What colour is flesh?

I came across this article in the Metro paper, early in 2010 before I had begun to draft my proposal for this project. I had previously had thoughts about our difficultly in communicating colour, as a result of being part of professional discussions about the merits of very similar shades of blue. It struck me just how unable we are to articulate those small differences in hue and intensity. However in that context the possible ramifications of choosing a blue that wasn’t quite right, were of course a disaster for the marketing department of the company but had little significance in the wider world.

Finding this article reinforced my ideas about the problems of articulating colour and encouraged me that there was merit in investigating the issue for a project.

Nude was a big colour trend in fashion in spring 2010 and seems to have returned to a degree this year.  So of course, when Michelle Obama wore this dress to meet the Indian Prime Minister at the White House with her husband, the shade was bang on trend.

The issue arose when the designer of the dress described it as “nude”, and a press agency described it as “flesh”, raising the question of whose flesh? inadvertently causing a race/political correctness row. The press agency subsequently changed the description of the colour of the dress to “champagne” but the incident raises the issues of not only how slippery colour terms can be and the implications of choosing one term over another but also that the meanings and origins of some colour terms can have different meanings for different people. Flesh-coloured is generally accepted as describing a very pale pinky-yellow colour. So something as simple as a “flesh” coloured sticking plaster can reveal the bias we have towards a “white” Caucasian view of skin tone.

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About eleanorbydesign

Graduate of MA Graphic Design at London College of Communication

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