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.


When I look in the mirror

I sat on the bed and held Becca while she cried. I smoothed her hair, made soothing sounds and told her it was ok. Inside my heart was breaking for her. Between sobs she poured out her heart.

“I know there are other kids that don’t have as much as I do. I know that I am so lucky because I had you and daddy and you love me so much. But when I look in the mirror, I don’t think I’m pretty and it makes me feel so bad.”

The awkwardness of 12. That feeling that you are the only person who doesn’t have it together. She is noticing her body for the first time, really, and noticing that it is changing. Although at this point, it hasn’t changed much. She has always been petite, always the shortest of her friends. At 12 years old she is barely 65 pounds – everything about her is small and fairylike.

Then she entered the Junior High Girls Locker Room and the self image doubts entered right behind her — along with a lot of girls farther along in the development process.

I remember those days. To be honest, I can’t say they are fully behind me. I have a great job, loving husband, sweet friends and wonderful family but the number of the scale can ruin my week. As a mom, I have tried to keep my own body issues out of the spotlight. I don’t go on crazy diets or constantly talk about losing weight. Instead I have emphasized a desire for more energy by exercising, or choosing to cut out sugar.

I really thought Becca would not fall down that rabbit hole. But there we sat on her bed, starting a new phase of our relationship. She is looking to me for emotional support. After years of saying that it’s the beauty inside that really counts, I need to help her learn feel good about her outside beauty, too.

Have you had this conversation with your daughter? What did you say?

This post was originally published on WorkingMother.com on May 18,2011.