My period is a dark, viscous, murderous red. Yet tech companies keep selling me products to control it, all cast in that mellow-cool shade of my generation: millennial pink.
I’m frequently served ads for period tracker apps and other forms of reproductive health monitoring and pregnancy management on social media. And I’ve noticed among the subtly cute icons, the minimalist san-serif fonts, and clean lines, a beige-pink palette that looks nothing like what comes out of me once a month.
Tech companies: Please stop marketing my vagina to me in a color that reeks of stale marketing meetings, approachability, and tranquility. I’m not afraid of my period, and your app can’t tame it.
I was reminded of this cliché color scheme with the release of Fitbit’s new smartwatch, the Versa. It will feature, for the first time, a menstrual-cycle tracker.
Starting this spring, women can enable the feature during setup. Period days will show up in the Versa’s calendar tracker in a chic light pink. The blue days are fertile ovulation days. Baby blue.
Pink is for periods, blue is for baby-making.For what it’s worth, Fitbit also incorporates other shades of pink: a fat, hot pink droplet indicates days of heavy flow, a few hot pink circles mean spotting.
The functionality itself provides more than just a calendar. There are also options to track fluids, and other symptoms some women may get, like headaches and cramps. Plus, Versa users can access educational and editorial content about women’s health or join women’s health-oriented communities.
Aside from whether or not you buy into any period app’s general value proposition — that “tracking” one’s period helps you have safer sex, pregnancy wise; or that mentally and physically preparing for your period by putting it in a calendar somehow makes your life better? — there’s something else, um, fishy, going on.
The gateway to all this reproductive knowledge is painted in millennial pink.
Does this palette — Pantone’s 2016 color of the year — look familiar to a certain period vs. ovulation calendar?
Millennial pink, also called “Tumblr pink,” is the muted pink hue that’s dominated runways, interior design, home goods, and book and magazine covers galore. It’s not just one color of pink, it’s a spectrum of matte pinks and beiges that have a somewhat subdued vibe. The Cut aptly describes millennial pink as running the gamut “from salmon mousse to gravlax.”
If you’ve seen it, you know it. And it often comes with a side of hot pink or orange-y red, or is complimented with a tranquil blue-gray or a vibrant green. Pantone’s Laurie Pressman, vice president of the Pantone Color Institute, says it has to have a tinge of orange to it, too.
Many publications have opined about the prevalence of this color and its supporting characters: what it means, why we like it, why it just won’t go away. In an exhaustive timeline of millennial pink from its origins to its hegemony, The Cut notes that what makes millennial pink so appealing is its nod to femininity, with a dose of ironic distance; or, as they call it, “ambivalent girliness.”
“With Millennial Pink, gone is the girly-girl baggage; now it’s androgynous,” writes The Cut.
Pantone points to the sense of calm millennial pink conveys. It writes in its 2016 color of the year announcement:
As consumers seek mindfulness and well-being as an antidote to modern day stresses, welcoming colors that psychologically fulfill our yearning for reassurance and security are becoming more prominent. Joined together, Rose Quartz and Serenity demonstrate an inherent balance between a warmer embracing rose tone and the cooler tranquil blue, reflecting connection and wellness as well as a soothing sense of order and peace.
Unsurprisingly, these sorts of pinks also connote youthfulness.
“The grouping of pinks that fall under the Millennial Pink umbrella are engaging,” Pressman told Mashable over email. “Playful and innocent, they carry with them a suggestion of a sweet taste or scent. They have a lightness, romantic sensibility and this attitude of carefree youthfulness.”
This is the color — the de-feminized signifier of youthful nostalgia and order over chaos — that period trackers and women’s health apps choose for the design and marketing of their product. It represents more than just a use of a popular color; coded into these design choices is a sense of bridling.
And, it’s everywhere.
I first noticed the not-so-bright-pink in an advertisement to freeze my eggs. The multiple shades of pink weren’t the only thing I found problematic about the ad, but it was what got my attention.
Just got served an ad to freeze my eggs w a v subtle biological clock in it. Is this supposed to be empowering? Why does it feel fucked up? pic.twitter.com/01rech1TAo
— Rachel Kraus (@realkrauswife) June 29, 2017
I also noticed it in ads served to me for rhythm method period tracking and vaginal bacterial analysis.
now, this ad trying to monetize my reproductive system may look PURPLE, but the neon letters of “VAGINAS” are certainly, once again, rendered in a shade of pink. pic.twitter.com/vQ2LwB0k6P
— Rachel Kraus (@realkrauswife) March 8, 2018
But the period app is where 20-somethings’ favorite pinks really rules the day. The top three menstrual tracker apps in the Apple app store use it in their branding. There is even a tracker app called Pink Pad whose use of pink runs the salmon spectrum from mousse to smoked. In addition to the actual UI of Pink Pad, their social media branding features funny and inspirational quotes on a background of, you guessed it, light pink.
Image: pinkpad in the app store
Image: eve. in the app storeYou know what’s missing from most of these ads? Red. Rusty or scarlet, nearly black or a waterier apple color, red is almost entirely absent from the UI and marketing materials of period tracking and women’s health apps and tech services. Maybe it’s too on the nose. Maybe it’s off-putting, sexy, powerful, or scary. In any case, the color of blood is not the color of period apps.
Red’s absence in place of the loaded millennial pink is disappointingly predictable. It doubles down on the association of periods with death, injury, and fear.
“The main reason designers and marketers of women’s health product would want to avoid the color red is because of its association with blood,” Pressman said. “Red can also signify danger, evil and anger, probably not the feelings one wants to engender when trying to promote health.”
But red’s exclusion in place of the much friendlier pink is a bit ironic, and more than a little problematic.
If pink signifies restrained girliness and order, the prospect of a period tracker app, especially one branded in pink, belies a misunderstanding of periods.
Now, I do not love my period. It is mostly just an inconvenient fact of life. But during my period, I’m nicer to myself, without feelings of guilt and debilitation. That’s because periods help women understand ourselves; they don’t work against us (although it may feel that way sometimes). So an app, colored to convey a sense of control, that purports to master one of the powerful biological markers of being a woman, misses the role that periods actually play in women’s lives.
Plus, using a color associated with “youthfulness” to market a product that monetizes the period — the traditional marker of the end of childhood and the beginning of sexual maturity — denies, shushes even, the full-fledged womanhood that a period represents.
Both through apps and their marketing, the tech industry’s approach to women’s health is to turn an internal rhythm into a digital record, to transform a bright and messy reality into a clean and muted one. Millennial pink represents more than just an aesthetic choice: It’s prudish, and infantilizing.
Period trackers may be helpful to some women. But to the companies making and marketing these apps, please, don’t elide this aspect of womanhood by painting it with a trendy, approachable color that turns femininity into ironic girlishness, a period of bodily and emotional rawness into tempered calm. You might be afraid of our periods. But we’re not.
Let it flow.