As someone who owns a gorgeous multi-hued J.Crew scarf and wears it every single day as evidence that she has, in fact, not “given up” and abandoned herself, I am a fan of the company. Once in a while, the kids catalog features uber stylish children in glasses, and they even sell kids’ frames. So J.Crew has won points with me, and frankly, too many of my dollars.
But I didn’t know about The Shocking Pink Toenail Incident of mid-April until, belatedly, I watched The Daily Show’s brilliant take, “Toemageddon 2011.” Cody and I appreciated how Jon Stewart highlighted the lunacy and sensationalism of the coverage surrounding a five-year-old boy’s pink toenails, and we loved his point that weekends with kids are looooong and that parents will do anything to fill the time. Let’s just say that this resonated with us. Cody laughed so hard, he cried. Hopefully it was a feel-good, hilarity-induced cry and not a “oh my god what has my life become” cry. Side note: He just left for the playground with Stella and a pink, Glenn-Beck-approved potty.
Yay for smart people like Nerdy Apple Bottom and Joseph Alexiou who have brought reason into the discussion, pointing out that it’s perfectly okay for a boy to like pink and for his mom to paint his toenails (though the picture just shows smiling and pink toenails, not any actual painting), and that the negative reactions were offensive, not based on fact, and rooted in prejudice and even hate. What I want to add to the discussion is that the disproportionately outraged reactions are a good sign. Baffling and ignorant on one hand, but on the other, somewhat encouraging! Yes, people like “Dr.” Keith Ablow have made outrageously judgmental and close-minded remarks about a photograph of a mother (J.Crew’s Jenna Lyons) smiling at her happy, healthy son. Sad. But in a way, it just proves that Ablow and Co.’s world view is on the way out. And they know it. And they don’t like it. They’re scared and angry. So they’re throwing a tantrum while smart, open-minded folks use it as motivation to rally together to refute those attitudes and send the opposite message.
Duh! An awakening is, like, unfolding in humanity! Sounds cheesy and dramatic, but it’s actually an “everyday” sort of thing. I know many people who’ve transitioned to more meaningful (to them) careers–rejecting what they were expected or “supposed” to do in order to pursue exciting alternative paths. Here in Seattle, I know countless openly gay men and women (to even have to say “openly” seems oddly insulting) who are living beautiful lives surrounded by endless support and love. In fact, I’m jealous of most of them. Like thousands of other women who are now mothers and managers and whatnot, I played middle school, high school and college basketball. Acupuncture is covered by our insurance plan. (Stella’s tremendously helpful vision therapy? Not yet. But I know that will change.) All of these day-to-day things are actually the product of huge shifts, and downright amazing when you look back even just a couple decades.
Individual freedom and acceptance is on the rise, folks, and it’s nothing but fantastic for humankind as a whole. Happy people feeling good about themselves as they are, doing what they love? They’re naturally comfortable with (or better yet, completely indifferent to) pink toenails on boys, and human differences in gender identity, sexuality, race or whatever. Because why would a happy, fulfilled person be bothered by others’ happy, fulfilling choices? It takes courage to step out and be yourself but an increasing number of people are that courageous, and they are going to save the planet. (I can’t believe I figured that out. You’re welcome.) They care about people and issues, and have energy and compassion. Perhaps somewhat ironically, they don’t “need” as many things from J.Crew (though a scarf like mine is really is a must for every woman over 30) and they are way more likely to, say, choose foods that are good for them and the earth. Let’s face it. People who lack self esteem, resent others, or feel trapped in lives they hate aren’t pushing for better recycling programs at the office. How can we create more empowered and, as a major bonus, eco-friendly humans? Let’s try addressing poverty and accepting differences. (The aforementioned people who are being called to more meaningful lives–they already do stuff like that.) You don’t help anyone by going on national TV and shaming five-year-old boys who like pink. Not a very “manly” thing to do, really. Touché!
Clearly, the movement has been happening for, to use a precise measurement, “quite a while.” In many countries, women are no longer housebound pieces of property threatening to faint at any moment. Yes, we’ve miles (and miles) to go, but we’re gaining speed. Rigid boundaries are in flux as more and more people pursue authenticity, a way of living and being that is right for them. Maybe parents won’t so much raise boys and girls as they will nurture individual human beings. Jenna Lyons’ son loves the color pink, and he was obviously very happy in the moment shared in that ad. His mom wasn’t “doing” anything “to” him. Just smiling at him and enjoying the moment. Okay, and executing some spot-on brand marketing. But still.
Yes, there are troubling counter-forces at work that are in fact “doing” things to–namely warping or manipulating–our children’s perceptions. For instance, early sexualization of girls is a major and serious issue. The obnoxious and highly strategic marketing messages that carefully target children are hyper-inflating the gender divide in order to sell more crap. But parents are pushing back against inappropriate clothing, toys and messages. Gender-neutral baby clothes are growing in popularity as people grow weary of pink/blue apartheid, which is a recent phenomenon and not evidence of “hardwired” preferences. I hope that one day, advertising to children will be banned so they can more freely decide for themselves what is acceptable, what feels right. Because right now? Billions upon billions are being spent to teach them what to want and like. To convince them of very specific ideas about what’s acceptable and desirable for boys and girls. Not cool, Disney.
The anger and fear, seen in the overblown media reaction to a smiling five-year-old’s pink toenails, is telling. As a mother of a toddler, I know a lot about overblown reactions. So I know what this latest media frenzy truly is: An extinction burst. When you stop responding to and inadvertently rewarding a toddler’s tantrums (and this decision is based on your infinite wisdom and unflinching good reason), they pitch more fits, more intensely, for a while. They sense the paradigm shift, want to retain an old dynamic that gave them control, and so they kick things up a notch. They kick and scream ten times harder than before. Then, taking sideways peeks at you in between shrieks, they wait for you to give in.
Luckily, in the case of humanity, there will be no giving in. No going back.
P.S. Also? That boy’s mother, Jenna Lyons, is President, Creative Director and likely soon-to-be CEO, of J.Crew. So stop “worrying” about him, media! He’s going to be fine. Unlike, say, the kids living on the streets of L.A.’s skid row, whom you never talk or worry about. Lucky for this kid, his mother could buy and sell Keith Ablow ten times over.
P.P.S. The offending polish, featured in and linked to from the pink toenail ad, has sold out. Per the J.Crew website: “We’re sorry. This item has been so popular, it has sold out. We’ve got other great ideas–just call us… we’re here to help.”