I’ve decided that I like wearing bright colors. This was not always the case. I used to be a big pastel proponent, especially in middle school. I think it had something to do with really trying to blend in and not stick out too much. Pastels offered color without any need to announce myself too loudly upon entry into a room. In addition, I felt like pastels drew attention away from my body, which I was awkwardly aware of in those early adolescent years.
But not so much any more. As I’ve gotten older and gained confidence I’ve found myself more and more attracted to bold, deep colors, which add a pop when paired with a black or brown cardigan, and can be layered with tank tops and skirts in various hues as well. I started to embrace the color pink, but not a cutesy, baby-girl pastel pink: a bold, vibrant pink that seemed perfect for my womanly self.
A few weeks ago, I headed to Target in search of some clothes to fit my now rapidly-growing pregnant body, and was greeting by a wash of bright colors as I walked through the door. There were orange and peace tank tops, purses in neon yellow hues, bright indigo scarves and turquoise-studded skirts. I was in love with this “world of color,” and I likely went a little overboard picking out maternity clothes in a variety of hues. I guess I figured that if Baby H is going to start announcing herself more prominently to the world, there was no sense in hiding her. She should be swathed in colors and presented to the world in a spirit of celebration that matches the energy in the air with the coming of spring.
So, for the last few weeks I’ve been wearing these bright colored clothes around and thinking nothing of it. Until yesterday. Yesterday, I wore one of my new maternity dresses: a dress with a navy base printed with bright oranges, light tans and some undertones of pink, and paired it with some light brown boots and a white cardigan. I was definitely looking and feeling bright!
Later in the day, I attended an event for work, where I came into contact with a really good-hearted older gentleman that I am well acquainted with. After we had talked for a bit, he looked me up and down and said, “So, were you trying to dress like a clown today? You are just so bright!”
He laughed good naturally, but I was a bit stunned. I had not thought twice about throwing on such bright colored clothes, but all the sudden I felt like I was standing on some stage, somewhere, naked and exposed. I wanted nothing more than to find a big, black cardigan in order to cover myself up. I began to look around and notice what other people were wearing: many of them were in blacks and browns, or muted reds and oranges paired with neutral colored slacks. I did stand out, like a sore thumb. I laughed awkwardly along with the man, and mumbled something like, “Ha. Yeah. Not many good maternity clothing options out there…” and then walked away.
She writes, “Once a student responded to a brilliant, Afrocentric type outfit I was wearing, saying, ‘Oh! What beautiful, bright colors!” What a lovely compliment I was thinking, when she continued, ‘I always wear natural colors…’”
Baker-Fletcher was taken aback by this comment, just as I was. She goes on to reflect about all of the ways that bright colors are woven into nature, and are perhaps more natural and earthy than those blacks and browns that we so often refer to as “earth tones” or “natural colors.” She celebrates womanist wear that represents the colors of the sunset, of new budding flowers and bright green grass. Colors that enflesh Alice Walker’s description well-known of womanism: “Womanism is to feminism as purple is to lavender.”
Although the comment that I received likely did not carry with it undertones of racism and/or cultural critique, I was and am touched by Baker-Fletcher’s reclaiming of other natural colors that are not muted, but instead bold. Her story is a reminder not to let a backhanded comment or inadvertent joke cramp my sense of what’s natural or normal, but to embrace color as an expression of who I am and the world around me, that is bursting at the seams with color.