Pregnant Teens Get Clothes, Moral Panic Ensues

August 3, 2010 § 12 Comments

by KATIE E.

Dear Stephanie Hallett,

Just stop. Really.

Stop the moral panic. Stop calling yourself a feminist unless you decide you want to support all women.  And please, stop promoting the epic fallacy that if we don’t provide maternity clothes at a store aimed at women under thirty, pregnant teenagers will suddenly disappear.

“How about information on pregnancy options, counselling and pre- and post-natal care? Not trendy clothes.”

You know, that’s lovely and all, and I really do support it, but I believe pregnant people are still required by law to be clothed during all that counselling and prenatal care.

And somehow, I don’t think that F21 selling (I kid you not, this is the entire “line”) two modest dresses, two plain shirts, two gray cardigans, two pairs of neutral leggings, one of those belly supporters, and a chiffon thing that I don’t quite understand but is floral and quite unexciting in maternity sizes is going to suddenly end all help for pregnant people who want/need it. And, even in my capacity as a non-fashionista, I’d hardly call that “trendy.” Nice looking, affordable, okay for some jobs and parties, but pretty bland for F21. With the way she phrases it, I was expecting bubble mini-dresses with I AM THE COOLEST PREGNANT TEENAGER EVER emblazoned on the front in rhinestones or something. Not that there would be anything wrong with that, but it sounds much more like something of the traditional F21 cannon.

Furthermore, why shouldn’t pregnant teenagers have trendy clothes? If you are pregnant before society says it’s okay, does that mean you should feel too much shame to dress the way you like?

“Linda Chang, Forever 21′s senior marketing manager, can claim they’re simply trying to appeal to a new demographic, and not exploiting the outrageously high number of teen moms with little money in the U.S., but the point is that a 20-something model in maternity clothes isn’t even shocking anymore. It’s an integral part of the “raw-capitalism-as-spectacle-a-go-go” model that F21 has founded its business on. It doesn’t matter who’s shopping, only that they’re buying.”

I get that Forever 21 is infamous for the whole “fast fashion” phenomenon, but the whole “raw-capitalism-as-spectacle-a-go-go” you’re describing here just sounds a lot like…capitalism. I’m no fan, but the idea of discovering you have a market (young women who’ve always loved fast and cheap clothes who coincidentally become pregnant) and making a product that will appeal to that market (fast, cheap maternity clothes) is hundreds of years old

And exploitive? Really? Please go talk to one of the millions of pregnant people who couldn’t afford maternity clothes  and as them if a twelve dollar, slightly less than flawless quality dress makes them feel exploited. Frankly, only someone from a place of privilege could believe pregnant people are exploited by cheap maternity clothes.

Why should a 20-something model in maternity clothes be a shock, anyway? The average age of a first time mom is now 25, and it’s only gone up in the past forty years. Besides, I thought you only wanted to shame pregnant teenagers here. Is it just the phenomenon of pregnancy in general that makes you so mad?

“But as a company whose audience is made up mostly of girls under 24, Forever 21 has the option to behave responsibly and not perpetuate a very destructive norm.”

Is the fact that most (65%) of F21′s customers are under the age of 24 supposed to make me panic or something? This may shock you, but 18-23-year-olds are women. Adult women. And 65%, while a definite majority, is not a radically high figure.

Not that any of that should matter. I would think that a feminist would recognize how extremely problematic referring to anyone who’s pregnant as “a destructive norm” is. Isn’t it Anti-Kyriarchy 101 that there is nothing wrong with anyone who is keeping a pregnancy, and any problems that arise from it are the fault of our racist, sizeist, ageist, sexist, cissexist, classist, heterosexist society?

“How about we offer proper sex ed to American youth?”

Excellent idea, but I fail to see how this will completely erase pregnant people and the need for them to have proper clothes.

“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?”

Here we go with the “pregnant teenagers are silly and don’t know that babies cost money and can change your body!” meme. I happen to know that Women’s Glib, being Women’s Glib, has a high readership of people who are currently teenagers, so I’ll invite all of them to answer this question:

You know being pregnant costs money and time and changes your body, right?

It wouldn’t be a classic teen pregnancy shame fest without a reference to 16 and Pregnant. Really, how many people do you know who watch 16 and Pregnant who have not done all of the following:

1. Called any of the girls “slutty” or something similar.

2.  Doubted the girl’s intelligence.

3. Referred to the couple that gave the baby up for adoption as being the only one’s who were smart, responsible, and/or mature.

4. Insisted that it is a great way to prevent teenaged girls from having sex and keeping pregnancies.

16 and Pregnant is hardly “acceptance” or “normalization” of teenaged pregnancy.

As much as it clearly pains you, Ms. Hallett, teen pregnancy is a mere fact of life, and it always has been and always will be. Some teens use contraception and it fails. Some teens can’t afford contraception. Some don’t know how to use it. Some are raped. Some are victimized be reproductive coercion. Some plan pregnancies. Many will choose or be forced into carrying the pregnancy to full-term. All deserve our respect and support. And that includes affordable, nice clothes that they can wear.

Ms. Hallett, what you’ve written here is one of the major reasons why mainstream feminism frequently disappoints me. A feminist should support all women and girls, but I see less and less realizing how much our society fails pregnant people and mothers who don’t fit the kyriarchal norm. Pregnant teens and teenaged parents are not a tragedy or destructive, but society (including you) is set on continuing to perpetuate conditions and ideas that make it seem that way.

§ 12 Responses to Pregnant Teens Get Clothes, Moral Panic Ensues

  • Caroline says:

    AMEN!

  • [...] Pregnant Teens Get Clothes, Moral Panic Ensues « Women's Glib [...]

