Once again, we here at Girl Museum are writing about the fashion world. We've been covering it a lot lately, I know, but there's just been so much fodder we can't resist. This time, we're not questioning models and parents and photographers, but instead, the messages that some t-shirt companies are sending out via little girls' chests.
J.C. Penney has just removed a shirt for sale from its website because of parental outrage (though they've left several other questionable other shirts still on sale, including one that says "I love bling" and another that says "My best subjects: Boys, Shopping, Music, Dancing"). The shirt they pulled said "I'm too pretty to do my homework so my brother has to do it for me." Seriously.
I'm all for funny t-shirts. Lord knows I used to own a lot of them, usually with snide commentary from Hot Topic, though my current wardrobe consists primarily of solid color, short sleeve tees, with the only variations being color and neckline. I'm by no means fashion conscious, but I am message conscious.
I'm also old enough to be aware of the layers of subtext in a message, which obviously most girls aren't (though their parents should be). A shirt that says "I'm too pretty to do my homework so my brother has to do it for me" can carry multiple messages. One of those, perhaps the one that was meant, or at least most commonly understood by girls is "I'm pretty so I've got my brother wrapped around my finger." Not a great message–and some potentially creepy additional subtext there–but kinda funny (I guess). And it can be expanded upon to imply that "Because I know I'm cute, I can get everyone to do what I want by looking cute." Too bad that only worked for me when I was six and in a sushi bar (apparently little white girls with manners who also speak enough Japanese to order sushi for themselves get free food). So maybe I'm just jealous. But I think the real message, the insidious, damaging message, is that "I'm pretty, so I don't have to be smart, because someone else will do it for me. Because I'm pretty."
This is a dangerous message, and it's shocking that in the English speaking world, in 2011, we're still encouraging our girls to be pretty over smart. In 1994, there was a Teen-Talk Barbie who said "Math class is tough!" No encouragement, just an implication that it's hard because she might have to think, or even, heaven forbid, work and study a bit. And only a few months ago, there was a shirt that said "Future trophy wife." Bad enough on a university student, but horrible on a 6-12 year old. There's no way that's a positive message, least of all because trophy wives inevitably get left for younger trophy wives. I also take issue with the sweatpants that have writing across the . . . shall we say buttocks? I don't know or care if you're "juicy" but if you're juicy there, well, maybe you should see a doctor about that.
Girl Museum Inc.