Mixed Signals is Erin Straza’s weekly musing about marketing miscellany in advertising, branding, and messaging.
When did we first find it fashionable to wear a t-shirt plastered with a clever phrase? It may have been the shirts stating, “I’m with Stupid,” or maybe the ones with the classic smiley face. No matter—for today, shirts with witty, crass, and humorous messaging abound.
But clever is in the eye of the beholder. And some clothing designers are finding out the hard way that what is clever to some is offensive to others. Three companies have recently had to pull their shirts for tween girls due to inappropriate messaging.
The first is J. C. Penney:
The second is Forever 21:
The offended have argued that clothing stores are telling our girls that it is best to be stupid and skinny. Others have said these are cheeky, to be taken lightly.
My question is, if my daughter spoke these things aloud, would I find them clever or witty? Or would I be distressed that she had such a poor assessment of herself?
Messaging like this is not innocuous, especially for tween girls who are typically quite sensitive. Such phrases will become part of how they think about themselves, creating an atmosphere of self-deprecation in which many girls will be stuck through adulthood. The messages certainly don’t uphold the thought test given in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, for dwelling on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable.
If we are to help our kids—and in this case, our girls—think rightly about themselves, we have to be mindful of the messages their clothing sends.