Wednesday, April 13, 2011

J. Crewsin' for Controversy

Apparently there’s a fresh new controversy surrounding a J. Crew ad in which a mother painted her son’s toenails hot pink.  Some people think it’s downright scandalous while others are shaking their heads and wondering what’s the big deal?  (I’m quite sure the mommy blogs are all abuzz regarding this “issue,” so I apologize for not having an original idea.)

My blog.  My opinion:

The photo, to me, depicts a mommy who has enjoyed some quality time with her son.  He is smiling and laughing and does not appear to have been given a pedicure under duress.  Nowhere do I see him restrained or threatened with bodily harm to his lovey if he doesn’t cooperate. 

Recently the news has featured dialogue sparked by a mother, who blogs under the name Nerdy Apple Bottom, who allowed her son to dress as Scooby Doo’s Daphne for Halloween.  This morning on Today she said, “I’m torn between the fact that I don’t want my children to be teased.  At the same time, I don’t want my children to feel that they always have to give in to what the world expects of them.”  Her primary concern was the reaction her son’s costume drew from the other Christian preschool mothers. 

Cheryl Kilodavis wrote a book called My Princess Boy about her son’s preference for dress-up clothes.  This morning on the Today show, Kilodavis raised a good point, saying that we are living in a culture that is becoming more conscious of bullying, and yet adults are setting a poor example by criticizing these children’s choices.  Kilodavis asserted that “teasing is a natural part of development” and that kids will always find something to tease about.  

I know my own children have been teased about their last name rhyming with weanie.  As a mother, it breaks my heart to hear that my children have been teased or that their feelings have been hurt, but it is part of growing up.  Being teased (a little) makes us stronger, helps us realize that words have power, and teaches us to be resilient.  Teasing becomes dangerous, however, when it turns into bullying.  Our jobs as parents, according to Kilodavis, is to help our children be the best they can be, not the best WE want them to be.  There’s a difference. 

The Culture and Media Research Institute is concerned that it is “gender-bending," that J. Crew is targeting the "mothers of gender-confused boys demographic," and that because the subject is a 5-year-old boy, it “significantly crosses a line.”  Um, which line would that be?  He’s five.  Chances are, he saw his mom with some brightly-colored paint, which is intended for fingers or toes, and decided he wanted to try some of that too.  If a five-year-old girl saw her daddy, (or in our family, Mommy, but I digress . . . ) using a screwdriver to make a minor repair, would the Culture and Media Research Institute contend that it was inappropriate? 

[News Flash, CMRI: it’s 2011.  Boys play with dolls.  Girls play with trains.  Daddies stay home with the kids.  Mommies are CEOs.  Boys love boys and girls love girls; it’s a whole complicated thing.  It’s called evolving.  Let’s try it, shall we?]

When Large was a few years younger, his best friend was a girl.  My girlfriend and I heard them giggling and playing and walked in to find them both dressed up in princess costumes.  It never occurred to me that his choice of clothing might be considered scandalous.  I have an adorable photo of him in a purple princess dress.  I’ll either keep it in order to embarrass him in front of his prom date or let him use it as his When I Knew moment.  Either way, it’s a fun picture of two children who were playing dress-up.  What difference does it make if the costume was a princess or a superhero? 

Medium likes to mess around in my makeup bin while I’m putting it on, and he’s been known to apply a little lip gloss or mascara.  But it’s more the novelty of playing with Mommy’s special stuff than any desire to wear makeup, and even if it were, does a little boy wearing makeup mean he’s a bad person?  A future serial killer/rapist/terrorist, perhaps?  Think about it . . . it’s ABSURD.  What he chooses to wear and the toys he chooses to enjoy at a young age are a means of independence, not an indication of future values.

I want my children to be able to express themselves in healthy, positive ways.  I have no idea why my  child wants to wear his t-ball uniform, complete with hat and baseball pants, every single ever-lovin' day.  Or why it is sometimes necessary to take a child dressed as Spiderman to the grocery store.  Or why one of them loves wearing his “handsome clothes” to church while I practically have to wrestle khakis onto the other.  Children want what they want.  Sometimes we need to say no to their outlandish requests, but no one likes to be told no ALL the time.  If the request – to wear nail polish, or a baseball uniform, or a Spiderman costume – isn’t harming anyone, isn’t dangerous or offensive, then say yes!  Kids need to be kids.

I think Kilodavis had it right when she said the “issue” with the advertisement (or Daphne, or the Princess Boy) isn’t with the children; it’s with the adults.  It’s about time the adults start acting like grown-ups and accept the responsibility of teaching our children to be good people; to live a good life; to think of others; to be productive and happy.  Outward appearance has little to do with core values.  Just ask my friend Mama Mia, who insists on wearing a Grinch Christmas sweater even though her friends staged a fashion intervention years ago.  Just because she dresses like an 80-year-old elementary school teacher doesn’t make her a bad person.  My youngest child is 13 months old and I still wear some of my maternity clothes so . . . helloooooo kettle!  It’s me, pot!

I realize there are many different opinions out there regarding the J. Crew ad and the wisdom, or lack thereof, of painting a little boy’s toes.  However, I find it disturbing and a little Big Brother-ish that watchdog groups are SO fired up about it.  Some people just need something to complain about.  I choose to see a happy child with a happy mama, and after a day of kid-wrangling and temper tantrums, I find it refreshing.  

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Be nice, kids.