I recently saw this post on the Ms. Magazine blog, and it’s gotten me thinking a lot about some of its assumptions. According to Ms., popular retailer Forever 21 whose clothes mainly target teens and 20-somethings has launched a maternity line. So far, in addition to being online, the only store locations that stock these clothes are located in Alaska, Arizona, California, Texas and Utah. Of these states, Arizona and Texas are in the top five for highest teen pregnancy rates in the US, with California hanging close behind in the 15th spot.
The main critique Ms. launches against this new clothing line is that it “normalizes” teen pregnancy. First of all I think this post wrongly conflates the term “normalizing” with “encouraging” or “glamorizing.” It’s simply an (unfortunate) fact of life that young women/girls get pregnant and need new clothes to dress their pregnant bellies. Providing these clothes isn’t going to make girls want to get pregnant any more than providing access to free contraception is going to encourage them to have more sex.
Honestly, becoming pregnant at a young age has got to be difficult enough without the added annoyance of not being able to find clothes you actually want to wear through said pregnancy. Obviously the U.S. has a pretty dysfunctional relationship with teaching teens about safe sex and dealing with unwanted pregnancies, but how does ignoring the existence of teen pregnancy help solve this problem? I’m leaning toward the opinion that more talk about the realities of teen pregnancy is a good thing. It seems to me that the less common people think teen pregnancy is the more likely they’ll be to think “oh that’ll never happen to me” and fail to take the necessary precautions. I’ll freely admit I’m a sucker for MTV’s new shows 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom and I actually think that these shows handle teen pregnancy surprisingly well. Ms., however, criticizes them saying,
“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?”
Anyone who’s watched Teen Mom will tell you that these girls are definitely not having the time of their lives with their new family arrangements. The main topics of the show include money issues, absent fathers, unsupportive families, difficulties continuing their education, and a slew of other terrifying scenarios that would make lots of teens consider swearing off sex till middle-age. Not only that, but after every episode there’s a link to MTV’s helpful sex-ed resource itsyoursexlife.com.
All in all though, let’s get real, F21 probably doesn’t have any major nasty agendas trying to get as many young girls as they can to start boycotting condoms and getting knocked faster than you can say “child support.” They’re a business trying to make a buck with a demographic that hasn’t really been tapped yet. And maybe, just maybe, when people start realizing that teen pregnancy is more common than they first imagined, they’ll start getting a little more concerned with having that sex talk with their kids.