Let’s look inside your closet. Do you have that little black dress that almost all women since Coco Chanel have been told was an essential ingredient for every wardrobe? Or maybe the red “power dress” or suit?
A few decades ago women were told to wear red to appear as assertive as their male competition. Women in the U.S. Congress now wear red so often that it has become almost a cliché. In trying to compete with male senators or corporate leaders, we’ve become a crimson pack, unable to be singled out as individuals. Instead of showing power, the mass of red suits seems to scream, “Here I am…still number two and trying to get attention.”
Color and light are two of the elements of Dr. Thalma Lobel’s book Sensation: The New Science of Physical Intelligence, (Atria, 2014) that Kevin Schoeninger explores this month on Spiritual Growth Monthly. I think most women are pretty savvy about making color choices. We may have even “had our colors done” to find which shades go best with our skin tones, or to accent our hair. But Dr. Lobel’s research indicates there is far more to our reactions to certain colors than we ever imagined. As her book described about temperature and texture, we all have unconscious reactions to color and light that may be controlling our thinking, our behavior, and how we look at the world.
Take red and black. These are the two colors Kevin focuses on in this week’s article. Red because it is linked to a variety of deep emotions, and black because it is both a color, and half of the light/dark equation. Black cannot escape reminding us…even without our knowing it…of the ultimate darkness that may lurk in our minds and far beyond the stars.
While “seeing red” is often used as a metaphor for anger, research has shown that actually seeing the color red impacts our cognitive abilities. Students exposed to red during tests have been shown to make far more mistakes than when red is not in view. It is interesting to consider if our view of red as the color of passion has as much to do with its ability to diminish rational thinking as to enflame our desires.
The world of black and white.
I wear a lot of black this time of year. I was one of those girls raised in an era when winter clothes were all dark. No white shoes after Labor Day. Pastels only between Easter and autumn. It might be blazing hot in September, but my mother bought “dark cottons” for me to start school with every fall.
Black is supposed to be slimming, chic, both a little dangerous and the height of cool. It is the ultimate mix and match wardrobe piece, doesn’t show dirt, and saves us from lots of decision making about what else we could wear. I can’t say I look good in black. But hey, it’s there, it’s handy, and easy to grab.
But as I put on a black wool cap to go out after reading Kevin’s article, I stopped and wondered what else black is saying about me to the world. Does it make me appear less trustworthy? More aggressive? There is no denying that Batman is very cool, but he is not someone you can exactly cozy up to. Sure…he wears a mask, but what if even having your face near black causes other people to back away just slightly, or be afraid to get close in much the same way?
Black hat bad guys, black widows, The Woman in Black, the Grim Reaper, pirate flags, and black cats. Whether we acknowledge it or not, our minds never forget that as the absence of light, black can also be the absence of all we perceive as “the good”.
Kevin relates a study where football referees were asked to view game videos and then judge whether or not teams should be penalized for certain plays. Consistently the teams wearing black were penalized more. But when the videos were digitally altered, redressing the teams in the opposite colors, the referees opinions were altered as well. The bad guy black teams became the good guys, and easier to forgive, and the referees switched their penalties to the new black team.
Years ago the Los Angeles Raiders football team was considered the meanest, toughest, even the nastiest team in the NFL, and they reveled in it. Their black and silver uniforms, with a knife-in-the-teeth pirate on their helmets, seemed to shout to the world, “Face us if you dare.” And sure enough, they were penalized a lot. Some of it, no doubt, because they deserved it, but if you want to build a “don’t mess with me” reputation, then black will certainly help get you there.
Some days we may need that. The days you don’t want any flack from anybody. And being aware of how people react to the colors we wear, or the amount of light in the room, can help us give the right impression, and lighten or darken our own moods.
A greater awareness of light and color can open up all sorts of new choices in our lives. We can let in more light, surround ourselves with colors we love, and revel in the use of color in new ways.
We can also examine our perceptions. If we feel edgy around certain people before they even speak, are we coloring them with qualities they may not even possess? Can we spot if we are building subtle prejudices based on our feelings from the light and dark we see? Can we look beyond the red dress to see the depth of the woman wearing it, or observe whether someone’s black attire may be an expression of a deep sorrow.
I find this topic fascinating, and I certainly recommend you read Kevin’s entire article. The more we know about our subconscious perceptions, the more we can control our thinking, and open ourselves to greater potential for our lives.
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