Pop-Culture | Posted by Julie Z on 07/21/2010

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

havent heard much about her lately. Maybe its because shes, like, raising her child?

haven't heard much about her lately. Maybe it's because she's, like, raising her child?

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.

Forever 21s Maternity Line

Forever 21's Maternity Line

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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  • Samuel W. @ at 11:42 am, July 21st, 2010

    The mud has been muddied. We’re told from the conservatives, “Abstain because condoms don’t work and the lord will punish you.” The media says, “It’s normal to be pregnant, chill out!” Liberals tend to tell us, “Use birth control and condoms and make sure you’re really ready”. The third of these three is the one I agree with fully, but the lines become blurred when we have all this contradiction in these so-called ‘culture wars’ between the conservative Christians and liberals. When all these opinions tend to overlap in our daily lives, everything becomes a big blur and nothing seems to make sense anymore.

  • Danielle @ at 12:17 pm, July 21st, 2010

    I hate to admit it, but 16 and Pregnant is one of my guilty pleasure shows (I usually refrain from watching anything on MTV). It’s not that I “like” seeing these girls struggle (that would be twisted!), but it’s interesting to see how they try to juggle school, friends, jobs, and actually having a LIFE with trying to raise a baby (which they’re pretty clueless about in the first place).

    If anything, I don’t think the show is trying to glamorize teenage pregnancy – I think it’s purpose is to get teens thinking twice about their sexuality by showing the harsh realities of parenthood: sleepless nights, changing diapers, lack of a social life, nagging parents, imperfect relationships, etc.

    Just yesterday the BOYS in my Driver’s Ed class were talking about the show (to my amazement) and were saying things like “now that’s some instant birth control right there!” Very few kids would actually want to trade their carefree, responsibility-free teenage years to become parents…right?

    As for Forever 21′s teenage maternity line… that is just wrong :(

  • Ina @ at 1:43 pm, July 21st, 2010

    Aaaarh!
    Is that picture-fact for realz?
    I don’t understand American sex-ed.
    Do the conservatives really believe teens wont have sex if they are harrased that way?
    The only number I can find for us Danes is that 6,6 children were born for every 1000 15-19 year-old in 2002… And you guys have 33,33 per 100?
    That’s… wow.

  • Julie Z @ at 2:11 pm, July 21st, 2010

    the rate is actually about 71.5 pregnancies per 1000 women aged 15-19, so i am changing that picture now.

  • Leah @ at 3:11 pm, July 21st, 2010

    Brilliant.

  • Nuclear Rainbow @ at 4:28 pm, July 21st, 2010

    I wanted to say exactly what Danielle said. That show is showing the reality of teenage pregnancy and is certainly not glamorizing it.

    And sometimes I am so happy that I live in the Netherlands, where the rate of teen pregnancy is much lower.

    /NR

  • Zoe Y. @ at 5:36 pm, July 21st, 2010

    I agree with the general view point of this post. But still…teen moms have to wear maternity clothes. Maybe regular maternity clothes aren’t shaped properly for pregnant teens. And I’m sure that just because a young woman is pregnant doesn’t mean that she wants to wear sweatpants and baggy t-shirts for 9 months. It doesn’t kill anyone to like wearing nice looking clothing

    I agree that it seems a little creepy what Forever 21 is doing and I don’t think pregnancy should be encouraged for teens who aren’t ready for it. But saying that it’s a terrible thing to “normalize” teenage pregnancy…well, let’s accept these girls as they are and just continue to work on preventing accidental pregnancies. Shaming pregnant teenagers and saying they shouldn’t be accepted as normal isn’t going to get anyone anywhere.

    Just trying to look at the situation from a different angle here :)

  • scary joann @ at 5:58 pm, July 21st, 2010

    Teen moms need to teach their kids about birth control. Teen moms on tv need to talk about birth control.
    No one in my old high school knew anything about birth control. The middle school science teacher seduced and later married a girl in the class below me. With the school boards blessing. I say stop trying to educate them at school, start educating them at home… through TV. Not commercials with women in a pool representing pills, actual teens discussing different birth control option on Pretty Little Liars or something.

  • Erin @ at 7:38 pm, July 21st, 2010

    Preach sister! Very well put.

  • FYI @ at 8:08 pm, July 21st, 2010

    I am not arguing against you at all, I think teen pregnancy should be un-normalized, too. But from Forever 21′s point of view, the whole mission of their store is to feel as if you are forever the age of 21. Women of all ages shop there, whether it be teens, young adults or even forty-year-olds. Although it is not a great idea to portray being pregnant at 21 normal, the store does have shoppers in their, say, thirties that are pregnant but still want to feel YOUNG.

  • Niamh @ at 8:45 pm, July 21st, 2010

    Poorly researched article. The first states the stores are opening are Arizona, Alaska, California, Utah and Texas. Only Arizona, California, and Texas are on the list of the ten states with the most pregnancies among women aged 15-19. The state with the greatest number of teen pregnancies per 1,000 teens, Nevada, 113 pregnancies, is not going to enjoy the new Love 21 pregnancy line.

