Turning My Son into a Millionaire Eggplant: The Powerful Transformative Properties of Nail Polish

J Crew's Jenna Lyons and son.

When I view the J Crew ad this is what I see.

This was the focus for me – a moment of delight and love passing between a mother and her son.

As I was quoted saying in this wicked smart Ms. Magazine piece by the fierce Melanie Klein (also a mother to a young son):

“The camera has to zoom in SO much on the toes to make the news story, you completely lose sight of the delightful moment between loving, doting mother and happy, beautiful son.”

You all know I’m a big picture kinda gal, and I don’t look at the world with fear and hate, which is why when I first read about this ridiculous ass hat controversy in the wee hours of Monday morning when I was up late working, overtired and annoyed by the stupidity of such a non-issue, I closed the link and didn’t give it much thought. I didn’t bookmark it to blog about or share with the Pigtail Pals parent community because of the aforementioned ass hattedness of it all. I was offended the fear mongering and homophobic conservative media created an issue out of nothing, and did so at the the expense of a mother loving her son (in an advertisement, mind you). I was reluctant to share a “news” piece linked from FOX News (a four letter word in my house).

If ever there was an example of picking gnat shit out of pepper, the media has done it a thousand times over.

Wednesday morning came around and you’d think there wasn’t an entire global region is hisitoric political upheaval or an armageddon-like nuclear disaster in a population-dense country or a massive budget crisis in this country….

Because the morning brought the whole country talking about nail polish. Seriously? What’s worse, we were debating whether or not the application of hot pink nail polish to the feet of a five year old boy could in any way affect his sex, sexual identity, and sexual orientation. Pink nail polish on this young boy will no more turn him into a transgendered person than would green polish on my son turn him into a millionaire or would purple turn him into an eggplant.

What does need to be addressed, is the gender constraint and gender policing going on in this hullabaloo. From the moment go nearly two years ago, Pigtail Pals has put a direct challenge to the marketing and products that I know to be objectifiying, limiting, stereotyping and sexualizing our girls. What we must know as parents and people who care about children – we must afford this same right to our sons.

You’ll be hearing more from me and Melanie Klein in the coming weeks about raising sons, and Pigtail Pals has already begun creating a brother line of designs to honor our wonder full boys.

So for now, this is my official comment on this mess, actually comes from a fave mom blogger of mine named Jennifer (also a mom to a young son), and is important as it applies to all of us who have ever raised a little boy:

He thinks it looks pretty and just wants to be like the people he loves.

 

The big picture - a moment of love.

Just in case I’m wrong about the powerful transformative powers of nail polish, later today I’m going to paint my car in my chocolately OPI and see if it turns into a pony.

*Our friend Dr. Logan Levkoff writes a great post for the HuffPo here. “Colors are just colors.”

*Our friend Peggy Orenstein writes a great post with an important history lesson here.

*Our friend Dr. Robyn Silverman uses some restraint and common sense to remind us, “This is an ad.” Her TODAY Show clip here.

Comments

  1. Thanks for quoting me. I’m incredibly honored.

  2. I agree, I think the story has gotten WAY too much attention and is just dumb.

    But, I want to kindly add something: If I disagree with my son wearing pink nail polish, it doesn’t make me homophobic, a fear monger, or an ass-hat.

    I really like your site! And I think you do amazing things to promote girls. But I have to respectfully say that when you use slandering terms like this, it takes the credibility of your site down a notch. It stops sounding like you’re looking at this from a mature point of view, and that you’ve lowered yourself to name-calling.

    I do want to say one last thing: this is your site and if you feel strongly about what you wrote then no one, including me, needs to approve or disapprove what you say and how you say it. I just thought I’d add that because I know your site is a great resource but I would hate to think that people might quit reading the GOOD things because of the very infrequent bad parts (or at least, ideas communicated in a bad way.)

    Thanks! keep writing!!

    • Hi Texan Mama –
      Thanks for your comment, but the thing is, I never infer that parents who are not comfortable with pink nail polish or any nail polish on their sons are homophobic, fear mongerers, or ass hats as you imply. I used the term to describe the situation, not a person. I’m not name calling, I’m calling out the most stupid and ridiculous media circus I’ve seen in quite a while. And when people in a position of power in the media use their influence or credential to create a hateful, shameful, and intolerant atmosphere for our children while hiding behind the guise of news, “ass hattery” is the kindest thing I can think to say about that. I think the words of “Dr” Keith Ablow like “psychological sterilization” are absolutely and directly fear mongering and homophobic, as is my impression of the entire FOX News network, and I do not feel it is slanderous to state as such.

