Pink is for Boys

Written by Emily

“Mommy, can I have those sneakers when you’re finished with them?”

I’m splayed on the basement floor after a workout. Nothing on my body is dry, and I’m 100% certain that these purple sneakers I wear without socks because they’re more comfortable that way will have to be bagged as hazardous waste by the time I’m finished with them.


“They’ll be too gross, buddy.”

“I’ll probably have to get sneakers from the girls’ section next time,” he adds.

“Oh, yeah. Why?”

“I really want pink sneakers.”

“Maybe you can put them on your Christmas list,” I answer still out of breath and staring at the unfinished ceiling.

“Do you think elves make pink sneakers for boys?”

“We’ll see.”

That conversation happened in October. I anticipated two things happening between October and December 25th when Santa would be expected to deliver on the pink sneaks: 1. my boy would abandon his penchant for all things pink 2. he’d forget.

Neither of those things happened, of course. Instead, he declared pink his favorite color and asked for hot pink loom bands and a hot pink wall in his bedroom. He put pink laces in his hockey skates. He tried with all the persuasive skill he could muster to convince his friends that pink is a boys’ color. To which his friends said, “ewwww, no way” and other first grade equivalents of the same.

So this Christmas, pink sneakers were on the list.

They were not easy to find. I stood before many many sales associates with vacant expressions while I said things like, “I’m looking for pink sneakers for my son.” And then as though I had to explain, I’d add, “But not ‘girly’ sneakers. Just pink.”

And to random shoppers, I’d hold up a pair of girls’ sneakers and say, “Do these look like girls’ shoes to you?” They would say, “yeah.” And I would keep looking.

Finally, a helpful sales person directed me to a display of sneakers in various shades of pink. I held up a pair and asked, “Are these for boys?”



“Yep. Boys or girls.”

Suddenly I wanted to punch myself squarely in the jaw.

I grew up wearing baseball caps and jeans. I rode bikes and played basketball with the boys in my neighborhood. I preferred pants over dresses. I didn’t like lace or bows, fanciness or frills. Tights and stockings made me itch.

In elementary school I hated that boys and girls were divided in gym class. I audaciously stood in line for the boys’ activities. I wasn’t going to be defined or limited by my body parts. Not then. Not ever.

Fast forward 25+ years. I lost my way.

For some reason I found myself protecting my son from judgement and ridicule he hadn’t even received yet…and for what? Pink sneakers? Why? Because pink is for girls?

Because girls are this. And boys are that.

And here, kids, don’t mind the pinch, but I need to squeeze you into this mold. Hold still now.

We don’t have a genderless household. I wouldn’t care to. But when I assure my kids they can be anything they want to be and do anything they want to do, I intend to mean it…not just for my girls but for my boy, too. Why is it easier to encourage my girls to break through stereotypical walls that confine and define them than it is my son?

Shame on me.

Last summer, my girls were painting their toenails. Noah wanted to paint his, too. Why wouldn’t he? Paint is fun. Chlo made quick work of painting his toenails blue. His nails stayed that way for several days. In and out of the pool, nails still blue. We forgot until a little girl in Subway pointed to Noah and asked her mom in a loud whisper, “Why does he have painted toes?”

I tousled his hair and winked at him.

I listened while the mother explained that Noah was “a good big brother to his little sisters.”

Noah is a good big brother. She was right. But the truth is, he just wanted to play with color and splash paint on his toes. He was six.

As a mom, I want to protect my kids from embarrassment. It feels like part of my job description, but not always, not when they’re defining themselves or embracing something that inspires them (or in the case of sneakers, choosing something that looks fly with their jeans).


Noah got pink sneakers for Christmas. He loves them and was absolutely floored when he opened them on Christmas morning.

When school got back in session, his dad asked him how his friends liked his new kicks.

He answered with a shrug: “They laughed.”

“How do you like your sneakers?” I asked.

“Me? I love them.”

Pink is my boy’s favorite color. While I draw the line at hot pink walls in his bedroom, I can identify him on the ice by the pink laces in his hockey skates. Ask Noah, and he’ll do his best to convince you that pink is a boys’ color.

And if you think like most of his buddies do: “Ewwww, no way”…

He won’t care. At all.

So neither will I because he’s my boy,


and he’s teaching me a thing or two about raising a mom.

22 comments for “Pink is for Boys

  1. January 14, 2014 at 8:06 am

    That he’s fine with his shoes in spite of what his friends think tells me he’s a special kid. My 4 year old already distinguishes between boy stuff and girl stuff. I have no idea where he gets it, but he won’t play with “girl” toys for whatever reason. Tell Noah that I’m a big bad police officer and I’ve arrested and interviewed many people while wearing my favorite tie. The pink one.

    • Cathy
      January 14, 2014 at 11:54 am

      What a wonderful endorsement! Your comment brought tears to my eyes.

    • January 14, 2014 at 12:14 pm

      I read this to Noah before he left for school. I should have taken a picture of his smile to post with this comment. Thanks for sharing! You made his day…and mine!

      • January 14, 2014 at 12:43 pm

        Awesome! I’m sorry I didn’t get to see the smile; I bet he has a great one. Cheers!

