What’s Wrong With “Normalizing” Teen Pregnancy?

Forever 21′s New Maternity Line Makes Teen Pregnancy Normal,” an article from the Ms. Magazine blog, makes me feel more than just a little bit uncomfortable. Here’s a short excerpt:

How about information on pregnancy options, counseling and pre- and post-natal care? Not trendy clothes. The U.S. ranks number one among industrialized nations for teen pregnancy, and just 12th worldwide for post-secondary degree completion. Linda Chang, Forever 21′s senior marketing manager, can claim they’re simply trying to appeal to a new demographic, and not exploiting the outrageously high number of teen moms with little money in the U.S., but the point is that a 20-something model in maternity clothes isn’t even shocking anymore. It’s an integral part of the “raw-capitalism-as-spectacle-a-go-go” model that F21 has founded its business on. It doesn’t matter who’s shopping, only that they’re buying. […]

As a company whose audience is made up mostly of girls under 24, Forever 21 has the option to behave responsibly and not perpetuate a very destructive norm. How about we offer proper sex ed to American youth? How about we talk about what it’s really like to be a mom–the money it takes, the time it takes, the effects on a young woman’s body–instead of making teen pregnancy a mere fact of life in the US with shows like 16 and Pregnant?

First of all, no amount of trendy clothing is going to change people’s perceptions of pregnant teenagers. Pregnant teenagers are still going to have to deal with the silent and vocal judgment, stares, and so on that we get glimpses of on shows like 16 and Pregnant. This sucks and if normalizing teen pregnancy means removing that judgment and stigmatization that these young women face then I am all for it… but I don’t see how a few more clothing options can do all of that.

Life is not a zero-sum game. Providing maternity clothing aimed towards young women is not going to somehow cut down on the amount of time and resources that schools, families, and other community resources put towards educating teenagers about safer sex practices. True, Forever21 is not hosting resources on their website or giving away condoms with purchases (though these are both cool ideas that came out of the Ms. blog article, and it’d be awesome to see Forever 21 implement them.) Still, I’d argue that this line has actually done something fairly decent by bringing more visibility to pregnant teenagers and inspiring news agencies to focus on the issue of teen pregnancy.

Wanting to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies does not require stigmatizing the young women who get pregnant. All stigmatization does is hurt women and make their pregnancies harder than pregnancy already is… that doesn’t seem like a very feminist goal to me at all. In fact, this whole thing just reeks of the kind of logic that feminist blogs have taken issue with time and time again when it’s leveled towards plus-sized clothing retailers accused of “normalizing” obesity.

Back to the topic at hand: this one comment, from user Nectarine, on the Ms. Blog provides some insight that I cannot give, and does a good job of summing up my feelings on this issue.

As a woman who WAS pregant at 19/20, I can tell you it would have been great to buy some maternity clothes that looked like my normal clothes, and that were in an affordable price range.

However, the fact that I was uncomfortably and unfashionably dressed did not make me regret being pregnant. I wanted my baby, and at 20, I was a capable young mother – NOT a teenage suffering from lack of education about my choices.

This post really missed the mark.

If Forever 21 wants to provide pregnant teenagers with familiar, comfortable clothing options, thus, making their pregnancy a bit less stressful… where exactly is the problem with that? Am I missing something?

** After this post was made the title of the piece was changed to “Forever 21′s Maternity Line: What About Corporate Responsibility?” I just want to make it clear that the title I referenced above was not written by me, rather, it was the original title of the piece (as evidenced by the URL where the piece is still located.)

6 thoughts on “What’s Wrong With “Normalizing” Teen Pregnancy?

  1. Thanks for this. You’re absolutely right. I’ve been pretty horrified by the amount of hand-wringing I’ve seen around the feminist blogosphere about this. That concern troll shit is best left to anti-feminists. It should have no place with us.

  2. Pingback: Ms. Gets it Wrong on Forever 21 « Gender Focus

  3. Yeah, I’m also a little perturbed by that entry – plenty of younger women, not just teens, shop at Forever 21. Seems like it’s good that there’s more options for pregnant women to dress as they please?

    Additionally…. what exactly is so wrong with a 20something being pregnant? Young teen pregnancy, I can slightly see their point – though teenagers should have the ability to negotiate their bodies as they please, it’s still problematic to have women without many job skills having babies – but I see nothing at all wrong with women in their twenties having kids. As a 20something who plans to have kids before 30 – wtf?

  4. Great post.

    I think another perk of the “familiar” that you mention in your last sentence is the fact that teens and other young moms might still shop F21 with their friends. Being a teen mother can be extremely isolating, and part of the “normalizing” qualities of a store like this (though I guess I’m not totally clear if the Love21 line is going to be a freestanding store or carried within F21) might be helping some young women continue some of their “normal activities” while pregnant.

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