The ever-trendy, ever-crappy Forever 21 is launching a new line of maternity clothing called Love21, which like the rest of their clothes, is aimed at teenage girls. The Gloss reports that the line will only be available in 5 states – 3 of which (Arizona, California, and Texas) happen to be on the list of states with the highest rates of teen pregnancy. Coincidence? Of course not.
The Gloss suggests that this is “brilliant marketing” to an existing customer base that addresses the need for maternity wear for teens. This raised a lot of red flags for me, as I remembered the fuss over MTV’s Teen Mom and the cries that today teen pregnancy and teen motherhood is being glorified by the media. Now will it be glorified by the fashion industry?
There is a bit of the “chicken or the egg” dilemma at work here. Does providing teen maternity wear help glorify – and therefore increase – teen pregnancy? Or does providing teen maternity wear fill a pre-existing need, and perhaps validate the choices of young women, or at least help them avoid some of the stigma of being a pregnant teen by still looking hip and trendy? Could one even argue that denying a pregnant teen the right to wear fashionable and age-appropriate* clothing is a form of punishment through shaming? (“Well, it’s your fault for getting knocked up, so you’ll wear what you can find and be grateful.”)
*Er, maybe “appropriate” isn’t the right word to describe Forever 21’s clothes, but…
As much as I wish that there were less of a demand for teen maternity wear, condemning of Love21 doesn’t sit well with me. This comparison is not exactly one I enjoy making, but I support plus size clothing lines even though I wish less Americans were obese. Is this not similar? I’m not sure if the distinction matters, but it makes me even more uncomfortable to condemn the line when I remember that pregnant teens will not all become teen moms. Pregnant teens also include those who are planning to give the baby up for adoption. (Or does that distinction reflect a bias on my part?)
Clearly I’m divided on the issue, and somewhat unsettled. Still, Forever 21’s choice to name the line “Love21” is telling. I think that teen pregnancy is hard enough without having to wear “old lady” maternity clothes. Let’s not punish pregnant teens by withholding fashion, but redouble our efforts to provide education and access to reliable, relatable, scientific, comprehensive sex education – not to mention access to Plan B and safe and legal abortion services.