  • Coco says:

    Excellent points all the way around, Katie. This:

    A feminist should support all women and girls, but I see less and less realizing how much our society fails pregnant people and mothers who don’t fit the kyriarchal norm. Pregnant teens and teenaged parents are not a tragedy or destructive, but society (including you) is set on continuing to perpetuate conditions and ideas that make it seem that way.

    Made me want to stand up and cheer. I’d like to link this post to an article on adoption I’m working on, if I may.

  • Elena says:

    F21 does have problems (The CEO’s are very religious, to the point that they have given promotions to employees to convert ot Christianity, they want to build a factory on the site of a comunal garden space in L.A.,, etc), but selling maternity clothes is not one of them. Not to mention, that older women (college students and young professionals) shop at F21 as well. Just because f21 is popular with teens does not necessarily mean that only pregnant teens will buy items from their maternity line.

    I don’t necessarily think 15 And Pregnant/Teen Mom are terrible shows. I do think that they are sensationalistic, and I do wonder if they (like any reality TV show), putting the need for “good TV” before the mother’s well-being, but they do show just how challenging it can be to be a teenage parent in the U.s. I don’t think teens are ignorant about the demands of parenting, but it’s always good to see examples. The couple who decided to give their baby up for adoption have difficulties when the agency’s promises that the adoption would be open, and that they could frequently see thier daughter are unfullfilled. Another mom has to deal with getting her ex to pay child support. Another tries to balance getting treated for post-partum depression while working to get her GED.

    • katiee93 says:

      Something about the bible messages on the bags always made me suspect they weren’t exactly full of corporate accountability.

      You are right about older people shopping there. I did some more poking around last night after this went up, and apparently most of the media outlets were reporting some seriously false information. They had me under the impression that the maternity line was called Love 21, but it turns out it is only part of the L21 line, which contains a lot of non-maternity clothes, including lots of office-y wear and clothes that are more what we think of when we hear about “mature” clothes than the regular F21 stuff. I looked it up on some other sites, and I’m now about 75% sure that it’s their women’s line. As in adult, over 18, grown-up women. So this controversy may have been completely fabricated by the media and the blogosphere just so we could all have a good whine about pregnant! teenagers!

      And I don’t doubt 16 and Pregnant might be a good show, I just think very few of it’s viewers watch it with the upmost respect and support for the women featured on it.

  • Marilou says:

    RIGHT ON!

    Pregnancy IS a huge responsibility, it does cost money, and it does change women’s bodies. All the more reason for them to have decent, affordable clothes. Maternity clothes are often really ugly and overpriced, so go F21 for trying to change that!

  • Lenore says:

    I wonder why there is such a rush to judgment when one hears the words “pregnant teen.” That term does not automatically imply that there is not a husband, job, income, stable home, moral values and common sense. Young pregnant women are entitled to the same affordable, quality maternity fashion choices that any pregnant woman has, regardless of age. For an even better selection shop online where you won’t get any disapproving gazes as you purchase your maternity clothes….especially if you are shopping for a maternity wedding dress…and as we all know, are especially hard to find in the bridal shops at the malls. http://www.newmommyteesandjeans.com

  • [...] Pregnant Teens Get Clothes, Moral Panic Ensues « Women’s Glib [...]

  • You may be able to put this down to cultural differences, but where I come from, teen moms ARE still a tragedy.

    Why? Because most of these girls did not plan their pregnancies. They didn’t choose to be pregnant, it was something thrust upon them way before they were even thinking about it, because they were not given access to adequate sex education. They knew that contraceptives existed….but this information was presented in a way that downplayed their effectiveness and exaggerated their risks. They came out of their sex ed classes knowing nothing about sex or safe sex, and everything about pregnancies, STDs, and the shortcomings of contraceptives.

    They are also never told that these contraceptives are available free-of-charge at the local health department, without parental permission or knowledge. All the information that will allow them to choose when and how to have sex, and whether or not to get pregnant (the truth is, contraceptives work much better than people suppose when used correctly. I LOVE YOU DEPO SHOTS!) is right there, but it’s either not given to them or given to them in a way that makes everything that might help them make choices sound scary and intimidating. I know one girl who got pregnant simply because she thought birth control would cause her to get fat. The fact that she would rather risk an unwanted pregnancy than gain a little weight is a whole terrifying package in itself, but what about the fact that she heard this little factoid, out of context, in a health class? The context, of course, being that SOME WOMEN find it easier to gain weight on birth control, but that a healthy lifestyle can partially or completely eliminate this problem.

    I realize what you’re saying. Teen pregnancy happens. And social stigmas about sex, teenagers, and early pregnancy simply exacerbate the number of unwanted teen pregnancies, and make life harder for teenagers who decide to keep their children–planned or unplanned. And a small clothing line marketed to these women is not exploitative, it’s actually rather inclusive. “Hi, we consider your existence valid and unstigmatized, buy our clothes.”

    But to say that unplanned pregnancies are not a tragedy is to ignore the fact that many teenagers–and believe me, I know, I was one just two years ago–KNOW that pregnancy is a possible outcome of sex, that babies cost money, that being pregnant changes your body. They know, but they figure they just won’t have to worry about it. Because it goes on that list of things that won’t happen to them. And when it does, it’s horrifying. It’s heartbreaking. A lot of this reaction likely comes from a social stigma about young pregnant women, but some of it could in fact come from the lack of a desire to be pregnant or have children. Throw in the girls who don’t agree with abortion–whether they oppose it morally on a large scale or reject it as a birth control option for themselves only–and you have a lot of tragic pregnancies.

  • Melissa says:

    This is a fantastic post. Thanks for articulating everything I’ve been thinking whenever I see one of those posts on the feminist blogs about this.

  • @Melissa, I totally agree with you. This subject is not talked about much but it should be articulated to spread the message.

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