Reproductive Rights / Women and Gender

Papa Don’t Preach: Is Forever 21’s New Maternity Line Glorifying Teen Motherhood?

At work the other day, my pregnant co-worker looked up from her computer aghast and cried, “Did you know that Forever 21 has a maternity line?!”  Although women far older than 21 (ahem…me!) certainly shop at the trendy clothing store, women aged 21 and younger comprise the store’s demographic.  While my coworker was bothered by the implications of a teen maternity line, it didn’t really bother me.  The reality is that there are teen moms; why not have clothing to accommodate them?  Or is it harmful and glorifying teen pregnancy?

Some chastised Forever 21 for the launch of its maternity line, called Love 21 Maternity.  According to CNN,

“The chain came under scrutiny when bloggers from the fashion site The Gloss noted last week that the states chosen to carry the line [Arizona, Alaska, California, Utah and Texas] also have high rates for teen pregnancies.  Texas, Arizona and California are among the top 15 states with the highest teen pregnancy rates, according to a report from the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization that conducts sexual and reproductive health research. California and Texas have the highest number of teen pregnancies, according to Guttmacher.”

In a statement responding to the backlash, Forever 21’s executive president Larry Meyer said,

“Forever 21 did not create, design or distribute Love 21 Maternity to target, or appeal specifically to pregnant teens. Any relationship between teen pregnancy rates and the locations of our stores is unintentional.”

Now whether or not that’s true, who knows?  I mean, this guy MUST be aware of the fact of the trend of teen moms and how that’s an untapped niche market.  It’s a brilliant marketing campaign when you stop and think about it.  I would respect him more if he just came out and said that’s what they had planned.  But of course the retaliation would probably be even stronger if he did.  But I think it’s nice when stores like Forever 21 or Target offer budget-friendly maternity clothes.  So many maternity clothes cost a fortune and when you consider that you’ll only be wearing them for a few months; it seems ludicrous to spend more than $20 or $30 on a tunic or leggings.  And as I’ve been told, it’s hard to find affordable AND cute maternity clothes.  So is Forever 21 merely innovating or responding to culture?

There’s been a recent surge in pop culture about pregnant teens.  Celebs Bristol Palin and Jamie Lynn Spears received an exorbitant amount of media coverage for their teen pregnancies.  The movie Juno, featuring Ellen Page as a pregnant high school student, was a huge critical darling as well as a crowd-pleaser.  TV shows like Friday Night Lights and Private Practice have dealt with pregnant teens choosing abortions, a rarity as so few TV shows actually depict a character contemplating and then going through with an abortion.  Making the opposite choice, TV shows Glee and Secret Life of the American Teenager showcase unwed teens giving birth and contending with the difficulties of being a teen mom.

Some might even decry the downfall of our youth with the MTV documentary show 16 and Pregnant and its spin-off Teen Mom idolizing teen pregnancy.  But neither show in any way, shape or form glorifies teen parenthood.  Rather they’re a cautionary tale, warning teens of the difficulties of having to forgo hanging out with friends and put goals like college on the back burner when you have diapers to change and a crying baby to feed.  Having watched them (ah what I do in the name of research), I think these two shows might be the best forms of birth control out there!

Discussing the increase of pregnant teens in pop culture, Will Neville from Advocates for Youth, a D.C.-based nonprofit, said,

“The media is a great reflection of where we are as a culture.  Certainly when it comes to pregnancy you are starting to see more and more TV shows that incorporate it. You are starting to see less of a stigma for the teen.”

However, there are many aspects of teen sexuality that we as a society haven’t discussed or broached.  Neville goes on to say,

“We are acknowledging young people’s sexuality and acknowledging teenage pregnancy.  But there are still vast cultural silences around contraception, around abortion and in some cases about homosexuality, where young people are living lives that are much more nuanced than we are willing to acknowledge.”

