That “Flesh” Colored Crayon and Other Fake Nudes

Multicultural Crayon/Marker Set

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Speaker 1: (00:04)

Lisa: (00:14)
hello stitchers. Welcome to stitch please the official podcast of black women's stitch, the sewing group where black lives matter. I'm your host Lisa Woolfork. I'm a fourth generation sewing, enthusiastic with more than 20 years of sewing experience. I am looking forward to today's conversation. So sit back, relax and get ready to get your stitch together.

Lisa: (00:40)

Lisa: (00:55)
hello stitchers thanks for joining us again for another episode of stitch please. The black women's stitch podcast. I'm Lisa, your host coming from Charlottesville, Virginia and today we're going to talk about that flesh colored crayon in the Crayola crayon box. Now I realized that this is something that many people might not have any experience with because, um, a lot has changed since crayon boxes were a thing in my day, but it still reflects a larger issue that I believe was important for the sewing and quilting community, largely for the sewing and apparel. So I wanted to talk just a bit about this because I think it's an important bridge between last week's episode on custom fabric that we talked with Queenora Irvin about. And if you haven't listened to that episode, I highly recommend that you do so. And then we have a great episode coming up next week about machine embroidery and what these two episodes have in common is what the podcast is motivated by centering black women, girls and fems in sewing centering black images, centering the melanin and the production of sewing and the maker community at large. The flesh color crayon though it sounds like a, you know, mild, not that big a deal issue is actually a vitally important one. And this is why terms like flesh colored and nude and even natural are not just words. They are all loaded. So I wanted to talk a little bit about it.

Lisa: (02:37)

Lisa: (02:45)
To begin, I wanted to share a very brief history as in ridiculously brief history of the Crayola crayon. Um, I think it started back in 1903 and um, as a company and had lots of different crayon colors. The thing that I'm most interested in about the Crayola crayon company. And if you have more information than I've been able to find, please let me know. You can email us at black womens you can also send me a DM at black women's stitch on Instagram. But apparently in 1956 the company realized that their flesh colored crayon was an issue. And apparently in 1963 or 62 they decided to rename the flesh color crayon to either, I think it was flesh pink and then it was pink or pinky. And then I think it ultimately became peach, like the fruit peach. Now as my, this, as my mother would say, when one of us got in trouble, um, when we were kids, she'd say, "somebody's lying" and somebody lying at the Crayola crayon company because I vividly remember being a child in 1975 in 1977 and cherishing the box of 64 crayons that the Crayola company put out.

Lisa: (04:18)
Y'all know, I'm a nerd. I'm a blurred, a black nerd. I love school, I love school supplies, I love pencils and pens and markers and notebooks and trapper keepers. I loved all that stuff and I still do. And I remember getting a box of 64 crayons at the beginning of the school year and being very excited because it came with a sharpener built into the box. I mean, just amazing, right? So I remember getting a flesh color crayon in the box and our member drawing people. And I was the kind of kid who was very literal and I must confess. I am still the kind of adult who can be sometimes quite literal despite being an English professor and knowing the limitations of literal and the limitations of literal interpretation. Um, I would as a kid, I would draw and I would draw people and I draw, you know, the hair black and their eyes Brown.

Lisa: (05:13)
And these are, you know, drawing myself in my family like most little kids do. And so I saw this crayon called flesh and I said, OK, well, flesh means skin. That's what I thought. And, but this flesh is this peachy pink color and it doesn't match my skin. And I vividly remember taking that crayon and drawing coloring in myself and I kept coloring it. I kept drawing and really scribbling because I was convinced that if I continued to scrub, you know, the crayon on the paper, if I did that for a long of time, it would get darker. That's what I thought. Because I couldn't imagine that a company would name a crayon flesh colored and be wrong and be mistaken in how they had colored it. I figured that of course, you know they're adults and I'm a kid and you know what, you know, they must know more than I do.

Lisa: (06:23)
So if they say this is flesh, then they have to be right and I have to be wrong and this I have to be wrong is the problem. And I really was working doing all kinds of like elementary school kid mental gymnastics to try to figure out how the flesh in the crayon box did not match the flesh on my actual body. So what I believed they would, I finally remember coming up with was that for me, when I get a cut or a scrape, um, you know, your epidermis that comes off. And then beneath it you can see part of the sub dermis, which for my skin, when you, when I get a cut, like a really bad one, and the S the skin comes off, there's this white meat underneath. So someone will say, you know, I'm a beat you to the white meat, right?

Lisa: (07:17)
Or you get a cut or a scrape and you can see this white flesh underneath your Brown skin. And that's what I thought. That's what I ultimately decided. They must admit that clearly what they meant by the flesh color crayon was, um, was that was the skin underneath your skin. That's what I thought. Because the alternative seemed just too devastating, too mean spirited, right? To say that this is everybody's skin color or the skin color of people who are worth drawing will have this color peachy pink skin. So that was what my, um, elementary school kid brain figured out. That was the mental gymnastics that I did to be able to use the flesh color crayon, which I didn't really use them much because no one in my family, no one that I knew and loved and considered important in my life had skin color like that.

Lisa: (08:17)
Um, I was in a black family, I went to black schools, I went to a black, lived in a black neighborhood. And that flesh colored crayon meant nothing except that somebody was saying that the things that we had on our body must not be flesh or was not a flesh that was worthy of being included in. One of my favorite things and that also has been a motivator for black women's stitch as a project is that so much of the larger sewing community is so white centered, so white focused, so easily thinks and slips into this idea that sewing is for about by white people that small things like um, you know, similar to how we think about bandaids. For example, small things like the color nude. Um, one of my friends is like, you want to see Lisa get mad, call something nude. Because whenever somebody says nude, I say white people nude, and of course then you know, I'm the jerk, right?

