Ms. Gets it Wrong on Forever 21

by | July 26, 2010
filed under Feminism, Pop Culture

Ms. Magazine launched its blog early this year and so far I’ve been pretty impressed. They’ve done a good job at covering a range of issues and showing that the Ms. brand can be relevant to a younger generation.

Maternity top from Forever 21's new line

But I was really disappointed by their article from last week on Forever 21’s new maternity line. The post, “Forever 21’s New Maternity Line Makes Teen Pregnancy Normal” cites the fact that 65% of the store’s clientele are teens to accuse the store of normalizing teen pregancy with their new clothing line. Forever 21 denies the allegation that they’re targeting teens, pointing out the model for the maternity line is 30. But some bloggers don’t think it’s a coincidence that the maternity line will debut in 5 states with high teen pregnancy rates.

Here’s an excerpt from the Ms. post:

Whatever their calculations, obviously  the corporation thinks there’s a market. But are trendy clothes what pregnant teens most need?

How about information on pregnancy options, counselling and pre- and post-natal care? Not trendy clothes. The U.S. ranks number one among industrialized nations for teen pregnancy, and just 12th worldwide for post-secondary degree completion…How about we talk about what it’s really like to be a mom–the money it takes, the time it takes, the effects on a young woman’s body–instead of making teen pregnancy a mere fact of life in the US with shows like 16 and Pregnant?

I think Forever 21’s clothes are tacky and I’m not a big fan of their labour practices and Christian proselytizing, but blaming them for legitimating teen pregnancy is pretty ridiculous. As a matter of fact, I thought the whole Ms. article came across as pretty paternalistic.

I just don’t see how it’s feminist to argue that pregnant teenagers should have a harder time accessing affordable maternity wear. Ms. argues that making the clothes cheap is exploiting “the outrageously high number of teen moms with little money in the U.S.”. Um, would they rather teen moms pay more for maternity clothes? I’m pretty sure knowing maternity wear is going to be expensive has never acted as a deterrent to teen pregnancy in the past.

I agree with J at Imagine Today, who argues that maybe Forever 21’s campaign can be useful. It might actually help us to talk more openly about the issue of teen pregnancy in a way that’s respectful to young women and doesn’t act like they need to be shamed and hidden. I have a friend who was pregnant in high school. Reflecting on her experience, she remembered being deeply stigmatized, ostracized by students and teachers alike. She remembers teachers who acted like it was pointless to continue to mark her work, assuming she’d just drop out of school when the baby was born. If we keep treating pregnant teenagers as victims, amoral, or invisible, we’re never going to solve anything.

Ms. is right that youth should have better sex ed and access to birth control. I just wish they’d focus on those issues instead of patronizing pregnant teens.


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