shade when I moved recently.
Anna, Beaconsfield, England

When my daughter was little her favourite colours were pink and shiny. She had red hair and it clashed like crazy. But who cares? She was happy. Now she is grown and over the years her opinions have changed with her mood and occasionally with fashion. She is a strong, confident woman. What has pink got to do with that?

The propensity of pink is not the only issue here as far as I am concerned. Whole aisles are dedicated to pink products, but blue is in scarce supply. My baby son looks really good in blue, however it is really difficult to get hold of blue clothes for him. In any shop you can get a huge amount of pink for girls, but for boys you generally have to go for neutral as there does not seem to be much blue. We wanted to get blue babygrows for him but despite a lot of searching we only got a couple, whereas if I had a girl and required pink I could have picked them up in all shops. More gender equality in baby clothes, please retailers.
Matt, Cheshire

The shops only sell pink because that's what we buy based on the demands of little girls. I had no intention of dressing my daughter in pink, but that's all she wanted. I would offer her clothing in all sorts of lovely colours but she only wanted pink. And with each season's new offerings in the shops - usually with other new colours - she still wanted pink. It wasn't until she was 8 that she finally decided that pink was out.
Susan Hunt, Leidschendam, The Netherlands

I don't see what the problem is. My daughter likes pink but she also likes all the other colours too. If a child is fixated on something it is not down to manufacturers or marketing, it is an in-built character trait. My daughter's room is pink, she has Barbies but most of her clothing is not pink and most of her toys and room accessories are not pink. Allow your children to be children. They will enter the adult world soon enough.
V Leese, Southampton, England

I try desperately to avoid pink clothes for my 21-month-old daughter. But it's difficult to buy girls clothes in any other colour. I cringe when I walk through the "girls" section of toy shops because it turns completely pink. When I buy her toys I try to go for gender neutral ones. When I play with her it's with footballs or on my skateboard. But she loves pushing around a toy pram. A friend bought her a Barbie doll (to my horror), and she loved it. Sorry feminists, I tried, I really did.
Alan Holt, Malmesbury

My 20 month old daughter is in purple today and my four year is in black and white. They have orange, red, blue, green, white and black clothes, oh and pink and I'm not loaded. There is a lot of pink but there are other colours too. Do not be pressured by your child to buy pink.
Nadine Norton, Shrewsbury

My two year old niece seems oblivious to colour, especially when picking her clothes. Instead, the article of clothing is of more importance (shirt and pants v dress). However, whatever piece of clothing selected will invariably be put and worn on her head.
Leila, Canada

I struggle to see how a girl's choice in clothing is limited. All the clothing stores I go to consist of four floors of girls clothes and two racks of boys clothes hidden at the back of the top floor.
Owen, London

Kids change, thankfully. My daughter used to love the colour, had to have her room painted in a particularly nauseating hue, but now can't stand it. Her change kind of happened about the time she realised she didn't like Barbie anymore.
Iain, Dunfermline

When I think about what I'm very worried about on behalf of children today, the consequences of continued and unchecked/uncheckable global human population growth comes more readily to mind. How we have arrived at a point where people can consider the over-representation of pink in little girls' wardrobes to be a crisis is baffling to me. For an intelligent species we have some tiny, tiny minds...
Steve, Winchester, UK

I'm female and was born just after the end of WWII. I was often dressed in blue and my younger sister was often dressed in pink. Why? I have no idea, other than I was fair-haired and my sister had dark hair. Perhaps due to the austerities of the war, that was what was available at the time. Now I have the choice of which colours to wear, and I prefer reds and pinks, although I do wear blue as well. I don't think I have been harmed at all. Whatever next! Will someone suggest that we have too much green in nature?
Lesley, Sevenoaks

I've always hated pink, it feels for me to have suggestions of fluffy, silly, girliness which doesn't suit my personality. My three-year-old daughter is very similar - her favourite colour is blue and she loves Thomas the Tank Engine, but I have no choice but to dress her in pink clothes, particularly on a restricted budget. Colour is an important expression of personality, and this is being restricted for girls. However, I don't think this ultimately affects their success or career choice, but I could be wrong.
Emma Carter, Bicester

Sue Palmer claims that an obsession with Pink stunts a girls' personality. Surely, not allowing a child, whatever sex, the freedom to express their likes and dislikes re colour can only harm them more? I have two daughters (13 & 16) who have been in and out of love with the whole rainbow of colours and I'm happy to report that they are both extremely well-adjusted young ladies, with no personality problems at all.
Samm Dodge, Bishops Stortford, UK

This pattern is in nature. When starlings are ready to find a mate, the base of their bill changes colour - males have a blue tinge and females have a pink tinge. Perhaps it's a natural choice? Just to confuse things... my favourite colour has always been aquamarine and I'm female.
Lesley, Hitchin

My partner and I have a one-year-old daughter, who we attempt to dress in other colours. When she was born we received lots of clothes, unsurprisingly in pink. We reached our threshold when someone gave us a dozen different outfits for her first Christmas but all in the same sugar pink. After that we consciously dressed her in other colours, only to have people assume she was a boy even though she would be wearing a dress. The public in general assign pink to girls and some people appear to be confused if they do not see a girl baby dressed in that colour.
Marnie, Newport, South Wales

Our eldest daugher, five, is all about pink, and has been for years. This is despite our conscious efforts to not force pinkness on her. Conversely our other daughter, three - who is surrounded by her sister's clothes etc - shows no particular interest in pink; she's more likely to go for yellow.
Andy, Brighton, UK

Two of my friends have recently given birth to baby girls and whilst I don't have a problem with a bit of pink here and there, I do object to this "Daddy's little princess" culture that seems to go hand in hand with the colour. Combine this with the quite sexual nature of some clothes aimed at the under-10s, and the proliferation of Playboy merchandise that is also pink and fluffy, and you can end up with a dangerous message of objectification from an early age.
Laura, London

Please! The pink issue is no different to girls just playing with dolls, boys being given cars and guns. Surely the idea is to provide a balance? Small children, given the right opportunities to become familiar with other colours, toys, experiences will have their own ideas as they grow up in society. For goodness sake be concerned about child cruelty and other serious issues for children. Pink obsessionism is rather frivolous.
Sue Sandham, Magor, Caldicot

I'm sorry but girls liking pink is genetic. My niece loved the colour pretty much from birth and by no means had it been forced upon her. Little girls are girly, genetically, they are hard-wired to be so. End of story.

Sam, colour preference is not hard-wired, what a silly thing to say, especially based on a sample size of one. I worry that children can't express themselves by wearing whatever colour they like. The large companies keep trying to pigeonhole everyone or ad agencies or even government agencies. We are individuals, adults and children and need to be treated as such.
Louise, Lincoln, UK

I wish shops wouldn't always just do stuff in pink. My daughter won't wear ANYTHING pink or even with a bit of pink on it, hasn't in years. This makes buying most things VERY difficult especially as she's young. PLEASE more colours. I think this is her way of saying enough pink.
S Edwards, Bristol

My beautiful baby daughter aged three months looks stunning in pink, despite the best efforts of me and my wife to avoid dressing her in the colour.
Christian Ball, London

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