Pink light has become a popular trend in interior decorating and photography in recent years. But is bathed in a rosy glow actually flattering, or does it simply play into outdated gender stereotypes? Here we examine the science and psychology behind pink lighting to help determine if it is actually more flattering than other colors.
The Meaning of Pink
Pink has long been associated with femininity, tenderness, and romance in Western culture. The color was first strongly gendered to girls and women starting in the 1940s and 1950s. Prior to that, pink was actually more closely associated with boys, while blue was the preferred color for girls. But the 1940s saw the rise of intense gender-specific marketing and codes in children’s products and clothing, firmly cementing pink as a feminine hue.
This gendered association with pink continues today. The color is prevalent in products marketed at women, including makeup, clothing, and home decor. Culturally, pink remains tied to traditional notions of femininity, softness, and romance.
The Science of Pink Light
But does bathing a subject in pink light actually have a tangible impact on their appearance? According to color theory and research, it can.
Pink sits at the calmer end of the color spectrum. Red, orange, and yellow are known as “warm” colors that evoke feelings of excitement, intensity, and aggression. By contrast, colors like blue, green, and pink are considered “cool” colors that are more soothing and calm.
Optically, pink contains a higher proportion of red light waves than other colors. Red light waves have the longest wavelength in the color spectrum. Research has found that because red light waves scatter less when reflected than light waves with shorter wavelengths, they can create a softening effect on the subject.
One Japanese study on facial skin and makeup applied in different lighting conditions found that pink lighting softened and blurred imperfections in the skin, compared to white, blue, or yellow light.
Psychology of Pink Perception
Pink lighting doesn’t just physically soften details; it also impacts psychological perceptions. The cultural associations of pink with beauty, femininity, and romance can shape the way people view subjects bathed in pink.
One study found that when shown identical photos of women in white light vs pink light, participants rated the pink-lit images as more attractive. They also rated the women in the pink-lit photos as thinner than those in white light, even though the images were identical.
This aligning with the common use of “romantic” pink or red lighting in settings like candle-lit restaurants where people want to appear attractive. Pink lighting helps activate these associations of beauty and romance.
Is it Always Flattering?
For many subjects, pink lighting can provide an overall softening and smoothening effect that is flattering. But pink illumination also retains strong cultural associations with outdated norms of femininity.
Relying on pink lighting to enhance appearance could promote norms saying women’s value comes from adhering to traditional beauty standards. It risks reducing women to objects to be viewed through an unrealistic rosy, “romantic” lens.
So while pink lighting has the potential to be flattering, it is important to be aware of the gender biases and associations carried by the color. Objective white light that shows the natural features of all subjects could ultimately be the most equitable, empowering choice.
Pink lighting can have a softening and smoothing effect that is often perceived as flattering, especially for women. But the cultural baggage of pink meaning hyper-femininity could also promote outdated norms. White light provides the most neutral and realistic portrayal of all subjects.
In the end, flattery should not have to come from manipulated colored lighting. True empowerment means feeling confident in one’s natural beauty, regardless of the color of the light.
Yamamoto, T., Oki, S., & Kobayashi, T. (2015). The effect of the photographic lighting color on facial skin appearance. Journal of Biomedical Optics, 20(5), 057001.
Porcheron, A., Mauger, E., & Russell, R. (2013). Aspects of facial contrast decrease with age and are cues for age perception. PloS one, 8(3), e57985.