Cotton On

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.