      You may not have seen it, but when we discussed this on our Facebook page, we talked about cultural perspective, and that some parents may not be comfortable with it and that is fine. One of the examples we used was little girls wearing pale or glittery polish, but some parents not liking fire engine red on her little toes because it carried the cultural meaning that for them was more sexualized. There is nothing wrong with having personal limits, but there is something wrong when we gender police our children when they are simply exploring through natural play modes and development all things wonderful and curious about the world.

      Glad to hear you usually enjoy the blog!

  3. Couldn’t have said it better myself!! :-))

  4. I whole-heartedly agree and I, too, am WAY more concerned with how upset some people seem to be over this than about the “affects” of pink nail polish on a child.

    By the way, my son currently has pink toenails and has since Friday when he saw me doing my toes and wanted his painted, too.

  5. I’m painting my grass aquamarine this afternoon so I can live on a houseboat! Aren’t imaginations grand? We can use them for the greater good…or not, as the case may be.

    JCrew was briliant in this ad. Whether one adores or abhors this ad, it is certainly garnering its fair share of press. Homophobic and transgender fears have hit the roof. Who knew that pink nail polish on a 5-year-old could have such an impact?

    Last night I was tweeting with a mom who told me she has a photo of her son in a lovely pink tu-tu. He is now 22 and 6’3″…and none the worse for the wear! We need to RELAX…and stop imposing homophobic adult fears on young children.

    Wendy @Kidlutions

  6. Whoops…brilliant. Sorry for the typo! =)

  7. GREAT post.

    I’m putting together my thoughts and will for sure be linking to you. As a former preschool teacher, mom of two boys and PLAY advocate…these ridiculous reactions get my knickers in a twist.

    Thanks for adding your voice to the mix!
    meredith

  8. I had younger brother who was far more dramatic than I, he loved to dress as a princess. Now he is a grown up normal man who is a musician and a husband and a dad. Now i teach preschool and my own 3 year old son is in my class.
    I was completely floored when my son innocently put on a princess dress-up, and a girl in the class called him a transvestite! WHAT are people saying to their kids at home? Good grief!

    • Apparently, a lot of intolerance and ignorance. But moments like that happen for a reason – you were at the right place and at the right time to redirect that kind of thinking and turn it into a teachable, tolerant moment.

      Do you know what I actually just learned, at the ripe old age of 33? That we shouldn’t use the word “transvestite”. I thought it was the term to use and used it in a tweet when talking about the Monster High dolls, but a friend of mine and professor of gender and women’s studies kindly corrected me that I should have said cross-dresser or transgender.

  9. We don’t push any gender norms in our home. I don’t even correct pronouns. But whenever we step outside, my heart seizes up because we’ve walked through everyone from three year old boys to ten year old girls being rude. I’ve had to learn how to discuss it with my son without putting down those children. It’s difficult and painful to feel the world push our little family so hard just so others can feel safe in their gender expectations. The line between protecting my child’s interests and my child’s feelings are only at odds because of others. It’s hard to not be angry.

    • Mama, I think that feeling you describe of the world pushing in on a cherished child and not accepting the light and loving heart they are is one of the worst feelings a mother can have.

  10. I’m still not sure if it was the fact of the nail polish, or the pinkness of it. Not sure the psychological “experts” who were concerned about the boy’s manliness ever made that clear.

  11. I was so happy to stumble onto Pigtail Pals today…I love the idea of “redefining girly,” something that my son has spent a great deal of time doing in his nearly-nine years. He spent his preschool and kindergarten years in a dress; if Fox News thinks emotional distress and psychotherapy will ensue from mere nail polish use, what horrors would be unleashed by a boy in a dress? I’m sure there will be all sorts of parental malfeasance on my part that will require future therapy for my children…but letting my gender-nonconforming boy be himself is probably not on the list. I’m no parenting expert, but I tend to think that condemnation, rather than lack of condemnation, tends to be harsher to young minds and hearts.

    I wrote about the “controversy” and what we can do to thank the fabulous J. Crew here:

    http://www.sarahhoffmanwriter.com/2011/04/j-crew-i-love-you/

    And then a follow up on how we can thank Jenna Lyons herself:

    http://www.sarahhoffmanwriter.com/2011/04/thank-you-jenna-lyons/

    Thanks for spreading the good word, nice to meet you in blogland.
    -Sarah Hoffman

    • Hi Sarah –
      Nice to “meet” you, too! I’m going to dig into your blog later tonight, it looks like great stuff! How grateful am I that a son like yours was born to a mother like you, who can love him fully, and in the moment, for the gift he is, with no room for fear or anticipation to the future son he will be.

