What is the World’s Oldest Color?

It’s probably pink.

The success of the new movie Barbie has created a wave interest in the color most associated with girls (and yes, Barbie Pink is a Pantone color), but like so much in life, its complicated.

According to a 2018 research article, bright-pink pigments have been found in 1.1 billion-year-old rocks, the result of the fossils of tiny cyanobacteria that once populated the oceans. This would make pink Earth’s oldest color. In fact, the natural world has long been decorated with many shades of pink — think flamingoes and pink-sand beaches.

Then humans came along, and colors took on overtones of politics and culture, beginning in the ancient world. The dyes and pigments had to come from someplace, so pink soon became linked to colonialism, to the point where pink was the color of choice for mapmakers marking the British Empire.

Next came fashion, especially in 18th century Europe, promoted in part by Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of Louis XV of France. Regarding baby clothes, gender-specific colors began to emerge around World War I. But the pink-is-for-girls idea didn’t really become firm until about the 1960s, with the post-World War II era push to reinforce traditional gender roles…and the realization by retailers that more money could be made with separate clothing lines — little brother would never get his sister’s hand-me-downs.

Then came Barbie. Although the doll first appeared in 1959, it wasn’t until the 1970s that her packaging became iconically pink.

Political overtones, cultural meanings, sexual statements — there’s a lot of baggage in this one color. But since pink has been around for over three billion years, I see no reason to be concerned about its future, or its mental health.

For a more-complete history of pink, see “Barbie’s Signature Pink May Be Earth’s Oldest Color. Here’s How it Took Over the World” by Erin Blakemore at https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/pink-color-history-gender-nature-fashion?

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