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On Grey

January 28, 2016

This is for the grey girls. This is for those trapped within the grey that is girl. This is for the blood-stained panties and palms, for the nights you wish you could curl into smoke. This is for the endless hours in dressing rooms and your own diary, trying on terms like ‘fluid’ and ‘queer,’ twirling in front of friends and asking if they make your ass look big, making sure they cover your ass, making sure they cover you. This is for the girls who covered themselves, who hid from speculation they did not want, even when it was from within. This is for the girls who are denied their own truths by those too lazy for grey spaces. This is for the grey girls. This is for the bottles of Grey Goose, for the identities you thought you’d find at the bottom only to discover that empty glasses remind you far too much of mirrors. This is for mirrors. This is for the grey girls who keep staring into them, and who are learning not to flinch.

- Rachel R. Carroll, Grey Girls


James McNeill Whistler Symphony in Grey: Early Morning, Thames


Grey is a color that is not. ‘It makes no statement whatever; it evokes neither feelings nor associations: it is really neither visible nor invisible.’ An absence of form and shape, of opinion and character. Of light in Danish dusk, of depth in English fog. Grey is a color, itself unsure of what it is and where it stands. Grey markets and grey areas. Grey days and grey moods. At its best, it is melancholia. At its worst, despair. No. At its worst, grey is nothing at all.


When a young James McNeill Whistler came to London in 1859, the city was overrun by the Industrial Revolution. Its river was murky, its streets grimy with soot, and everything was grey. Realist painters were capturing its factory chimneys, barges, fumes and smog. But Whistler took London at its foggiest, and painted a ‘Symphony in Grey: Early Morning, Thames.’


He created hazy scenes in textured mist, ‘delicate lines and translucent washes of paint.’ A series of nocturnes, more poetry than description, more music than image, that became the foundation of abstraction in art.


Chinese philosopher Confucius said: ‘Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it.’


‘There was no fog in London before Whistler painted it.’ There was no beauty in grey before he saw it.


Today, only 4% of all women in the world consider themselves beautiful. The rest do not like their nose, their ears, their thighs, their ass. 86% feel fat, and more than a third are on a constant diet. A quarter will develop an eating disorder, 20% will die of it.


The world is full of grey girls, girls it does not see. Starving, binging, purging, exercising. Sucking in stomachs, covering scars. Nibbling on salads, digging into ice cream tubs. Counting calories, numbers on scales. Avoiding mirrors, crying in front of them. Painting nails, cheeks, and smiles on Saturday night. Wiping them off on Sunday morning.


The world is full of grey girls, overachievers and underperformers, loud laughers and quiet wallflowers. Some were made fun of. Some pushed too hard or too far. Perhaps some were hurt. Some are tired of trying. Most, are scared. Of fading into the background, of going to bed alone.


The world is full of grey girls that just need to be seen.


Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera had one of the most tempestuous romances in the history of the art world, loving each other ferociously through a twenty-year age difference and multiple affairs. It transpired through their photographs, letters, and art, but perhaps most in the portrait she sketched of him, in words:


‘I’d like to paint you, but there are no colors, because there are so many, in my confusion, the tangible form of my great love. […] Nothing compares to your hands, nothing like the green-gold of your eyes.'


Rivera was a balding, greying old man, and the world saw him as such. But Kahlo saw  ‘all of you in a space full of sounds — in the shade and in the light.’ She called him auxochrome: ‘the one who captures color.’ Beautiful.


I wish I could tell them, these grey girls, that grey is not nothing; it contains endless combinations of blue, red, yellow, and green. It enhances and intensifies each, gently unifies all.


That grey is not invisible; the human eye can distinguish five hundred shades.


That grey is not insignificant; it has inspired paintings and poems and stories and songs.


That it is beautiful, that they are beautiful.


And that I know this because I am a grey girl too. A grey girl someone saw.



‘One does not see anything until one sees its beauty. Then, and then only, does it come into existence. […] There may have been fogs for centuries in London. I dare say there were. But no one saw them.’
– Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Lying

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