A new study released earlier this year, indicated a rise in teen pregnancies and abortions. The recently released results of a survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control found that an increase of female teens employ the rhythm method as birth control.  Many reproductive rights advocates blame the Bush Administration’s penchant for funding abstinence-only education in schools.  Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood, stated,

“This new study makes it crystal clear that abstinence-only sex education for teenagers does not work, and it should serve as a wake-up call to anyone who still believes that teenagers aren’t sexually active or that abstinence-only programs curb the rate of teen pregnancy.  We applaud President Obama and members of Congress who have recognized that abstinence-only programs do not work, and who are investing in medically accurate, age-appropriate sex education for our teenagers.”

With hormones raging out of control, teens have sex; always have and probably always will.  Which is one of the reasons abstinence-only education doesn’t work and why we need fantastic comprehensive sex education.  We need to equip teens with accurate information to protect themselves from STDs and pregnancy.  But teen pregnancies don’t just affect the teens involved; they impact future generations as well.

According to the website Stayteen.org, published by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, here are some disconcerting facts and results of teen pregnancy:

  • Three out of ten teenage girls in the United States get pregnant at least once before age 20
  • The United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world — twice as high as in England or Canada and eight times as high as in the Netherlands or Japan.
  • Parenthood is the leading reason why teen girls drop out of school. Less than half of teen mothers ever graduate from high school and fewer than two percent earn a college degree by age 30.
  • Children of teen mothers do worse in school than those born to older parents — they are 50 percent more likely to repeat a grade, are less likely to complete high school than the children of older mothers, and have lower performance on standardized tests.
  • Two-thirds of families begun by a young unmarried mother are poor. More than half of all mothers on welfare had their first child as a teenager.
  • Teen mothers are likely to have a second birth relatively soon — about one-fourth of teenage mothers have a second child within 24 months of the first birth — which can further impede their ability to finish school or keep a job, and to escape poverty.
  • The daughters of young teen mothers are three times more likely to become teen mothers themselves.  The sons of teen mothers are twice as likely to end up in prison.

I’ve never understood the apprehension over comprehensive sex education.  I’m also the same person who learned where babies came from at the age of 3 and horrified my father’s mother with this newly discovered information!  Some people freak out as if teaching kids about anatomy and reproduction is going to make them run out and have sex.  Hate to break it to you, if they’re going to do it, they’re going to do so with or without the information, and it’s better if they’re armed with the knowledge of how to protect themselves.

I wonder if the Forever 21 Maternity line makes people uncomfortable because people don’t want to envision teens as potentially sexual beings.  Perhaps thinking about it is a reminder that their own children are growing up, and some parents would prefer to remember their children as young babies rather than budding adults.  Or maybe it’s just a protective reaction.  Whatever the reasons, parents and teachers need to open up the dialogue and equip our youth with sex education.  We need to recognize the reality that teens ARE having sex and ARE having babies.  So female teens might as well look cute if they happen to be wearing maternity clothes anyways.

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10 thoughts on “Papa Don’t Preach: Is Forever 21’s New Maternity Line Glorifying Teen Motherhood?

  1. Great posting! It may seem cold that Forever 21 might be taking advantage of a bad situation with their release of a maternity line (and make no mistake, teen pregnancy is pretty much never a GOOD thing) but that’s just business for you. You take advantage of markets that are open to you. These kids aren’t going to get pregnant to buy Forever 21 clothes (if they were I’d be scared) but would instead be buying the clothes because they’re pregnant.

  2. I am totally with you on this one Megan. Forever 21’s new maternity line is not going to encourage young girls to get pregnant. No one is going to think “That tunic looks cute, so I’d better get pregnant so that I can wear it.” Teens do have sex, and they should! That’s when their bodies are maturing and when they are starting to get interested in using those bodies too. Teens do get pregnant when there aren’t birth control options and there is a lack of education about sex and its consequences.
    I understand that people don’t like to think about that sort of thing, but I think the people who are so uncomfortable about it have completely forgotten about what it was like to be a teen. Sex was all around you and completely normal when you are 16, and yet some parents and educators completely forget about that.
    Forever 21 is also one of the few retailers aimed at the teen market that carries a plus sized line (Faith 21), but is anyone saying that the clothier is encouraging weight gain? No. It’s simply serving an existing demographic that prefers not to wear paper bags to school.

