Why the t-shirt backlash matters

The whole t-shirt controversy that took over the interwebs this week fascinated me. A shirt that so many people (including me) found offensive made it to the floor of an enormous, and usually non-controversial, retailer.

I took some time to think about why things like this bother me so much. As the mother of two daughters, ages 12 and 15, I see so many things that I want to protect them from – drugs, boys, kidnappers, illness, mean people, etc.

So why did a shirt ruffle so many feathers?

Liz at Mom 101 had a great response and, I hope, you take a few  minutes to not only read her post, but the discussion in the comments (shard of brilliance, as the link says). Mine is in there, too, and is one reason I am back here blogging after a too-long hiatus.

I like to think I am doing what I can to raise my girls to be strong women. But I can tell you, it is harder than anything I have ever done or thought about doing.

They see so much that makes them question who they are and who they are striving to be. Read the headlines on magazines while checkout at the grocery store… Diets! Flat Tummies! Better Sex! I didn’t pay much attention to them until I realized my 12 year old read every one of them.

Those are the words rattling around in her head right now, trying to figure out how it all fits together.


So why does a dumb t-shirt matter? It doesn’t, but it is an example of what is out there. Like “cute butt” sweat pants for tweens (at abercrombie.com) and shorts for my 15 year old that have less than a 1 inch inseam. Don’t even get me started on the big trend in transparent clothing for teens this year.

Yes, back to school shopping was “fun” for me. How about you?

On the plus side, the power of social media to affect change is once again in the spotlight. This t-shirt garnered so much attention because it was at JC Penney. A 100+ year old retailer that, frankly, is not exactly on the cutting edge of fashion. They are usually pretty conservative in their buying choices, yet a whole line of these offensive tees made it through a buying process that (I am guessing) has multiple layers of approval.

I guarantee you, right now there are meetings happening in JC Penneys about how they got it so wrong.

But the real power and the REALLY, REALLY good news is that there are 100+ other retailers that are also taking a good look at their inventory right now. They don’t want to be the next target of Social Media Backlash – and this may convince a few of them to rethink their plans.

And that would be very good thing.

This post was originally published on WorkingMother.com on September 2, 2011.


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