      A person can stand above a stream and all day scream at it to flow in a different direction, but at the end of the day, what is natural will remain that way, and all you are left with is a sore throat and the feeling you’ve behaved like an ass.

      Thank you for adding your voice here, and I hope you continue to do so!

    • Sarah – I love your concept of thanking J Crew and Jenna Lyons directly. I took a similar view on my blog – that this was a really cool move on the part of J Crew.
      http://www.marketingmediachildhood.com/2011/04/mainstream-retailer-questions-gender.html
      Thanks for the idea of sending letters to them to counter the negative feedback!

  12. Hillary S. says:

    As we were watching Nick Jr. yesterday, and the hot pink piggies controversy was fresh in my mind, Puzzle Time came on. This particular one featured three blue mice but the one with pink ears was labeled as “different”. Is Nick Jr. pushing some sort of hidden anti-gay/transgender agenda?

    I don’t think that a boy who enjoys having his toe nails painted will make him gay any more than I think letting my daughters play in the dirt with trucks will make them gay. When you get to the core of things, it is about spending time and bonding with the people you love. Each family has their own means of fulfilling that need.

  13. carrie thompson says:

    I heard all about the story and picture and have my views, which do not coincide with YOURS or the “media circus”. BUT here is my problem one of your commenters says how she FIGHTS SO HARD for her children to not see gender and it is so hard to take them out into the big bad world and face judgmental people all the time.

    “we dont even correct pronouns at our house”— um are they not taught in school that her means a girl and him a boy? Are we fighting english classes to be “politically correct” in our grammar?

    Well I am sorry your life is so hard, but as much as you feel you are RIGHT that gender isnt an issue and it doesnt exactly get settled with boys having a “p*nus and girls having a v*gina- as it is for me— I feel that you (you actually being others who also believe the same way)are just as judgmental of ME who believes the exact opposite. I feel like I am constantly having to fight against the media, TV, music and even books that are constantly barraging my children with “a less than ideal vision of my own truth” I am just saying as much as you feel you are pushing against a rock SO DO I. I am not going so far as to say that YOU are wrong in your opinion—I love that you have your opinion, and I am not going so far as to say that I am right in my opinion—WE obviously both feel we are right.

    BUT STOP telling me that i am homophobic and a hater cuz I choose to believe differently than you. ANd guess what I wont send my kids to your house to have their toes painted— easy peasy. It doesnt have to be one way or the other. We (conservatives or CHrisitans or whoever you are “fighting”) didnt make dolls with blond hair and blue eyes just to make your son or daughter feel judged? We dont sit around thinking of ways to make you feel your lifestyle is wrong—But when your lifestyles are thrown in our face as if it is THE NORM…and we simply say our thoughts— we are haters. how about when the arguments of this website and others that all the toys are for girls and how wrong that is to define them by you know, offering them a cooking set— HOW DARE WE TELL THEM THEY SHOULD NEVER LEAVE THE KITCHEN..:0) and we are not the only ones pushing an agenda—-you are making the same argumens using the same “harsh’ words as the other sides does—- simply because our opinions differ. Guess what they will keeping being different. BUT just as “psychological sterilization” is a bit over the top, so is homophobic fear monger.

    Our opinions are our opinions, yours are yours. But just because you believe your boys can dress like fairies and your girls GOD help them if they want to wear make up—-doesnt mean that I am NOT entitled to my own opinons.

    You are the pot calling the kettle black.

    • Hi Carrie –
      Thanks for your comment. I can tell you are very passionate about your feelings on the issue, I’m just not sure I got the point of most of your comment.

      As I said in reply to another comment similar to yours, I am not calling anyone – not parents who disagree with me, not Christians, not conservatives – homophobic fear mongers simply because you don’t agree with your sons wearing pink nail polish, or any nail polish. I think you internalized a comment I made about the media hullabaloo and “Dr” Keith Ablow as directed at all people who feel differently from me. You are, actually, putting words in my mouth, and I really dislike when people do that.

      Read my reply to Texan Mama. Hopefully that will clear things up for you.

      • carrie thompson says:

        I specifically directed my comment towards a comment someone else said, I also said “YOU” meaning those who are obviously on the opposite spectrum of me.