  3. I may be in the minority here, but i do believe overweight teens should, in fact, wear paper bags to school.

    Seriously, while i have never heard of Forever 21 (until now), i’m not buying the line that it’s pure coincidence that their teen maternity wear line, just happens to be sprouting in locales with higher teen pregnancy rates.

    “Golly! I done guess we picked the right places, Jeb!
    Whoo-eeeee!”

    This “suit” should be honest & say, “Forever 21’s goal is to make money, to make lots of money, and as a company, we will exploit any market we see fit to accomplish this goal.
    Teen pregnancy is a hot trend right now, a virtual pot of gold, at the end of the retail rainbow.
    While others may look at it as a tragedy, Forever 21 looks at it as an opportunity.”

    Corporate America is completely transparent on every level, yet most of us expect to be lied to & become outraged, if we’re not.

    As for “hip” maternity wear for pregnant teens, i guess everybody has a right to “cute” clothes.

    Why not?

    • Wow, you believe overweight teens should were paper bags to school? You didn’t say pregnant teens but OVERWEIGHT teens. How prejudice.

      Seriously, you really need to get real? The whole point of selling a product is to supply the consumer with latest demand. Supply and Demand, every heard of it? Attacking Forever 21 for doing what all producers are suppose to do is quite ridiculous and pointless. Teens get pregnant and need clothes to wear. It’s a fact. One that you need to get over.

      • Kaya, though i did not say “pregnant teens”, i will extend my paper-bag statement to encompass not only overweight teens, but pregnant teens as well.
        I believe anyone that has unprotected sex, while i don’t have any sex (protected or unprotected), should be punished, accordingly.

        Now, before you view me as some sort of monster, let me assure you that i subscribe to the “paper-bag” only rule.
        No plastic sacks!
        While i believe the obese & the pregnant should be required to be clothed in limited apparel, i do not condone any sort of suffocation tactics.

  4. Speaking as someone who actually knows Julian in person, while he may come off as a little insensitive in his speech, I’m fairly certain he was just joking.

    Also, I don’t think anyone here thinks there’s anything WRONG with how Forever 21 is doing it’s business, just that they obviously know what they’re doing but are feigning ignorance to avoid public backlash. However, just because ALL companies are doing something a certain way doesn’t make it RIGHT. It just makes it normal.

  5. Julian,

    Does your brain consist of nothing but dust bunnies and old issues of Star magazine? Of course pregnant and overweight girls should NOT wear paper bags to school. Paper rips. Do we really want to see all that obese teen flesh popping out of a paper bag like David Banner shredding his clothes after the OJ verdict? I don’t think so.

    Clearly the only solution is for these girls to stay home until they return to socially approved physical dimensions, thus not needing clothes at all.

    As an additional benefit, the state won’t be wasting money educating girls that are just going to wind up on welfare anyway.

    A win-win for us all.

    • Beepy,

      You have a way with words.
      And those words have inspired a poem:

      Paper or plastic, our measures are drastic,
      teenaged girls with idle hands…
      Unwed mothers & one night stands,

      Forever 21 be all up in my situation,
      baggin’ that money in the name of exploitation,
      buyin’ a shirt, even though they ain’t worthy,
      tryin’ to conceal a belly the size of New Jersey…

      Who am i to dictate what’s trendy,
      maybe my brain ain’t user friendly,
      Kaya say i’m silly, maybe un-enlightened…
      Like i got loose screws that need to be tightened.

      I’m out.
      Peace.

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