Line of risque T-shirts has family groups outraged

Somehow, there is a new level of risque attained when you slap sexual messages on a four month old. I’m still trying NOT to picture my sweet little cherubs kicking about in a T-shirt with “I’m living proof my mum is easy” slapped on the front. Even if he does have four siblings, it does not seem to be the place for opening that kind of cultural dialogue. After all, what is a T-shirt slogan, if not a sort of pre-Twitter medium for expressing your message quickly, succinctly and to a broad audience?

Katherine Hamnett, whose T-shirts The Guardian credits with becoming the cultural signposts of our times, says of the medium:

“I wanted to put a really large message on T-shirts that could be read from 20 or 30ft away,” she says now. “Slogans work on so many different levels; they’re almost subliminal. They’re also a way of people aligning themselves to a cause. They’re tribal. Wearing one is like branding yourself.” The Guardian

Aligning yourself to a cause. Connecting yourself to other people. Branding yourself. You have five seconds and the passing eye of a distracted stranger.

What do you want to tell the world about your cause and yourself?

Maybe “The Condom Broke”?  Or “I’m a t*** man.”  (Without the asterisks, of course.)  Or how about “I’m bringing sexy back”?  On an infant!

Julee Gale, director of Kids Free 2b Kids, bought some items at Cotton On Kids (I presume for education purposes) and is outraged by the messages carried by these shirts that may be conveyed to young people.

“I reckon there should be a penalty and there needs to be an awareness campaign with retailers about what’s appropriate and what’s actually harmful,” she said.

“They don’t get that it’s . . . harmful. It’s all part of a continuum of sexualisation of kids. It’s about the mental health of our children.”

But is it really the retailers that need education? What if, in response to this collection, Australia decides to regulate the messages that can be printed on t-shirts marketed to or for youth? Would anything really change? The items on the rack at your local department store are, after all, an effect of the culture we live in, not the cause of it. Certainly there is a bit of a circular relationship between marketers and the market, especially when the marketers are successful in attaching their products to other things already sought after (think High School Musical merchandising!).

But a T-shirt slogan? For this collection to become a colossal flop would speak loudly and clearly to Cotton On and other clothing manufacturers and retailers about the inappropriateness of both the message and the medium. Rallying family groups? Not so long as the collection is turning a profit.

The collection bothers me. That product designers, marketing directors and retailers wanted to design, advertise and sell this collection bothers me.

But really it is the fact that there are parents who are willing to buy them that bothers me most. Your child is not your vehicle for sexual-expression.

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25 Responses

  1. Since you are speaking of Australia, have you heard of clean feed? Aus. government will get rid of that bad kid porn and stuff FOR YOU. They will decide what you can see.

    PS I’m not drinking Pepsi, but then I’m not making a stink about it to the company, either. It seems a bit of a hypocrisy to stomp about a soft drink company sponsoring a gay pride parade, and then continue to drive our SUVs and support Wahhabi Islam. Link:

    It isn’t as though the Saudis get the message loud and clear that banning the Bible and persecuting minority religion (or lack thereof) is going to lead to people not purchasing their products.

  2. I share your outrage on this topic. Not long ago I saw a child with a t-shirt that said “Bad to the Bone.” What on earth are those parents thinking?

  3. It’s an extension of the “children as accessory” phenomenon. It’s funny, it’s clever, it’s hip and look how cool I am. Of course it never enters the parents’ mind what this might do to their child, it’s not about the child. It’s about them.

  4. Your concern is justified, we are what we think. It is up to responsible parents to teach correct principles to our children, even our grown children out on their own. Giving in to sloppy thoughts and putting them on t-shirts rejects the best in all of us. While I’m not for censorship, that being the government stepping in to do what the individual should already be doing; I am in favor of individuals and businesses stepping up to the line and doing their own bit of self censorship and keeping trash out of the market place. If nobody purchases a product it soon vanishes from the market, a self correcting natural form of censorship works in a society of self disciplined individuals.

  5. At the state fair I saw a ten year old girl running around with a playboy bunny baseball cap. That disturbed me. Does she even understand what it is she is identifying herself with?