    So why California, Texas and Arizona? California is simple: it’s population is huge as the most populated U.S. state. California already has an abundance of Forever 21 stores, including the flag ship store and the largest store by square feet. Why wouldn’t they introduce a new line there?

    How about Texas? Once again, population! Texas is the second most populated U.S. state. A quick scan of the Forever 21 website also showed me that Forever 21 has over THIRTY stores in Texas. Once again, Forever 21 is a business; their clothes sell well there obviously (hence the thirty-plus stores) so why wouldn’t they introduce a new line?

    As for Arizona: yes, Arizona has the second number of teen pregnancies per thousand pregnancies in the U.S. Yes, it’s not that large. Yes, so perhaps Forever 21 was targeting Arizona because of the teen moms. I don’t think this is a problem. Is the line advertised as a line for teenage mothers? No. Are teens the only people who shop at Forever 21? No. Are the advertisements featuring teen mothers? No.

    Just to repeat myself… IT’S NOT A TEEN PREGNANCY LINE. IT’S A PREGNANCY LINE. If you use your logic, pregnant women just shouldn’t wear clothes, you know?

  • The Raisin Girl @ at 9:14 pm, July 21st, 2010

    Yeah, I think this trend of apathy and desensitization is inevitable. I personally stopped being shocked by teen pregnancy in sixth grade, when they read us the statistics for teen pregnancy in our county during Health Week, and the age of the youngest teen mother in the county was…eleven. Wtf? I wasn’t even CAPABLE of getting pregnant at eleven. So after that, NOTHING surprised me.

    I was also very fortunate to grow up in a town that subscribed to abstinence-mostly education. They’d give you all the birth control options and their statistics, give you all the terrifying stories and gross pictures of STDs, and then remind you that the only way to be 100% safe was abstinence. Over and over again.

    I do think there should be more support for teenagers that do end up pregnant. I mean, lots of them just don’t have all the facts about sex, STDs, OR birth control, end up pregnant, and then are forsaken by the very same parents and teachers who wouldn’t TELL them anything. I think if young girls were more educated on all fronts about sexuality, teen pregnancy would decrease. And in cases where it DOES happen, girls need support from their parents, friends, and other people in their lives.

    I’m just not sure that support should come in the form of a hip new clothing line?

  • A @ at 8:59 am, July 22nd, 2010

    I think the Forever 21 maternity line seems a little weird. By the way, another example of teen pregnancy in the media is Quinn on Glee, though it wasn’t easy for her. If I had to choose a stance on this, I guess that I’d choose what Samuel W. outlined as the “liberal” opinion… but I’m not sure yet.

  • Julie Z @ at 10:19 am, July 22nd, 2010

    @Niamh

    I understand that Forever 21 is not JUST a store for teenage girls (as I mentioned on a discussion on the FBomb’s Facebook page). However, its two largest demographics are 18-30 AND 13-17, meaning a heck of a lot of their customers are teenagers. I’m happy that pregnant women now have a more affordable option for maternity line, but ignoring the fact that this store is equally shopped at by teens would be to overlook a huge aspect of this issue.

    But, really, the Forever 21 maternity line is NOT the point of this article, rather it is one example amongst many. I am arguing that there is now a less vigilant attitude in the media – and social consciousness – towards teen pregnancy, and that teens need more ACTUAL, COMPREHENSIVE information about sex, pregnancy and STDs.

  • from Headcount.org: Is Forever 21 Normalizing Teen Pregnancy? | 99Problems @ at 4:11 pm, July 22nd, 2010

    [...] teen blogger is “freaking pissed” over retailer Forever 21’s recently launched maternity line–marketed [...]

  • Melissa @ at 8:48 am, July 23rd, 2010

    I don’t think education about birth control and encouraging women to believe they can do more than become teen mothers is opposed to the concept of making actually affordable maternity clothing that just happens to be available to teenagers as well as women in their twenties (which, as you’ve pointed out, is Forever 21′s actual primary demographic.)

    The two things aren’t mutually exclusive.

    You’re right that, as feminists, advocating for better knowledge of birth control and reproductive options is something we should definitely be engaged in. But then again, as feminists, I believe it’s also our responsibility to fight against the slut-shaming that happens with teen mothers, and when someone makes a mistake (or even a choice), to support rather than shame them. There’s no reason we can’t do both.

  • Natalia @ at 12:47 pm, July 23rd, 2010

    I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with this new pregnancy line from forever 21. First of all, I know a lot of older women who shop there, and I’m sure they’d be thrilled that they have a pregnancy line. I know the store is mainly targeted to teens, but that doesn’t mean that all teenage girls will be like “I LOVE that top. I’ll get pregnant to be able to wear it!”. I do agree that it’s annoying how this topic is everywhere, which is why it shouldn’t be in the media, but not clothing stores. Our clothes are part of our everyday lives. It’s ok for pregnant girls to want to look good in their clothes. And no, other girls won’t get pregnant just to wear it.