        MY point being is that YOU– and who ever feels different than I do are NOT all out there on your own feeling judged or like it so hard to raise our kids in the hostel, hate filled world… WE parents on the other fence feel the SAME way!

        As much as you are frustrated that “we” dont see there is no gender– “we” are frustrated that you see there is no gender. Does that make sense.

        I know that you were responding to more the media frenzy over the picture BUT the debate is whether it has to do with an agenda towards NO gender OR if it has to do with an agenda towards GENDER. ANd people on both sides are frustrated oven what the other side believes.

        I watch Fox news. I cant believe the crap that MSNBC says. Yes You call Fox news “a four letter word at your house”… IT is simply semantics. WE both sides need to just simmer down. Stop NOT YOU SPECIFICALLY— calling us haters and homophobs and have your opinion and WE can stop feeling the need to point out lifestyle different than our own and just let you live.

        Well at least I can! I am VERY libertarian in that way!

        Now I will raise up my son in “the truth I see” JUST as you will raise up your son in “the truth you see”.

        Can you PROVE either side is wrong or right?

        NOT until we get to heaven.. or not?

        • Carrie –
          I see. I will only speak for myself when I say this, but I do not pretend that our children are gender-less. My son is a boy and my daughter is a girl. I want my son to grow into a strong, intelligent, thoughtful, caring, brave, successful, and honest man (and hopefully father). I want the very same things for my daughter as she grows into a woman and hopefully a mother, should she choose. I love being a woman, every bit of it. I love that my husband is masculine and strong and smart.

          You see, it is not that I raise my children absent of gender. I raise my children absent of the limitations and restrictions and stereotypes our society puts on gender. Those are two very different things, and the difference is a very important one.

        • Carrie, I believe that you (as an individual) have every right to raise your children the way you want. Just like I (as an individual) have every right to raise my children the way I want. The problem arises when you (the collective) judge the way I parent my child and accuse me of causing them harm with the way I choose to parent. When that happens I feel I have every right to turn that judgment around. As a friend of mine says, “I judge judgey people.”

          Will some pink nail polish cause my son harm? Will letting him polish his nails when he sees his mom and sister doing it and having a good time? Will bonding with my son over something seen as a “girly” activity hurt him later in life? I doubt it. But I am 100% positive that people calling him names, being rude to him or bullying him because he did any of these things will.

          I’m all for differences. Differences are grand. Without them the world would be a very boring place. I just wish that everyone else could be as accepting of that fact. Or learn to be quiet. Or at least not as hurtful when voicing their (the collective) opinions.

        • If what you’re saying is that you believe in rigid gender roles, that girls/women should only play with certain toys, pursue certain careers, study certain subjects and perform certain activities BECAUSE THEY ARE FEMALE, then you are right that we will never agree. I refuse to limit myself and my daughter in that way. Conversely, if you believe that there are certain sports, activities, toys, careers, topics of study, etc that are only appropriate for boys/men BECAUSE THEY ARE MALE, we will again have to agree to disagree. Because I will never limit my husband and my son in that way.

          There are people who believe that homosexuality is immoral who aren’t “haters” or homophobic. I know a few. When media outlets say that a boy with pink toenails is destined to become gay and treats it like a moral crisis, I’d say that’s homophobic. Which is exactly what Melissa said.

          I would love to just copy and paste Melissa’s last comment because it is EXACTLY how I feel. Honestly, if you believe “the exact opposite” that is fine and dandy, but I won’t stop fighting against that kind of thinking when it comes to my children because, yes, I believe that it is WRONG to treat people as less than individuals regardless of gender (which is a social construct separate from sex). I abhor the marketing that reinforces gender stereotypes in an effort to brainwash my children into believing that there is only one way to be a boy or a girl, and I will continue to disallow that kind of media in my household in addition to carefully teaching my children media literacy.

  14. carrie thompson says:

    I get what you are saying.. but what I am afraid is that Yall dont really understand that AS much as you think “WE” judge you for causing them harm with the way you choose to parent… YOU judge us. I want to raise my children to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, to be kind but also to know that much sin abounds in this world– that we are to be OFf this world but not apart of it. I dont believe that homosexuality is right, I dont believe that sleeping with people before you are married, I dont believe that abortion is right…BUT yet when I teach my children that– I am judging you! You dont get to judge those who judge. IT defeats the entire purpose… SO two rights make a wrong? No they dont.

