Before World War II, there was nothing especially girly about the color pink. In fact, the opposite was true: When pastel colors suddenly became popular for babies in the early 20th century, a clothing industry magazine wrote that “pink is for the boys … being a more decided and stronger color.” Delicate blue was for girls.
A series of images from South Korean photographer JeongMee Yoon shows exactly how much things have changed today, after manufacturers and marketers made the arbitrary choice to assign pink to girls. For the last nine years, Yoon has been photographing toddlers surrounded by their “favorite” colors–little girls, dressed in pink, blending in with a sea of pink Hello Kitty and princess gear, and little boys in rooms filled with blue Lego and trains.
“The Pink and Blue Projects were initiated by my five-year-old daughter, who loves the color pink so much that she wanted to wear only pink clothes and play with only pink toys and objects,” says Yoon. At the time, Yoon was in graduate school at the School of the Visual Arts in New York, and she started noticing monochromatic kids’ products everywhere.
When she started photographing children in their rooms, she had no trouble finding models with tiny mountains of gender-specific belongings. “When I went to big stores or took the subway in New York, I could easily find ‘pink’ girls or ‘blue’ boys,” she says.
For each image, Yoon carefully arranges the candy-colored items around the child. “I begin the photographic session by arranging the larger items, blankets and coats, and then spread the smaller articles on the bed and floor,” she explains. “This method shows my organization of subjects similar to the way in which museums categorize their inventories and display their collections.”
Today, Yoon’s daughter is 15, and no longer obsessed with pink, but Yoon continues to take the photos, documenting not only color but still-pervasive gender-specific themes, like makeup and cooking toys for girls, and robots and dinosaurs for boys.
Every few years, she returns to photograph some of the same children, showing how their tastes have changed. “As girls grow older, their taste for pink changes,” she says. “Usually, their tastes change to purple. Later, there is another shift. However, the original association with the color-code often remains.”