Lisa: (09:22)
I'm the person that's like, well, why? You have to always bring politics in that, you know, and I'm like, this is not a political issue. This is an issue about basic fairness, basic equity and basic inclusion. You cannot have a color called nude and expect it to work for everybody, especially when so much of this capitalist marketplace is directed toward and CR control by white people who think that nude is no big deal. So just in the same way as I got older, you know, but thinking about that flesh color crayons, I still remember going to JC Penney's or maybe it was Sears to get like pantyhose for church or whatever and they would have these pantyhose color called nude. And if I were to put on a doggone nude pantyhose, I would look ridiculous. It does not match. It does not coordinate. It has, it's, it's like no one took the effort to imagine that people who were not white would not would need to buy pantyhose.

Lisa: (10:29)
And we've seen a lot of changes. Um, I mentioned Crayola earlier, the Crayola ..., the Crayola crayon company has done a lot of changes and I believe in the early nineties, they, I'm reassembled or repackaged their crayons into one that was just about skin. So I think they called it the multicultural pack. So there's the peach color, there's a light Brown, there's a burnt Sienna, there's like a bunch of different colors. There's also some markers and colored pencils, all of which are meant to indicate, um, that these are the colors of the, these are some of the colors that people come in in the world. And that we aren't going to be so arrogant as to assume that one crayon colored pinkish is meant to be everybody skin or everybody that matters. And I think that that's what it all boiled down to for me. Um, this is also true like in, in fabrics, which is really important I think for those of us who like to, so lingerie, those were selected.

Lisa: (11:30)
So, um, underwear, those who like to, sew form fitting garments that can really benefit from, um, good support as well as these sheer, the sheer pieces of tulle and um, mesh. Having these things, dance wear having these things in the skin color for black people are essential for the look to be. Right. Um, and I've noticed that there's a lot of changes and I'm sure other folks have noticed this as well, but we have makeup companies who are doing a better job of um, including more Brown skin tones or you have makeup companies even better that are owned and controlled by black people who center black women and who centered the colors of black people and begin their rainbow there. You don't begin at white or, um, as um, as uh, as one of my friends who's on the Shade Parade, um, sometimes I see him out, um, when he's in the street and he says, "alabaster people", um, and you know, you don't start from alabaster and then go as Brown as you can from that.

Lisa: (12:38)
Um, the thing to what, the better way to do it is to start with Brown. And to go in either direction from there. And that's how you get a better comprehensive palette for what's gonna work for black folks. Um, so I just wanted to kind of come on and talk about that because I'd like us to think about when you are buying fabric, when you are looking for um, something for dance, wear something for, um, lingerie, something for anything that you might be looking for. And if you see that color nude in that color nude, is that pinkish, that flesh colored crayon? I would ask herself what are the implications of that? What is this company trying to say? Or what are they not saying? Who are they addressing and who are they ignoring? Because in my mind, in 2019, there is absolutely no excuse to have one nude. To have one nude is essentially a fake nude. It just is. This is something another friend says, she called it fake nudes. I always say white people nudes and she says fake nude, which I think is pretty funny. Um, but yeah, think about that. Think about, um, you know, because for all you know that for white folks who don't have to think about it, I think it's worth doing so, because there's black and Brown folks, you know that for black women's stitch, we think about that all the time. We think about it all the time because we want to make sheer garments, we want to make bras and I'm looking still right this minute for dark Brown bra foam so that I can have lace go over my bras that I'm making and it blends with my skin tone. That's what I would like. Not black, not white and certainly not fake nude. So if you have any suggestions and tips about finding some dark Brown bra foam, hit me up because I'm very interested. Okay, that's it for today. This is just a quick bonus content. Um, and next week please come back and we'll be talking with nubian sister about her fantastic machine embroidery. Until then, um, follow us on the socials and we'll help you get your stitch together. Thanks for joining. Bye.

Lisa: (14:51)
Thank you for joining us for today's episode of stitch. Please. The black women's stitch podcast. Let's continue the conversation. Come find us on the socials. We're at black women's stitch on Instagram where we have a very active page and you can also find us on stitch please on Facebook. We also would love to hear from you, so feel free to email us at there are three big ways you can support this project and one of them you're doing already by listening to the podcast, you're really helping us so thank you for doing that. In addition, if you rate review, subscribe and share the podcast with other folks, that helps the podcast to grow and it also gives the algorithm that managed podcast information that will also help our podcast thrive. The third way to help the podcast is for those of you all who happened to have a little extra change, burning a hole in your pocket and if you don't have any plans to use it to buy your 20th or in my case 378th big four pattern, that's how many I have in my top had a drawer about 378 patterns. You can take that money that you would spend at the pattern sale and give it to us. We are accepting donations at our Patreon site where you can donate as little as $2 a month or you could buy us a coffee at K O. Dot. F I and small donations are greatly accepted and appreciated so thank you for considering that. If you would like a transcript of that episode, you can find and we also ask that you check the show notes where we have lots of additional information and supplemental information for what we discussed in the podcast. You can find affiliate links there for the products that we like. You can find web links to the black women that we've been talking about here on the show to elevate and center their work, and you can also find the info we've mentioned about donations as well as our email link. All of that is thanks again for joining us today. We look forward to seeing you next time. Come back and we'll help you get your stitch together.

Hosted by Lisa Woolfork

Lisa is a fourth-generation sewing enthusiast who learned to sew while earning a PhD in African American literature and culture. She has been sewing for more than twenty years while also teaching, researching, and publishing in Black American literature and culture.

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