PINK POWER We wear Bar­bie’s pre­ferred hue. To work. All week.

It’s be­come the colour em­braced by an en­tire gen­er­a­tion of hard-work­ing young men and women. But does ‘Mil­len­nial Pink’ fit into a cor­po­rate land­scape? Po­lit­i­cal jour­nal­ist Rad­hika Sang­hani finds out

Cosmopolitan (UK) - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs LIZ GREGG

It’s like hav­ing My Lit­tle Pony in the of­fice…

cries a col­league as he catches sight of my out­fit. To show me ex­actly what he means, he then spends the next two min­utes fran­ti­cally search­ing for an im­age on his com­puter to demon­strate his point. Fi­nally, he pulls up an im­age of a pony wear­ing three shades of pink.“It’s you!” He stabs his fin­ger at the screen, peals of laugh­ter echo­ing around the news­room I work in.

I look at the screen, then down at my oufit. He is cor­rect. The trip­tych of gar­ments I’m wear­ing are the ex­act same colours as My Lit­tle Pony. My bell-sleeved jumper, metal­lic skirt and Adi­das Gazelles are all vary­ing shades of what the world has come to call ‘mil­len­nial pink.’

This is the first time I’ve worn any colour in over 15 years. In­stead, at 27 years of age, my wardrobe is a calm, com­posed sea of inky navy, cor­po­rate grey, lots of black and the odd white T-shirt. At a push I might con­sider a splash of pas­tel blue, but that’s as far as it goes. Th­ese shades have come to re­flect my iden­tity: smart, sen­si­ble, ‘grown-up.’ It is a world de­void of colour – and thus one I feel safe in. Pink? On me? You’ve got to be jok­ing…

It all started at my friend Vivi’s 12th birth­day party – it was 2002. She was hav­ing a disco, the first one I’d ever been to. I’d begged my mother to buy me a new out­fit, and we thought we’d found the per­fect one: a knee-length denim skirt with an in­built stud­ded belt, black san­dals, and the pièce de ré­sis­tance – a vivid pink off-theshoul­der top with pur­ple sparkles.

The minute I ar­rived at the disco, I re­alised with grow­ing hor­ror that some­thing was very wrong. While I looked like the tweenage girl I was, ev­ery­one else looked like the epit­ome of so­phis­ti­ca­tion. There they were, in tiny black dresses, sil­ver strappy tops and tight black trousers with match­ing hal­ter-necks. There was no colour in sight. Their out­fits screamed grownup glam­our, while mine – a pink so in­tense I couldn’t even re­treat into the back­ground – looked woe­fully child­ish.

Later that night, I cried in the way that only pre­pubescent girls can, and vowed that was it: I would never, ever get it so wrong again. From then on, there would be no more awk­wardlength skirts, no more shiny lip­gloss, and ab­so­lutely no more bright colours – es­pe­cially pink.

I made that vow in the heat of the mo­ment 15 years ago, and I’ve never de­vi­ated. I have come up with my own

“I have my own recipe for blend­ing in: mono­chrome”

recipe for blend­ing into the back­ground: well-fit­ted mono­chrome ba­sics and cool, so­phis­ti­cated denim.

Friends and fam­ily have tried to lure me over to the bright side, but their at­tempts have al­ways failed. I pre­fer my cloth­ing to be a blank can­vas. I work in the news­room of The Daily

Tele­graph – sur­rounded by men and women in starched shirts and navy trousers – and I fit in just fine.

That is, un­til now. When I de­cided that the only way to test the true power of a colour that has come to de­fine my en­tire gen­er­a­tion of hard­work­ing, hus­tling young women was to im­merse my­self in it. To wear it head-to-toe for 10 days, at work and at play, and see if the world – in par­tic­u­lar the se­ri­ous cor­po­rate world of news jour­nal­ism – treated me any dif­fer­ently. That colour? Mil­len­nial pink, of course. For any­one who is yet to en­counter it, it’s a cutesy, al­most ed­i­blelook­ing shade of pink that has be­decked our shops, shelves and sports­wear for the past 12 months.

Born out of the grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of K-pop (kitsch, colour­ful pop mu­sic from South Korea), it’s also in­flu­enced by the ironic re­turn of ’90s and Noughties fash­ion (Juicy Cou­ture track­suits and Clue­less). Acne Stu­dios, Gucci and even cook­ware range Le Creuset have all been key in launch­ing the ‘hi­bis­cus’ hue, and then the high street fol­lowed suit. Uni­corn ev­ery­thing and that damn flamingo ob­ses­sion? All part of the trend.