  2. January 14, 2014 at 10:09 am

    I’m so very proud of you!! I know it sounds silly, but this is something I’ve had to help teach myself, too! Mr. T does love going to get a pedicure (I started this, he gets at least one a year to clean up those little boy toes) but I won’t let him have a color on his toes – he can have clear polish if he wants. But why? Why do I care? Because “boys don’t paint their nails.” But they do! And so, I learned it was okay. I’m still a work in progress – and probably always will be when it comes to being a mom, but I’m super proud of you! And a bit jealous that you learned the lesson earlier than I did ! 🙂

    • January 14, 2014 at 12:17 pm

      I’m still learning! And I know that I’ll mess up more than once. Some of those cultural constructs are pretty imbedded in my psyche, I’m sure. But Noah is teaching me all the time. And my girls are doing the same. It’s funny how much we learn from our kids, when the expectation is that we do the teaching. We’re all works in progress–no doubt about it! Pedis for everyone 🙂 You rock!

  3. January 14, 2014 at 10:14 am

    I adore your writing, Emily. This is a beautiful story and your words bring it together in such a real and touching way. The pink shoes ROCK! I don’t have boys, but I think it’s probably easier said than done. As a mom of girls, I think every boy should have a doll in a stroller, painted nails and pink shoes if that is what they enjoy. It sounds a little trickier though when you are actually going through it. From where I am standing, it looks like you found the perfect pink shoes for an awesome little boy:).

    • January 14, 2014 at 12:26 pm

      Oh, Lisa! Thank you so much! It is easier said than done…and I know it shouldn’t be, but it is. Like I said to Kate there are cultural and social constructs imbedded in my psyche that I have to let go. My little ones are teaching me to do that, which is bizarre because I thought I would be the one teaching them that lesson. Thanks so much for your support and for reading and commenting! I really appreciate it!

  4. January 14, 2014 at 11:31 am

    I love this so much! All of my boys went through a phase where they loved pink. It is such a vibrant, fun color – why not?! And your house doesn’t need to be genderless as you say it’s not. But I think you are doing something wonderful in encouraging your children to explore everything – even if it means girls in the dirt and boys with painted toenails. Childhood is a time for discovery!

  5. Cathy
    January 14, 2014 at 11:52 am

    You have eloquently written on a subject I have always felt strongly about. Let’s not pigeon-hole our sons or daughters. That this is easier said than done goes without saying. Kudos to you and your husband for raising a son with the inner strength and self-knowledge to be “comfortable in his own shoes” or sneakers!

  6. January 14, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    My son loves to dress up like a princess and carry a purse around. He also loves to dress up like a Jedi Knight and slay bad guys with his light sabre. I love that he can be completely entertained with either one!

    Three cheers for a kid who knows what he likes and won’t cave to peer pressure!

  7. January 14, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    Thanks for writing this Emily. I don’t what it is about your writing that always seems to make my eyes water.

    In my 10 year old son’s school apparently pink is growing as a boy’s color, but I’m happy to say that he, and to some extent his 6 year old sister, have concluded on their own “there are no boy’s or girl’s colors.”

  8. January 14, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    Thanks for writing this Emily. I don’t know what it is about your writing that always seems to make my eyes water.

    In my 10 year old son’s school apparently pink is growing as a boy’s color, but I’m happy to say that he, and to some extent his 6 year old sister, have concluded on their own that “there are no boy’s or girl’s colors.”

    • January 14, 2014 at 1:16 pm

      Eric, thank you so very much! I love that your kids say that about color! They’ll probably grow up to say that about a lot of things, which is wonderful. You are definitely doing something right in my opinion 🙂 Thank you again for reading and commenting!

  9. Michelle
    January 14, 2014 at 9:29 pm

    I just can’t get enough of this, and I think I love you even MORE(not sure that is actually possible) every time I read this. So perfect! Love and admire your amazing writing talent, my friend.

  10. January 14, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    This very topic came up in our house yesterday. I’m not happy with how I handled it because it is such a tough topic. I can’t thank you enough for writing this.

    • February 1, 2014 at 9:05 pm

      It is a tough topic, but like so many other things in my life, my kids are showing me the way. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  11. Ashley F
    January 27, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    I agree with Eric. Something very special about your writing. It brought tears to my eyes too. Way to go with the pink sneakers. Boys and girls can ROCK any color!!!!

    • February 1, 2014 at 9:04 pm

      Thank you for your kind comment. I truly appreciate you stopping by 🙂

  12. January 29, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    I love that you did this post! I have just written about gender neutral and peoples opinions on it. Pink can be for boys, but lets be honest we are so ingrained to believe its not by the media that we all do exactly the same as what you did in the shop!!

    Please check out my blog, and let me know what you think 🙂

  13. February 5, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    This is awesome on so many levels! First and most superficially, you passed on your love for sweet ass kicks to your son. Both yours and his are awesome. Second, I absolutely love that your son knows what he likes and makes no apology when others disagree…SUCH an admirable quality that will take him very far in life…further than anybody who tries to follow the herd. And third, good for you and his dad for allowing him to express himself. I intend to do the same and have no intention of forcing gender stereotypes on my boy or my girl. She is 6 and he is 2.5.

  14. February 21, 2014 at 7:19 am

    Reblogged this on Growing Up and commented:
    Wow. I absolutely love this post. 🙂

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