    If your kid walked up to me with pink nail polish I would say oh how cute– to a boy or a girl. If your kid (boy) walked up to me on a normal (non halloween) day dressed as a girl I wouldnt say anything but I sure as heck with have discussion with my children if they asked.. and I wouldnt think any less of my children if they said you your boy– UM hey dude why are you wearing a dress.

    It is not culturally okay here, in a middle eastern country our kids boy and girls would have been raised wearing “dress” like clothes but here if a boy wears a dress it is NOT the norm.

    I dont think we as parents are bad because we question things like this. I think that tv, media, movies are PUSHING the agenda from every angle to MAKE it the norm. This makes ME feel like the minority? Does that make sense? I feel judged that I am doign it wrong.

    A perfectly nice christian couple- who werent like weirds cult christians..just your everday normal people were told by a judge that they could not adopt– because they were too religious. Yet a gay couple adopted the next day.

    Now I cant argue if gay couples can and should be allowed to adopt– that is not the argument I am making… wouldnt it have been switched a few years ago? YES. Not anyone who touts the Christian religioun is SOOO judgemental, and we are harming our children my teaching them such judgemtental attitudes.

    If you are honestly for everyone being treated fairly— as you want to be treated and allowed to raise YOUR son how you see fit… SO DO I.

    I dont know that I am going to be heard. I am not angry.. just trying to make a point but I just wanted people to know that We–my collective are just as tired of being judged as you are.

    And btw I am not talking about if girls can play with a tonka toy or if boys can use a baking set. the gender argument goes deeper than that… YOu might be at that point but there is a wide community who absolutely does take the thought a lot farther . There simply is a difference between a boy and a girl, but since the feminin movement we have been taught that girls can do anything boys can (which on a technicality they CAN but does that mean they are supposed to?)

  15. Carrie: As a person who is 1)a christian and 2) conservative…Please stop. You are coming across as very judgmental and a zealot and your point is being lost in your ranting. As a Christian, I am sure you are familiar w/Colossians 4:6 “Let your conversation be always full of grace, season w/salt so that you may know how to answer everyone.” I am sure your heart is in the right place in wanting to stand up for what you feel is right, but we all need to think before we speak (or write).

  16. Sigh.

    I grew up with a version of Christianity that presumed gender essentialism was part of the gospel–so much so that it forms part of the theological rationale for not ordaining women and for enforcing the literal silencing of women during worship services. Men and women were made “different” (though “spiritually equal”–and is anyone bothered by the disturbing historical valences on the phrase “different but equal”???) by God on purpose, the theology goes, and so there are “men’s roles” and “women’s roles.” Men’s roles are spiritual leadership roles: preaching, teaching, making the governing decisions for the whole church. Women’s roles = silent, behind the scenes, informal tasks, focused on children and other women. (Anyone surprised? Snort.)

    The fact that there are Christian traditions, like my own (which I am still an ill-fitting part of) which mirror, rather than challenge, the dominant cultural assumptions regarding gender identity and roles (boys do this, girls do that; boys like this, girls like that; boys should be this way, girls should be that way) is a terrible witness to the world which the church is called to be “in, but not of,” or in a word, to be counter-cultural. Instead of seeing that Christian theology has been co-opted by US culture on this matter, a deft and effective rhetorical reversal has taken place in which suddenly US culture is somehow pushing a “gay agenda” all over the place, and the embattled church must staunchly defend its sexism in the name of Jesus.

    This blows my mind–and I grew up in it. But part of growing up in this rigid, false dichotomy of gender roles in my church is what pushed me to realize that this rigidity simply does not describe the full reality of human identity. Put simply, I don’t fit. For God’s sake, I’m a straight, married, mom of 2, and even *I* don’t fit the rigid, narrow categorical concept of “Woman” handed to me by my church as if it came straight from God “Himself.” If I can spare my daughters the journey I’ve had to take to shed the misconceptions of what I’m “supposed to be” in order to be some kind of real woman, instead of discovering who I *can* be in the sight of God, then I will do whatever it takes. And this is why I am a die-hard Pigtail Pals fan. Our girls, and boys, deserve better than the restrictive, oppressive and harmful gender roles they are handed in our culture’s media–and while sitting in our church pews, sadly.

    Sorry, Melissa, for hijacking the thread for a full-on feminist theologian rant.

    • You know about Christians for Biblical Equality, right? Wonderful, sound theological resources. There’s also a good blog I’ve found called Free Methodist Feminist that I really enjoy.

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