Dig a lit­tle deeper, though, and you’ll find pink’s pop­u­lar­ity among Gen­er­a­tion Y could be a sub­con­scious nod to the world we find our­selves bat­tling for a place in.

A plethora of re­search, from as far back as the ’70s right up to the present day, shows that be­ing sur­rounded by the colour pink can do ev­ery­thing from calm stress or anger to help you earn more. Af­ter a sum­mer of po­lit­i­cal up­heaval and tragic ter­ror at­tacks, it makes sense that peo­ple would be at­tracted to the tran­quil­lity and in­stant mood-lift­ing ef­fects of pink.

De­spite my reser­va­tions about look­ing like a life-sized Peppa Pig, mil­len­nial pink has man­aged to tran­scend gen­der stereo­types in a way other gen­er­a­tions have never seen. Pre­vi­ously a colour used to de­fine fem­i­nin­ity, this year, men from Drake to Tom Hid­dle­ston proudly sport the peachy hue, while women like Michelle Obama and Mi­ley Cyrus are help­ing to di­min­ish the colour’s stereo­typ­i­cally ‘gir­lie’ con­no­ta­tions.

Un­for­tu­nately, none of this lessens the dread I feel at hav­ing to wear po­stironic pink for a whole week. A week in which I was off to Birm­ing­ham to re­port on the gen­eral elec­tion, among many other things. Would politi­cians and vot­ers take me se­ri­ously when I looked like an Ikea Prins­ess cake?

I be­gan to re­gret my de­ci­sion as soon as the clothes ar­rived. I tried them on and barely recog­nised my­self. It took all of my willpower the next day to put on a pink Zara suit, and the only way I man­aged to leave my ho­tel was by con­vinc­ing my­self it was more Hil­lary Clin­ton than Dame Edna.

I took a deep breath and walked into the me­dia room of Birm­ing­ham’s

ICC, where I was cov­er­ing the elec­tion count. I was a pink bea­con in a sea of blue and grey. To hide the nerves, I smiled overly brightly at any­one I walked past. It only seemed to make my big­gest fear – that peo­ple would dis­miss me as an air­head – come true.

Wher­ever I went over the next few days, I got the same look: a slightly amused smile with a hint of de­ri­sion. Women – par­tic­u­larly those in the stark mono­chrome I used to sport – ap­peared at best slightly amused by my get-up, and at worst, sub­tly sneer­ing. It could have been just a fig­ment of my self-con­scious imag­i­na­tion, but their ex­pres­sions seemed to say that I was a sweet, sim­ple girl that they needn’t bother with.

Men were equally as dis­mis­sive, but also seemed to view my rosi­ness as a sign of avail­abil­ity. When I popped into a bar that first evening to in­ter­view lo­cals in Birm­ing­ham’s city cen­tre on elec­tion n ight, the very first man I spoke to grabbed my arm and then my bum. It was the first time I’d been groped in nearly a decade, but to my shock and dis­gust, it then hap­pened three more times by three dif­fer­ent men. I had been in the bar for less than an hour and been groped four times.

I won­dered if it was the pink, the fact that I was a woman alone, a sim­ple case of bad luck, or a com­bi­na­tion of the above. But over the 10 days of this ex­per­i­ment, I was cat­called seven times, which is seven times more than I’ve been cat­called in the past three years. I wasn’t wear­ing any­thing re­veal­ing, and barely had any flesh on show. The only dif­fer­ence to my nor­mal life – where I very rarely re­ceive un­wanted sex­ual at­ten­tion – was the pink.

I could feel male eyes on me when I walked into a pub­lic place, and I was hit on sev­eral times dur­ing my week in pink (again, far from nor­mal for me). On day six, more than halfway through my ex­per­i­ment, a man ap­proached me on Lon­don’s South Bank as I walked away from in­ter­view­ing Jo Cox’s sis­ter a year af­ter the MP was killed. I thought he was go­ing to ask for di­rec­tions. In­stead, he asked for my num­ber.

The ac­cu­mu­la­tion of this at­ten­tion made me feel in­creas­ingly un­com­fort­able and I started to des­per­ately miss my rather more dis­creet wardrobe. I tore the out­fits off as soon as I reached home in the evenings, and pulled on the plainest py­ja­mas I could find. Even pos­i­tive com­ments from friends (“You should wear pink more of­ten, it re­ally suits your skin­tone”) and pas­sive-ag­gres­sive com­pli­ments from my mum (“It’s about time you wore more colours. You don’t look so dull any more”) failed to change my mood. It felt woe­fully in­ap­pro­pri­ate.