  • Forever 21′s New Maternity Line Makes Teen Pregnancy Normal : Ms Magazine Blog @ at 8:37 pm, July 23rd, 2010

    [...] It doesn’t really matter whether discount clothing retailer Forever 21 is specifically targeting pregnant teens with their new trendy maternity line, Love 21 Maternity. With 65 percent of their clientele under the age of 24, the real issue here is the normalization of teen pregnancy. [...]

  • Tara @ at 12:42 am, July 24th, 2010

    I don’t think it’s bad that teen pregnancy is normalized. It’s something that, sadly, happens in our society everyday. So why should it not be talked about and presented in media? Why shouldn’t people be unsurprised by it? It’s nothing new.

    The real issue is PREVENTING teen pregnancy. So, definitely, teens should get real, comprehensive sex education that enables them to make the right choices for themselves. Not mentioning teen pregnancy, or treating it as a rare occurrence, is wrong. It alienates the people that go through it and effectively slut-shames them.

    I also have to point out that Forever 21 has a very diverse consumer base. Women of all ages shop there, so I don’t see why it would be wrong for them to have a pregnancy line. It’s not specifically aimed at anyone apart from pregnant women. They’re not telling teenage girls, specifically, “You must get pregnant NOW so you can wear this!”.

  • Meaghan @ at 10:38 am, July 25th, 2010

    Teen pregnancy can’t be controlled but it can be curb by the correct sex education, responsible parents and accurate information. I don’t think the clothes nor the shows are portraying the image that teen pregnancy is encouraging. Shows educate young teen moms about their future and their responsibility of bringing a young one up, it also transmits the message to other young girls out there that teen pregnancy is tedious and taxing. About Forever 21′s clothing line, the girls will get a chance to see how they will look like if they were to wear maternity clothes at such a young age. Furthermore, the clothes displayed aren’t as fashionable or trendy, it’s clearly not suggesting the girls to be pregnant in order to wear them. I believe there are two sides to everything. I’m once as glad that more shows are beginning to show awareness to the social issue of teen pregnancy and how it should be handled.

  • Emily S. @ at 3:56 pm, July 26th, 2010

    I have to agree with what other people have been saying about MTV’s “16 and pregnant” – it makes me, as well as everyone I know who’s watched it, react in a way that’s something like “Wow, I never want to have sex again. Well, not never, but I never want to go through THAT!” IMO, it’s a very effective form of birth control because it shows that teenage motherhood is hard work and emotionally draining, and it’s not glamorous or fun.

    As far as Forever 21′s maternity line, there are two things that stick in my mind: First of all, if a store sells fashionable clothes, or clothes targeted at women under 30, then unless they set their prices ridiculously high they’re going to have girls as young as middle school age shopping there – in other words, there’s nowhere really to sell fashionable maternity clothes that won’t have a huge teenage demographic to begin with. Second, I come from a rural and religious background, so I know lots and lots of girls who were married at 18-21, and became pregnant within a year of that. As a result, I see nothing “wrong” with a store that targets a college-age demographic launching a maternity line, and considering the lack of similarly trendy and/or affordable maternity lines from other stores, it actually seems like a pretty good idea.

  • Nadia D @ at 4:03 pm, July 29th, 2010

    Good article! Recently, my friend came to me, telling me she was afraid that she may be pregnant (in the end, she wasn’t but thats besides the point). So, I helped her, I told her about her OPTIONS (giving up your life to raise a baby when you’re already a baby yourself vs safe abortion) she’s a little squicky when it comes to abortions, but she knew that it would surely come to it because she does not want to raise a kid.

    All in all, I didn’t tell her how LUCKY she was, or how amazing it’ll feel eating for two, because teen pregnancy is not fun at all, and should never be sold to people that way. (16 and Pregnant is ok since it shows the realities). Also, my friend told me her boyfriend was using “the pull out method” and it was sad, because when schools teach you how NOT TO HAVE SEX EVER, they never tell you the best way to have safe sex and not the “pull out method”.

    P.S. I confided to my ex about this, and he calls her a whore and says “she deserves it because she had sex with all of those guys”. Never talking to him again, and I can’t belive I ever liked him. :/

  • gina @ at 12:32 am, August 6th, 2010

    Pregnancy happens. Even if you consistently use birth control and practice safe sex. Why not sell fashionable clothes to pregnant teens? What else are they going to wear while pregnant?

    Besides, there aren’t enough places that sell attractive affordable maternity wear anyway. Pregnant women in their 20′s and 30′s, whose pregnancies may be planned, can also benefit from an affordable, fashionable maternity line. Pregnancy is normal. Why not dress it up in cheap cute clothes?

  • More highlights from #Berks2011 « Knitting Clio @ at 9:33 am, June 14th, 2011

    [...] that “With 65 percent of their clientele under the age of 24, the real issue here is the normalization of teen pregnancy.”  Many of the commentators rightly clobbered Ms for that one — some observed that [...]

  • Dr Phil Show @ at 10:48 pm, September 18th, 2011

    If you are a teen and interested in speaking with your family and Dr. Phil about Teen Pregancy, email the show today for our next upcoming show!

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