The Tyranny of Pink

Colour shouldn't matter, but when it comes to women's running, pink seems to dominate, much to my dismay.

Side view of a woman running on the beach

By Erica Phillips

During a recent shopping trip for a new pair of runners, the predominance of bright pink on display in the women’s shoe section was off-putting – my eyes still hurt.

The salesperson, a runner, agreed and said other women have expressed displeasure with all the pink and, if you’re lucky, rosy reds or soft mauves, in women’s gear. So we went to the men’s section, which was decidedly monotone: blue, black, white and other dark shades – since my size wasn’t available we returned to the women’s section with its array of pinks, pale purple, and a pastel orange (I believe it was referred to as “mango sorbet”). I actually found myself excited when I spotted a warm chartreuse. Yes, many women like those hues, but from shoes to watches to dumbbells, manufacturers and retailers tend to think women are all the same and they push the pink. I began to wonder, as female runners, do we really even like pink, or is it just that we’re given no other choice?

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At the store, I’m handed a pair of runners: as the salesperson takes them out of the box for the big reveal I first spot bright baby blue (not bad), then I see bright pink laces, and, of course, laser pink trim. They fit OK, but despite my best intentions and the fact that I could change the laces, I just couldn’t get past the colour intensity. I finally spotted a pair of white runners with dark blue and coral accents. Not ideal, but they fit my orthotics and my other needs: reluctantly sold.

That wasn’t the first time the tyranny of pink has left me wanting to run – for the door. Several years ago I visited a running specialty shop. On my feet were black cowboy boots with chains and studded straps: the first pair of runners the store owner presented was pink. I raised my eyebrows; he looked at my boots and acknowledged his gaffe.

While I understand manufacturers’ desire to appeal to women, it’s not always about pink and pastels, especially when it comes to athletic gear: price point, value, performance, fit and brand matter. We want to be taken seriously, too. Of course the same thing applies to other elements of running gear. And, yes, there is some psychology to colour about who buys what.

When I shop for runners I take my last pair so the salesperson can look at my wear patterns (I have flat feet and overpronate) and help determine my needs. What’s available in different price ranges? Do the runners provide the right amount of stability, and support? Are they comfortable? How knowledgeable is the salesperson about the product and the needs of runners? Is my size available? Even with all those factors being met, pink can be a turn off, but if it’s the only option, I will grit my teeth and reluctantly buy the runners; after all, if I log enough kilometres, the runners will be replaced soon enough.

No, I won’t melt if I wear pink. And I suppose that bright colours like a neon pink can improve visibility and safety, or at least that’s what I’m telling myself when I put on a pair of garish cotton candy trainers. Running doesn’t make me feel elegant or “girly,” it makes me feel fast and strong. When I run I don’t want to look “cute”; I want to feel like myself – striving for something better within me. Other women may actually adore looking like a glowing rose during a race. I prefer to look like a runner.

Erica Phillips is a freelance writer living in Brampton, Ont. Her favourite colour is denim blue.

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