The Boston Herald for Saturday, September 10 included an Op-Ed by Big Sister CEO Deborah Re regarding a JCPenney t-shirt that read “I’m too pretty to do homework, so I have my brother do it for me”.
Although the company pulled the t-shirt from its online “shelves” before the Op-Ed was published, Big Sister felt it necessary to give girls a voice on this very important issue. We are proud of this piece, and of the opportunity it gives us to show that Big Sister Association of Greater Boston is the leader in the healthy development of girls.
Women are graduating from high school and college in record numbers. They are on corporate boards, they are leading major institutions, they are in the Senate and they have become secretaries of State.
So does a T-shirt that says “I’m too pretty to do my homework so I’ll have my brother do it” really have an impact on girls’ chances for achieving success?
You bet it does. For every statistic about girls succeeding, there is another that shows the negative impact of marketing messages leading to lower levels of self-esteem, higher rates of depression, risky behaviors and poor life choices. When girls are taught to value their appearance to such an extreme without a responsible adult in their lives who can counter these messages, their opportunities will be compromised.
JCPenney pulled this T-shirt from the company’s Web site on Aug. 31 with the following statement: “JCPenney is committed to being America’s destination for great style and great value for the whole family. We agree that the ‘Too pretty T-shirt’ does not deliver an appropriate message, and we have immediately discontinued its sale.”
How did the shirt make it to the online shelf in the first place? Weren’t there men on their creative team who have daughters and know the impact of messages like these? Weren’t there women on the team who can look back on being an adolescent remembering the insecurity of trying to fit in? This shirt was being marketed to adolescent girls at a pivotal time in their development, a time when they begin to internalize messages about what it means to be a girl. The implied message that doing homework — i.e. acquiring knowledge and thinking critically — is not feminine.
I caught enough of a radio talk show discussion of the subject to know that there are many adults, including the hosts of the show, who think that messages like this one are inconsequential. The callers and hosts overwhelmingly agreed that people are simply overreacting to a harmless and trivial T-shirt. A mother called in and said that she would buy the T-shirt for her 12-year-old daughter; another caller said that it was ridiculous that people were upset, and that he wore a T-shirt in college that said “Got a sister?”
The point they are missing is that they, as adults, have context for these messages to help them process the information and dismiss them as absurd. A young girl does not have that context.
As a community of adults that supports the healthy development of children, we are responsible for reinforcing positive, empowering and constructive messages.
We want girls to know that their appearance is not their most valuable asset.
We do not want our daughters to think that they need to look a certain way or dress a certain way to be accepted.
We want them to know that being pretty and being smart are not mutually exclusive. And, given all the challenges confronting our educational system, why risk sending a message to girls, and boys as well, that doing homework is not important?
“Who would wear a T-shirt that says they are stupid?”
As I thought about this issue I decided to solicit the opinion of the T-shirt’s target demographic. When asked what she thought of the T-shirt, my friend’s newly minted 12-year-old daughter Cassidy responded, “Who would wear a T-shirt that says they are stupid?”
Let’s hope Cassidy can stay strong against all the other marketing assaults that are coming her way, as the T-shirt is hardly the only offender.
As you were saying: T-shirt Message Offends [Boston Herald]