The Color Red & the Lies That Hold Us Back

I hate the color red; I hate it!

This was one of my truths for a great majority of my life so far — a lie I held as “truth” as far back as I can remember.

A significant part of life’s journey to this point focused on avoiding all things Red; from a string of red cars on the expressway — to women wearing too much red — to men in red vehicles — to red lipstick and God forbid women in red shoes.

When I was single, I was set up on a few blind dates; I was awkward and picky, and dating was just too much work so I needed all the help I could get. As I had done before on a previous blind dates, I showed up early to catch a glimpse of what I was up against before we met face to face. Needless to say, my blind date was wearing bright red and black brand name sneakers. Nope on the shoes and nope on Brand announcements: it wasn’t going to work. I bolted like a bat out of hell, explaining to my acquaintance, who set us up that I had a bug and thought I needed some time. I just hated the color red that much and would not be caught dead standing next to anyone that visually loud. I had not given much thought to any of this messed up thinking for most of my life. From where was this coming? Yes I have had recurring dreams of never graduating with red pen markings on term papers; yes that was traumatic for me. But this still did not account for how I had grown to loathe the color Red.

Many years later on a trip to visit my family in the UK, I spotted an old fashion kitchen scale in a department store. I always wanted an old balance scale — a reminder of the ones that old shopkeepers had in small country shops. But there was one problem; it came in one color — Red!!! So I reluctantly bought it, reminding myself it would not be in any salient points in my kitchen, so that was ok. To me, it stuck out like a sore thumb when I can home, so I stuck it at the tallest point in the kitchen — above my line of sight. While it functioned well — it was red and didn’t quite match me, so up there it sat until I needed it. As the years passed, and through no fault of my own, I inherited other red things — like that red metallic trash can that came with my hubby — actually matched the scale. In fact, the most significant reddish object that I can think of is my hubby’s bright orange sports car that all the boys in the neighborhood gawk at to my dismay. In my head, I say: “It’s so bright!” and I still can’t believe I have tolerated for so long. Until recently I had never given it much thought to the origin of this Red hate. Even as an avid gardener I have little to no red plants. Occasionally I will receive bulbs and pray they are either yellow or purple. Just not red. It is also the first color that disappears as it gets dark. So no big deal I thought. So what changed?

We spent last summer in Italy and perhaps the dolce vitae and too much wine was playing on my mind when I decided to buy a casual black t-shirt with red bling splattered like blood droplets across the front. I immediately regretted buying it on our walk back to the hotel and thought it can make a nice last minute gift, at worse. However, I would only wear it months later, partly because I was staying in for St. Patrick’s day and it was the first t-shirt I pulled out of the drawer. Then the funny thing happened. Hubby commented on how lovely I looked in red and why I never wore red. He went on and on as I explained: “well I dunno; sort of looks whorish.” The words came out with no filter. He wanted to know where it was coming from and I told him the story of Red.

My entire life growing up in a very religious family, my mother, my grandmother, my aunts would all remark when they saw a woman all in red. Red represented the devil — the backslider — the looseness that was all things that no self-respecting young woman should be associated. My mother would scold me if I were caught playing with her clothes and shoes and specially punished for putting on red nail polish or lipstick. Considered the religious “backslider” in my family, my mother wore lots of red, but for my sister and me, forbidden.

The school was no different — red lips and nails were strictly forbidden and could land you in the principal’s office and a suspension for demonstrating “looseness.” Not that some of the girls didn’t get away with it. I even recalled when writing my common entrance exams, my mother remarked how lucky I was not to have to go to the school with a “red and white uniform” , as all the girls looked loose in their scarlet colored overalls over white- a juxtaposition for my conservative family values. And to make matters worse, this school so happened to be the only high school with no religious affiliations, even though a few grads had received scholarships to Oxford and Cambridge. When later in life I would go shopping, and a salesperson would suggest I wear something red, I immediately pushed back to their dismay and would revert to my safe blue, grays and black.

This religious discourse had left such an impact on my psyche that I extended my loathing of red to include oranges and yellows. Up to this point in my life, the color Red incited so much awe. I say “awe” because there was a feeling of reverential respect, coupled with a sense of dread and wonder at how the woman in red was always the center of attention. And she was!

In my early teens, the song Lady in Red was a smash hit. But at the same time, as an avid reader, I was sharply aware that Hester Prynne wore a scarlet “A” on as a sign of “Adulterous” shame. In one scene in the book, Hester is seen approaching the scaffold as the townswomen are angered by her beauty but in awe of her quiet dignity. I could have, in another lifetime, been one of the angry women. As a young woman, I too would feel a sense of wonder when I see women embracing red on their bodies, be it a shoe, dress, lipstick or nail polish; I gazed!

After speaking with my hubby, who remains fascinated by my Red Hate, I decided that like many of the “truths” that control how we see the world and how we make our way through it, I needed to get past the lie that I too would be a kind of Hester if I wore red. I needed to break away from this lie. My breakaway, however, started before the oral utterance of “it looks whoreish on me!”

In the summer of 2016, I did something out of character and decided to paint my home office — at least one wall — not red but an orangey red: I loved it. The room was transformed from a beige room, where I once sat, bored, in my work from home state to a place of exuberant “go to” space for creative musings. Ok then! But I still hate that classic “scarlet” red; I lied to myself!

Later that week, as if under a spell, I revisited my local paint shop in search of another vibrant reddish paint. This time to bring some life into our dull TV room. An accent wall! This time it was a Sienna Red I had only ever seen in all its glory in Marrakesh, on my visit years prior. I browsed through numerous coffee table books to find the kind of orange-yellow-red that reminded me of Morocco. And so my living room wall became my homage of Morocco and the memories of vivid colors that you can also glimpse in the Caribbean. I had a new lease of home life. Since making these minor changes to my living space, the mood of our home has changed. My office, easily converted to a family dance room with our shadows bouncing off the red walls and making everything feel so alive.

And why wouldn’t it?

Our life runs on red blood and that seems to hold true for how the home changed by embracing this simple change. Everyone who visits loves it and indicate maybe they should embrace Red; and when the setting sun comes through the window, everything looks so alive, stretching the setting sun feeling a little bit longer than it had done on the beige walls. The color Red had a new truth —I love Red! I celebrate it. And though it is the first color flowers to fade into darkness in garden season, I have come to embrace it as rare and mostly fleeting — just like life.

My new love of Red brought on a mental change for me, however small. As a wider lesson, we never stop and think about the other lies we tell ourselves — the villains that live inside our heads telling us we are not good enough, not worthy enough — all blockers to our growth. Many of us have numerous lies we carry through life, some self-imposed and some imposed on us by our circumstances. The ability to re-write these stories for ourselves is one of the first steps of figuring out who you are and what values are real truths. While I credit my husband for triggering this change I am still in search of the shade of red that complements my winter color palette and looking forward to unraveling some more of the lies that have limited me in living a fuller life. What is your color Red? What lies do you tell yourself that is holding you back from achieving your goals?

kemlaurin lubin