Pinkalicious — the star of Victoria Kann’s bestselling picture books and a new PBS KIDS show from series producer WGBH — sees creative possibilities everywhere she looks. She is an artist at heart, and together with her brother, Peter, she always seems to find a way to turn her imaginative ideas into something tangible and fun.
She’s an adaptive, creative thinker; a person with big ideas to explore and the drive to act on them. She’s a leader in her peer group, a resilient problem solver, and a combination painter-tinkerer-soccer player. That is who she is.
She also loves the color pink — but you might have guessed that already. With a name like Pinkalicious, it’s a reasonable assumption to make. And it’s true: Pinkalicious is the kind of kid who wears a pink dress, loves glitter and cupcakes, hosts princess sleepovers, and takes her (imaginary) unicorn to school with her. That’s also who she is.
Neither set of qualities is mutually exclusive. Yet, as the person at PBS responsible for developing and overseeing the series’ production, I’ve noticed something: Pink has an overshadowing effect.
Early on, when we were first starting to develop the show, I would ask people for their initial impressions of the character. It soon became clear that it was hard for some to look past Pinkalicious’ pink aesthetic to consider the full range of her abilities and personality. The color is so symbolic of stereotypes for girls that it seemed to tell people everything they needed to know: With a name like Pinkalicious Pinkterton and a penchant for glitter, she must be a girly girl — more sweet than smart, more darling than deep.
Maybe it’s not surprising that a love of pink shines more brightly than other attributes, or that some consider it frivolous. The pink cliché has a long reach, a complicated history, and a pretty lousy track record of emphasizing much other than appearance when it comes to girls. (Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter offers a shrewd and comprehensive analysis on this and other “girly girl” norms.)
But I find it frustrating, because a lot of girls really like pink. Not all girls, but a lot of girls. To them, it’s not frivolous — it’s an important piece of their growing sense of identity. Or, at the very least, it’s just a thing that they’re really into. Are we looking at these girls in the same way that some first looked at Pinkalicious: as lacking in range and ability?
Last year, Common Sense Media released a study noting that, “Depictions of gender roles in the media affect kids at all stages of their development, from preschool all the way through high school and beyond. These media messages shape our children’s sense of self, of their and other’s value, of how relationships work, and of career aspirations.”
“Tragically,” the report continued, “that influence has served to perpetuate notions that boys have more value than girls.”
There is no doubt that creative choices in media matter enormously, and that we have a long way to go to broaden the way girls have typically been represented on screen. I would argue, too, that we have a responsibility not to turn pink into a black-or-white issue.
I sometimes wonder: At what point do girls become aware of the fact that people seem to have an opinion about the color — and that some may even see it as superficial or unimportant? Is it around the same time that they begin sensing, as Common Sense Media implies, that boys have more value than girls?
For all of the critical findings it highlights, even Common Sense Media’s report seems to suggest that you can’t have it both ways, encouraging content creators to “abandon gender tropes and create characters that fascinate us with their richness and complexity.” Does falling in line with gender tropes mean you can’t also create characters that are rich and complex?
On PINKALICIOUS & PETERRIFIC, we wanted our hero to be celebrated — above all — for her uninhibited imagination, her ability to communicate her ideas effectively, and her confidence in knowing what she likes. Boy characters embrace Pinkalicious’ suggestions and join in on the fun she instigates, even when the activities skew towards “girly things.” While Peter may not always agree with his sister, he loves her and thinks she’s interesting, smart, and fun to hang out with. Rafael, Pinkalicious’ friend and fellow artist, appreciates Pinkalicious’ different sensibility. (She’s into glitter, while he is more of a matte colors kind of guy.) Both of them value Pinkalicious and the things she likes, and the feeling is completely mutual. It’s a dynamic of respect that we hope kids of all genders will observe and apply to their relationships with their peers.
We also hope that, for the girls out there who love all things pink and girly, Pinkalicious gives them a role model who is valued by her community: a girl who is never made to feel like she has to choose between loving pink and being a smart, creative thinker… because she is valued as both.