The "Color" of "Flesh"

Skin has many color variations that are dependent on age, emotions, exposure to the sun, and the presence of pathologies. But for some reason only white and black commonly define our complexions, a gradation between these two poles, regularly completed by red and yellow. However, just by observing reality, black people are not black any more than white people are white. There is a large, skin-color spectrum that ranges from rosy white to dark brown, including tones like golden caramel and café-au-lait, as shown in Humanae (1), a project by the Brazilian artist, Angelica Dass.

Caucasian skin varies from light beige to pale pink in hues often named “skin” or “flesh” and the fashion world uses “nude" for garments representing the white body in color. The skin color of white people, that Swiss artist Nici Jost called, “white pink” (2), is associated with pink in different ways. In French heraldry, a pink called “carnation” is used to represent body parts on emblems (3). Children often use pink to color the skin of white people they draw. Furthermore, “skin” and “flesh” colors have been lexicalized as pink shades (4), implying that skin, in general, is a pink default, belonging to a Caucasian individual. Pink tries to represent something universal: the flesh constitutive of every body, regardless of our nuanced epidermis, but fails.

If white people are not really pink, then, why do we continue to represent them using this color? In her Roman painting (1986) (5) and French painting (1990-1998) (6), Marcia Hafif proposed a series of monochromes made from the complexions of a sample of pictorial works from Roma and Lyon, to form a true color chart of pink. These shades tie in an idealized vision of what White skin is supposed to be: untanned, devoid of epidermal pathology, and particularly young. And ultimately, pink would refer more to the pleasures of the flesh than the flesh itself.

Indeed, there are parts of White bodies (7) that are pink, like the fingertips, lips, tongue and oral cavity, vagina and lips that surround it, as well as the tip of the penis - areas of the body that come into play in sexuality. Our language proves it: “pink” could be a slang word for vagina, which could also poetically be a pink door (“ouverture rose” (8)) or a pink palace (“palais rose” (9)), and some pink nuances like “charm” (10) or "tickle me” (11) are similar to a feeling of sexual pleasure or erotic games. Several French words used to designate shades of pink refer to highly erotic body parts like cheekbone (“rose pommette” (12)) and buttocks (“rose fesse” (13), rose cul” (14)), while confectionery and fruit vocabulary are employed as slang words to designate the sex of women (“berlingot” (15), “fraise” (16)) or a man’s genitalia (“guimauve” (17)). Some expressions using the term “pink” refer to the skin prone to strong emotions, like “rosir de plaisir” (18) which can be translated as “becoming pink by pleasure”. At last, from one language to another, the “peach” color, replacing “flesh” since 1962 in the range of Crayola crayons, is a pink tint referring us to the phrase “peach skin” specific to White young girls.

Eminently in connection with Eros, the Greek God of Love, and skin, pink is used in a wide range of lingerie and other sex toys. In France, a pink square is a symbol used to identify pornographic films (19) in an extension of the “messageries roses” term employed to designate sex chat hotlines. This allows us to say that if pink is the color of the flesh, it is understood to libidinal flesh. And even more, because it further emphasizes the sexual statements of white people, we can understand that the Eros-pink would specifically be White, exclusively feminine (20) and especially young. Or maybe is it just because our language is still too White.


1 Humanae is a compilation of several portraits of people of different genders, ages, backgrounds and ethnic origins, associated with an existing PANTONE© code. URL :

2  URL :

3  Michel Pastoureau, Traité d’Héraldique (1979). Paris, Picard edition, 2003, p. 105

4  Annie Mollard-Desfour, Dictionnaire des mots et expressions de couleur: le rose. Paris, CNRS editions, 2002, p. 153 et 188

5  URL :

6  URL :

7  We can find the same pink colors among Black people, even if considering genitalia, the pinkness is more or less pronounced among individuals. But if we disregard them here, it’s because, more broadly, this Eros-pink is also identifiable on White people’s skin according to emotional levels, what we will see.

8 Annie Mollard-Desfour, op. cit., p. 28
9 Ibidem
10 Gladys Plochere, Gustave Plochere, Plochere color system. Los Angeles, edited by Gladys and Gustave Plochere, 1948
11 URL :
Annie Mollard-Desfour, op. cit., p. 192
13 Ibid., p. 161
14 Ibid., p. 158
15 berlingot” is a French confectionary specialty based on boiled sweet. Ibid., p. 140
16 Ibid., p. 167
17 Ibid., p. 177
18 Ibid., p. 80
19 Ruwen Ogien, Penser la pornographie. Paris, PUF, 2003, p. 58-60
20 Associated to men, pink connotes homosexuality, with aspirations to confuse the gay body to the female one. 

Kirkis Rrose