How an Autistic Person Creates a Safe Space with Color Leave a comment


“Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen in love with a color,” writes Maggie Nelson in the opening of “Bluets,” her book-length ode to the color blue. Through a couple of hundred vignettes, Nelson explores this obsession, interweaving the history of blue and her own life while ascribing different blues to feelings, people, and experiences. Reading Nelson’s relationship to color was the first time I really thought about my own proclivity to surrounding myself with light pink — specifically, the shade most might refer to as “blush” or “baby pink.”

Children have favorite colors, whereas adults, it seems, are supposed to choose objects or clothes based on their practical value or by how well it goes with another neutral. I never grew out of a favorite color, but mine is actually lilac. With baby pink, it’s more that I want to sink inside this hue as though it were a big, warm bath of milky paint. If I could do that, I wouldn’t ever again feel overwhelmed, upset, or hurt — as if all of my problems are browns, oranges, and dirty greens. Baby pink washes away everything for me.

I’m autistic, which means lots of things, both good and bad. I get overwhelmed very easily. Sounds, textures, feelings, smells, sights, lights, and colors can all be experienced as loud to a point of being painful. Everything in my environment comes together to create a canvas of feelings, and the louder any one thing in that place is, the more I start to approach a meltdown. If I can’t regulate what I’m feeling, I lose the ability to speak and the capacity for cognitive function. To avoid this, I seek out quiet things, both literally and in terms of my other senses, from low lighting and soft cotton clothes to pastel colors. 

My home is my safest place, a space I have orchestrated to be as quiet as it can be. It’s tidy, filled with things I find soothing, and most importantly of all, it’s many shades of baby pink. Furniture is expensive, but anything I can reasonably afford to be baby pink is: vases, art, candles, toys, mugs, plant pots, plates, a toaster, cushions, duvet covers, blankets, books. As I’ve gotten older and gained the means to do so, I’ve invested in major pink pieces — drawers, lamps, my desk, my office chair — and these larger pieces have given my walls a slight pink cast. It’s not just a pink phase either. The pinker my surroundings get, the softer everything else feels to me. I start and end my day in a space so pink that it makes everything quiet around me. Even if I have to spend hours in the middle of a loud, world, I know my pink place awaits me at home.

For a while, before I understood how my brain worked, I thought I was maybe having a major pink moment. People would compliment me for my “coordination” as if it was accidental; my long, baby pink acrylic nails matched my baby pink tennis skirt and baby pink Nike Air Max sneakers. In some ways, it was bound to happen, insofar as choosing any of my clothes meant I had a one in three chance of grabbing something baby pink in the first place. As soon as people walk into my home or see it over video calls though, they comment on how much pink there is, as if it wasn’t entirely deliberate. As I started to understand my brain better, I realized that the extremity of what I feel when I look at baby pink versus my aversion to other colors isn’t as simple as a favorite color — it’s a way of coping with the world.

Being autistic often means organizing things seemingly arbitrarily between what feels “good” and what feels “bad,” and that can be different for everyone with autism. For me, wool feels good while cotton does not. Meat tastes bad; potatoes are good. Brown feels bad, but baby pink’s very, very good. Things feel immediately “right” or “wrong” in ways I don’t always have the power to vocalize or pinpoint, but I know the “wrong” things often overwhelm me, while the “right” ones help me feel human. The discomfort I feel is mitigated — made small — by the “right” things. While I feel kind of silly, like a fussy child, I know these choices make my life not just easier but enjoyable. Having a food, color, film, or place that can make you feel so at home in yourself that everything else fades away is a very good feeling. 

Pink has had many lives. Pink’s been gendered for as long as I can remember, the remit of only “girly” girls and gender reveal parties, but that’s starting to change. More recently, the “millennial pink” of Glossier products and Airbnbs dominated to a degree that made most people sick of the sight of it. Even as the pinkification of everything peters out, I remain the one person still buying everything up in any shade close to baby pink. My home is baby pink, but more than that, baby pink is my home.





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