    And children as accessory? That is one of those roads the perhaps should remain less traveled.

  6. I received some size 3-4T clothes for girls on Freecycle recently. One of the dresses had SEXY printed in large letters down the front. I can’t imagine any scenario in which it is viewed as appropriate or cute for a preschool girl to be declaring herself as sexy. Even if considered from the children-as-accessory angle, what exactly would the parent be trying to say (other than perhaps “I’m completely clueless”?

  7. Shauna, I’m lost on that one. The more overt the sexual message, the more I’m baffled.

    Other than perhaps fashion is so much a part of some people’s lives that as they are accessorizing their children, fashion has become so tied to acceptance within a culture that the messages are not at all critically evaluated.

    We want our kids to be accepted, and socialization into that world begins early?

  8. These sexy message t-shirts for babies and kids make my stomach turn. Another low.

    I recall a few years ago the Abercrombie shirts for tweens had sexual innuendo for specific sexual acts. Gross.

  9. I looked at one of their catalogs once and really began wondering where the line is between “hip” and pornographic. I suppose maybe the models were 18? Posing as someone younger and marketed to someone younger? I don’t know, but it crossed some boundaries for me, that’s for sure.

    And how do you sell jeans via some girl not actually wearing any?

  10. This post is just a continuation of my thoughts about our society lately. There are NO boundaries and many people just seems to not care or are so caught up in their life’s stresses that they can’t see what is going on in our world.

  11. My 16-yo son’s take on this is that he is not a billboard. He refuses to wear any t-shirt that has writing on it. He has held this opinion since the time he was old enough to tell me to stop buying him the dumb SpongeBob shirts. 🙂

    Shorts with “Juicy” across the backside seem unnecessarily slutty to me, too. Or even the “Dancer” logo that some of the local schools seem to favor.


  12. Maybe first we need a general word for this kind of cheap, trashy, unhealthful fashion, something like the cultural degradation of junk food. Junk wear?

  13. In regards to shorts with things written across the back: I really believe that girls should not be wearing these. It is akin to saying, “Look at my rear!” Quite frankly, I don’t think ANYONE needs to be looking at the rear of a 4, 8, 12, 15 year old girl. And, the idea that parents and schools would encourage this is amazing to me.

  14. But it’s just preaching to the choir if all we do is cluck and say “ain’t it awful.” That’s not even definition of the problem, much less sufficient direction for how to change it.

    Wonder what might actually help?

  15. JJ, We could go around yelling “UNCLEAN” and throwing robes at people. If they were those big, fluffy terricloth robes, maybe people wouldn’t mind the yelling so much.

    More seriously, what can be done? Some people may be too stupid to deserve the freedom to dress their own children, but I don’t know if I want to go down that particular road.

  16. Gee, April. And I was just thinking maybe we should behave like the animal rights groups whenever fur, faux or genuine, is brought out. Spray paint!!!

  17. Just as I was thinking maybe mashed carrots might be more appropriate since we are throwing it at innocent babies and all.

  18. Well, go contemplate. Because I’m tempted to start approaching these people with the lines, “Pedophiles everywhere love your taste in clothing.”

  19. To answer JJ’s question, my theory is that many parents are suffering from perpetual adolescence. It is cool to be a teenager even if you are old enough to qualify for SS. Immaturity is practically a badge of honor.

    There was a time when children desired and aspired to be grown-ups, but that has reversed itself to the point where parents are using their children as pawns in their continued process of ‘self-actualization’ or some other numbskull psychological term for what is basically self-centered navel-gazing.

    So it doesn’t surprise me that a company would want to market products to parents who fit the adolescent demographic in the maturity dept.

  20. For the “my mom is easy” shirt I’d be tempted to go up to her and ask how much she charges. Or if she charges at all, being easy and all that.

  21. I totally agree that it is inappropriate. How can we teach our children good morals and how to behave appropriately and then allow sexual references on their clothing? If anyone knows the proper way to fight this so that it can eventually be banned because of public outcry, please pass it on. Freedom of speech has been twisted out of proportion and lost all sense of decency; then we wonder why out society has gone downhill.

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