Crayola, the well-known crayon company, has a long history of producing crayons in a variety of “flesh” colors to represent human skin tones. However, the names and colors used for these crayons have changed over time, often reflecting broader societal issues around race and equality. In this article, we will explore the history of Crayola’s “skin color” crayons, when they made changes, and the significance of those changes.
Crayola’s Early “Flesh” Crayons
Crayola first introduced a “flesh” colored crayon in the 1920s. The crayon was formulated to match Caucasian skin tones and was labeled “Flesh”. This remained the name used for Crayola’s peach crayon until 1962. The “Flesh” crayon reinforced the normalization of whiteness in American culture at the time. People of color were marginalized, and a crayon labeled for the skin tone of white people sent a message about whose “flesh” mattered.
New Crayons Introduced in the 1960s
In 1962, Crayola introduced a new crayon labeled “Peach” to complement their original “Flesh” color. The “Peach” crayon had a deeper, more orange tone to match darker Caucasian skin. Crayola also introduced a “Brown” crayon in 1962. While this acknowledged racial diversity, it lumped all darker skin tones into one category represented by a single brown crayon.
Then in 1964, Crayola debuted a new “Flesh” crayon renamed “Pink Beige” alongside a darker “Copper” crayon. The new colors acknowledged the diversity of Caucasian skin tones but still did not provide options for non-white skin colors.
Multicultural Crayon Initiative in the 1990s
In 1992, Crayola undertook a major initiative to embrace multiculturalism through their crayons. Working with educators and civil rights groups, they introduced a new box of eight “Multicultural Crayons” designed to represent a diverse range of skin tones.
|Original Crayon Name||New Crayon Name|
The original “Flesh” was renamed “Peach” and paired with crayons like “Black”, “Sepia”, and “Mahogany” to provide a full spectrum. This was a major shift by acknowledging that “Flesh” does not refer to just one skin tone.
Concerns Over “Indian Red”
However, controversy erupted over one of the new crayon names – “Indian Red”. Critics pointed out the insensitive connotations of naming a crayon after Native American people rather than an actual skin tone. Crayola agreed to change the name, and in 1999 the crayon was renamed “Chestnut”.
“Multicultural” Becomes “Skin Tone”
Building on those changes in the 1990s, Crayola introduced a new 24-count “Skin Tone” crayon set in 2005. This replaced the “Multicultural” set with more nuanced color names like “Light Golden”, “Deep Almond”, and “Tan”. The new set provided kids and artists with tools to color a wide spectrum of human skin tones accurately and sensitively.
In 2020, Crayola also introduced Colors of the World crayons with 24 new shades and realistic names like “Light Rose”, “Medium Deep Rose”, and “Deepest Almond”. This built further progress towards crayons that reflect the beautiful diversity of human skin colors.
Why Accurate Skin Tone Crayons Matter
Some may wonder why the names of crayons matter at all. But Crayola’s shift from generic “Flesh” to detailed “Skin Tone” crayons reflects an important cultural change.
When only light peach crayons are labeled as “flesh”, it implies that only light skin is normal. This can make children feel excluded or that their skin tone doesn’t matter. Calling peach “peach” instead of “flesh” removes the normalized bias. And providing accurate crayons in multiple skin tones helps kids appreciate that their skin color is beautiful.
Broad representation through things like crayons also reduces prejudice. If kids grow up seeing “flesh” as multi-toned, they internalize that skin diversity is natural. The shift toward realistic and sensitive crayon names signifies positive progress towards racial equality and acceptance.
Crayola’s skin tone crayons have undergone several evolutions since the 1920s. While they started with a single “Flesh” crayon, they now offer dozens of crayons with realistic names representing diverse skin colors.
The journey reflects growing awareness of racial issues and the importance of inclusive products. Though some missteps occurred along the way, Crayola listened to criticism and continues working to provide colors allowing all children to color themselves accurately. Their skin tone crayon sets show that acknowledging diversity leads to positive progress.