Shades of pink and returning to femininity: The rise of girly aesthetics

Grit & Gravel is a Glass column that delivers you the daily discussions you hear circling around your social cliques. Alike friendly discussion, it offers holistic opinions to better understand this strange life that we live. 

This edition is about the rise in popularity of feminine culture, its pink associations and how this is reshaping feminism and the female experience. 

At this year’s Golden Globes, Greta Gerwig’s Barbie won the award ceremony’s newest category for Cinematic and Box Office Achievement. In her speech, actor and producer (and, most importantly, fellow Queensland girl) Margot Robbie shared her thanks alongside Gerwig to the fans who flocked to the cinemas, saying “[this is] a movie about humans. It’s for you, it’s about you. We made it with love and thank you for loving it back.” But there was something else they made for us: a chance for girls to become girly again. 

The release of Barbie saw retail stores receive an influx of stock filled with pinks of all shades and all manner of feminine shapes. During that time, I was working in a clothing store, and the amount of girly stock we received in the leadup to Barbie’s release (amid a year prior) was insane. Customers flooded the store in search of pink staples for their pink festivities. When the date of the film’s release came closer, apparel with Barbie doll prints were on display – not just the blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl we all know, but Barbies that looked like every woman. 

Of course, pink surrounded our lives prior to this. Annual breast cancer awareness fundraisers and pink finger buns, baby shower reveals, and the odd Mean Girls reference would orbit around us, but nothing like the tidal wave we were about to enter in 2023. Post-Barbie aesthetics, like ‘Balletcore’, have had a resurgence on Pinterest and Instagram, as well as coquette, princess-core and ‘Y2K Bimbo’ becoming wildly popular on TikTok. Florals, pastels, ribbons and bows, corsets, and lace have returned to our closets. 

I used to despise the hot pink cover of Mona Awad’s Bunny knowing there was an orange cover out there that I wanted more. Its spine was fluorescent – the first thing your eyes would naturally drift across when entering my room. When I would bring the book to campus to read in my spare time, it would reflect a pink radiance on to the other accompaniments in my bag, like the golden glow from the opened briefcase in Pulp Fiction. But as it sat in my room more, glowed in my bag more, I grew attached to the colour, to the aesthetic, to the emotive complexities of my own relationship with pink. 

Every girl has had a complex relationship with the colour pink, which I have discovered through many conversations with the women in my life. Unfortunately, it is not a unique experience. 

While pink had its moment in the naughties, the 2010s saw a rise in tomboy outfits – streetstyle, punk, and grunge flooded into the playgrounds of my primary school on vacation care days, where we got to see our schoolmates’ wardrobes and personal style. I had gone through this period with a group that wanted to deviate completely away from anything girly – they had a niche aesthetic they wanted to follow. Their noses would turn at anything remotely pink, gravitating instead to black or blue. They would verbalise their dislike for any dress or skirt I owned, instead telling me to opt for skinny jeans to fit their ‘tomboy’ aesthetic (the complexities of the wardrobe of a 10-year-old). This retaliation to anything ‘girly’ or feminine stuck with me for longer than I’d like to admit, as I’m sure it did with other girls and feminine-identifying teenagers coming of age in the 2010s.  

Looking back, I don’t blame these friends. We were all girls victimised under the same grounded root of internalised misogyny – words we didn’t even know how to spell yet, let alone understand its meaning. It was that time of women pushing other women down for things that were stereotypical associated with being a ‘woman’ and calling it a radical advancement towards feminism. We couldn’t be girly and worthy. Instead, these attributes were opposites of a magnet that would never touch. 

The colour pink didn’t start out with feminine connotations. Before the turn of the 20th century, University of Windsor professor Aidan Moir explains that pink was not seen as girly but had associations with masculinity, “conjuring a military association – a reference to the blood of war.” Associate Professor of Fashion at Toronto Metropolitan University, Henry Navarro Delgado, continues this in Leah Collins’ article (link above). He shares that the pink connotations that Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z have all been brought up with began around the Post-War era from advertisers. He adds that there was a “process of training society around this idea of pink — this idea of stereotypical genders.”  

In an article from Nylon, content creator Amira Mohamed (@dreamingofdior) discusses the dangers and misogyny behind telling young women to not enjoy things that are stereotypically girly: “We’re telling girls to give up things that they genuinely enjoy and make them happy for the sake of how others will perceive them, something that we never tell men to do. Men are allowed to keep loving seemingly frivolous and childish things well into adulthood, like Star Wars, comic books, video games, etc., but grown women who admit to still enjoying Barbie films or loving rom-coms are mocked.” This last part is ever-present now.  

My best friend and I saw the release of Barbie as a chance to float back in time to our inner child. We were brought back to a place where we could be who and what we wanted, before critiques on pink being a weak colour associated with girls were overheard on school playgrounds. We can indulge in movies about dolls and matching our drinks to the colour of our outfits without being ‘less than’. Pink is being embraced by everyone and is no longer a colour feared. Hell, even my dad has a pastel pink suit now with a matching tie. 

In the same Nylon article, its author Caroline Reilly says that “ridiculing stereotypically feminine things never liberated anyone – it denigrated us all and created a caste system that did the patriarchy’s dirty work. It further perpetuated the lie that to be feminine is to be weak and vapid.” Women are shamed for reading romance books with covers glossed in vibrant colours and illustrations; they are shamed for the girl-centred movies they loved as children and still watch to this day; they are shamed for talking about shopping trips and makeup and what they plan to wear for a birthday dinner coming up in two weeks’ time. But none of this shame thrown at women is productive towards anything, except to bring women down and detach them from their femininity. But now, we have become aware of the detachment. 

While this article is not a film or cultural review of Barbie, it is difficult to avoid the significant impact it has had. It has pushed the trajectory of the modern woman front and centre. Thea Turner of Harper’s Bazaar has noticed this shift, stating that the doll “personified feminism and femininity, two concepts not frequently perceived as compatible.” It is safe to say that Barbie is not a microtrend that we are simply used to seeing on our social media scrolls. 

Pink femininity has long existed in our media – Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, Paris Hilton, Nicki Minaj, Hilary Duff. Why can’t pink femininity exist in our own lives? 

I think about this after an encounter with the barista at a local café near campus. She compliments my nails, and we discuss the practicalities of gels and extensions. We are girly girls, conversing with warmth and love, without restriction. We talk quite loudly over the music and customers chatting at nearby tables and gossip about our nail experiences. Within me, it feels somewhat freeing, like after all this time I’m finally allowed to express an interest in girly things without the fear of judgement. There is a joy in being girly and freely showing our own femininity. Our Barbie routines become our own, our femininity becomes our own. 

Matilda Lees is a writer and filmmaker living on Yugambeh country (Gold Coast) studying film and creative writing at Queensland University of Technology. Tending to think too much about society and the way we live, her practice is influenced by just that and often explores the human experience, alignment and intimacy, and nostalgia in all its twisted being. If you require her attention, simply mention Greta Gerwig, Sally Rooney, Mona Awad, or Sylvia Plath in your conversations.

Matilda Lees
Matilda Lees
Articles: 5

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