The My Lit­tle Pony in­ci­dent on the eighth day was the ic­ing on the cake. Even though my col­league meant no harm, and then tried to cheer me up by say­ing my look was also “very Ari­ana Grande”, he showed me what ev­ery­one in the work­place must be think­ing but was too afraid to say out loud: I looked ridicu­lous.

I was ready to give up and have a cheat day. But af­ter just one more day of work, it was the week­end and I didn’t have to be my for­mal of­fice self any more. I could leave the pink blaz­ers, suits and dresses at home and wear retro pink jeans, miniskirts and T-shirts. I put on a more ca­sual out­fit – a Levi’s tee with the metal­lic skirt and train­ers – and didn’t turn away from my re­flec­tion in the mir­ror. Bar the glar­ing colour, it looked like some­thing I would nor­mally wear.

I went to meet friends for brunch feel­ing more like

“Men viewed my rosi­ness as a sign of avail­abil­ity”

my­self, and stopped notic­ing the looks (though there were still plenty of them) from passers-by. The feel­ing car­ried on for the last few days of my week. I still felt self-con­scious, es­pe­cially when I went onto Sky

News to talk about our di­verse new Par­lia­ment look­ing like a be­mused Bar­bara Cart­land fan. But then some­thing strange hap­pened. I re­alised that my new wardrobe could also work in my favour. Peo­ple kept un­der­es­ti­mat­ing me be­cause of the colour of my clothes, and it kept giv­ing me a chance to put them in their place.

There were still awk­ward mo­ments – wear­ing an ironic state­ment T-shirt say­ing ‘Pretty Baby’ in a busy news­room is def­i­nitely an ex­pe­ri­ence I’m in no hurry to re­peat, and re­mov­ing a Chi­huahua­sized pink hand­bag from a chair for your ed­i­tor to sit down on is next-level hu­mil­i­at­ing – but even­tu­ally, in my last two days, I even started to feel em­pow­ered by the fact that I could wear bold, fun clothes, but still be a se­ri­ous pro­fes­sional.

There was one ex­cep­tion. The day be­fore this ex­per­i­ment ended, I was sent to speak to sur­vivors at Lon­don’s Gren­fell Tower, in the wake of a dev­as­tat­ing fire. I looked down at my lu­mi­nous pink out­fit with in­creas­ing ap­pre­hen­sion. It felt of­fen­sively cheer­ful in the light of such hor­ror and I tried, in vain, to min­imise the ef­fect by let­ting down my long hair and cross­ing my arms tightly. I cringed in­wardly as I ap­proached res­i­dents, hop­ing they wouldn’t be ag­grieved by my at­tire.

No one bat­ted an eye­lid. I re­alised how self-ob­sessed I had been to as­sume that any­one who had just lost ev­ery­thing would even no­tice my out­fit. I chided my­self men­tally for let­ting my in­se­cu­ri­ties get to me, and fo­cused on what I was there to write about: a com­mu­nity de­ter­mined to fight for jus­tice, and an at­mos­phere elec­tric with re­silience.

The next and fi­nal day of my pink week, I found my­self look­ing for­ward to putting on my rosy get-up. I fi­nally un­der­stood the trans­for­ma­tive power this colour can have, not just on mood, but on the way peo­ple per­ceive you, and the way you per­ceive your­self. I walked to work in the sun, obliv­i­ous to peo­ple’s stares and an­other cat­call. I only stopped when a group of women in black suits called out,“You look so cool! We love pink! Spread the love!”

When the time came to re­turn to the mono­chrome, I felt a twinge of sad­ness. It fi­nally hit me that even though I’d al­ways thought of my­self as con­fi­dent, I was ac­tu­ally so paral­ysed by the thought of peo­ple judg­ing me that I’d de­prived my­self of pig­ment in or­der to slip in­of­fen­sively into the back­ground.

I looked at the out­fit I was wear­ing – black trousers, grey jumper, white shoes – and saw in it a bland­ness that I’d never no­ticed be­fore. I changed into a pink ver­sion of the same out­fit (though I did keep the black trousers; I’ll never be a head-to-toe pink kind of girl) and im­me­di­ately felt like smil­ing. I de­cided to make a new vow: from now on, I’ll never be scared of colour again. Es­pe­cially pink.

“Hello, IT? Yeah, when will my pink PC be here?”

Rad­hika knew she should have gone for the uni­corn latte

“Oi, who you call­ing My Lit­tle Pony?”

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