Forever 21's Materntiy Line and the Normalization of Teen Pregnancy

I am 17, and when I close my eyes and think of what my life would be like if I were to become pregnant in the near future, my cynical mind goes here: I am holding a tiny child that is crying and spitting something that was probably at one time the baby food I bought instead of those jeans I *really fricken wanted* as I am on the computer, turning down the college of my dreams in favor of an educational option that will allow me to raise my little bundle of joy. I haven’t slept more than 3 hours at a time in a few months, and sleep ranks right below eating and right above breathing on my list of general priorities. I call the father of little Finneus (or maybe Bartleby. I was really out of it and freakin pissed when I named this kid) to come take this burping, pooping gift from above off my feeble hands, but he’s not answering because he’s off being a normal kid, because of all those dumb ass gender double standards that are becoming more apparent to me than ever. Then I ask my parents to take him for a few minutes, and they’re shaking their heads, saying, “You got yourself into this mess, you have to deal with it.” Then I start crying louder than baby Finn.

While I tend to see the extreme downside of this situation, people seem to think that most teens are thinking this: A baby: somebody super cute who I can play with and who will love me unconditionally! It means my boyfriend and I will be together FOREVER (I mean, we were going to be anyway, but now it’s SET) and I can finally start the rest of my life (before it has even started). In reality, there are plenty of teen moms who were not necessarily deluded into a fairy-tale ending - in fact, it may be most of them. There are many girls who were dealt the crappy card of growing up in the era where Bush went, “Despite all evidence to the contrary, I’m going to go with abstinence only sex education!” And I’m sure there were girls who did use birth control…just not correctly or consistently.

But no matter how teen girls think about pregnancy, it’s impossible to deny that in recent years the media has thought to itself, “Well we’ve exhausted all the trite story lines about drug abuse…what’s next? Teen pregnancy? Alright! Let’s go exploit it!” Between Juno, Teen Mom, 16 and Pregnant, Secret Life, Jamie Lynn Spears (who?), Bristol Palin’s life and Lifetime's masterpiece The Pregnancy Pact (a terribly written dramatization of something that may or may not have happened in Massachusetts) and beyond, teens have been inundated with images of teen pregnancy

Here’s the deal. The media seems to be framing this as a situation where teens see pregnancy glamorized in the “I’m-so-happy-I-have-a-kid-at-16-my-life-rocks!” way, and this is the Very Big Problem. As a teen, I can tell you the issue generally is not that we’re fooled by the media telling us how much fun being a mommy is. Most of us can envision the aforementioned scenario of a kid making our personal goals fifty billion times harder to achieve, and don’t want one. We’re actually not mindless robots that see teen moms on TV and go: PLEASE. LET. THAT. BE. ME.

No, the problem is that we’re just used to it. We’re not shocked by it anymore and the MAJORITY of us are  not seeing it in terms of extremes at all. Oh, somebody else is pregnant at our high school…well, it happens, we think. Oh, we have options now, so if I did get pregnant I guess it wouldn’t be the absolute worst thing in the world. Ergo, a lot of us stop thinking about birth control as much and stop being as vigilant about protecting ourselves. And let’s face it, that lax attitude means opening ourselves up to STDs, as well – something the focus on PREGNANCY has completely negated from teens’ awareness. To us, sex = pregnancy, for better or for worse, and the conversation about STDs has been left in the dust. Maybe that’s why 50% of new HIV infections are amongst kids aged 16-24, and why Chlamydia and Syphilis – STDS once considered to be virtually under control in the general population – are staging a comeback, mostly in our age group. Seriously.

So when I heard that Forever 21 recently launched a maternity line – and targeted it’s marketing to states with the highest teen pregnancy rates – I was pretty freaking pissed. Having TV shows and movies about teen pregnancy is one thing; say what you want, but all of those outlets at least have attempted to show the downside of teen pregnancy, even if they generally fail. Having a clothing line specified for teen pregnancy brings the normalization to an all time high, and capitalizing on this "phenomenon" is gross. Now we don’t even have to give up fashion to be a mommy, not to mention that every time we go into that store we are again hit with the idea "teen pregnancy is just not that big a deal."

Now, I’m not advocating that adults scare the shit out of teens and tell us, “if you have sex, you will get pregnant…and DIE” a la Mean Girls. Nor am I denouncing teen mothers (they shouldn't be written off from society just because they have kids, y'hear?). All I’m saying is that teen pregnancy is not NORMAL nor should it be. Teen pregnancy has happened, does happen and always will happen, but that does not mean we should give up advocating for comprehensive birth control, and generally advocating for women to want more for themselves than to become mothers while they’re still children themselves. When the shows we watch and now the stores we shop in start normalizing this image, however – then we have a problem. I'm proposing an alternative: let's all get together and NORMALIZE BIRTH CONTROL/SAFE SEX!

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More articles in WMC FBomb by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Sexuality, Reproductive rights, Social media, High school, Film, Television, News, Advertising



Julie Zeilinger
Founding Editor of The WMC FBomb
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