April 7, 2011

Make-up and Hot Pink Toenails- Not Just a Girl Thing

Filed under: Advertising — Tags: , , , — Melanie @ 3:13 pm

My toddler son has a thing for all things wheeled.  He can easily distinguish a skip loader from a backhoe and a semi-truck from a dump truck. He’s also intrigued by my jewelery box, stacking bracelets high up his pudgy arms. After watching Mommy’s daily morning ritual of applying some eyeshadow and liquid liner on countless occasions, it’s none too surprising that he’s fascinated by my make-up box, eager to smear eyeshadow across his eyelids (forehead, nose and cheeks). My friend’s little boy loved sparkly ballet flats and dollhouses while another’s had a penchant for his sister’s pink tutu and glittered angel wings.

These boys are commonplace-and not represented in mainstream pop culture. There’s no room for these normal explorations in our hyper-segmented world of marketing. And, as a tragic example further down in this post will show, these normal, healthy childhood curiosities and small pleasures are usually quickly beaten out of boys, figuratively and literally.

Given this heavily color-coded world of children’s play, policed through gendered toy ads, catalogs and cartoons, this J. Crew advertisement comes as a breath of fresh air.Without eliciting much fanfare, a young boy and his mother are shown spending “quality time” together by painting their toenails. Hot. Pink. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

When a 17-month-old boy is beaten to death for being too “girly,” a 5-year-old is accused of being gay for choosing to dress up like Daphne from Scooby-Doo for Halloween, a boy who likes pink dresses causes headline news, and a high-school football player is kicked off the field for wearing pink cleats during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I think it’s more than obvious that social expectations regarding femininity and masculinity continue to be incredibly rigid, stifling, and too often dangerous.

And, advertising happens to be a major player in the active construction of culture and the socialization of it’s members (us!), a socialization process that shapes our expectations of ourselves and others, our desires and our relationships. In other words, the values and norms of a society are framed by the branded images and lifestyles consciously and carefully constructed by advertisers seeking to maximize profit.

J. Crew’s ad presents the idea that pink isn’t just for girls, just as blue isn’t just for boys. It expands the range of possibility for what girls and boys can do and be. It may be one ad running counter to a stream of narrowly defined ads that eliminate a full range of possibilities for boys and girls, but there it is.

And it makes me hopeful. And, sometimes, given the material I regularly work with, celebrating small victories and becoming hopeful is vital and necessary.

Cross-posted at Elephant Journal and WIMN’s Voices.




  1. Really interesting and thought-provoking article, thanks for sharing it. As a guy it made me wonder if the overly intolerant and agressive prejudices discussed may be reduced or moderated by actually encouraging boys to explore and enjoy femininity themselves. Is there a role for ‘schooling’ boys in this regard?

    Comment by Allen — April 8, 2011 @ 1:13 am

  2. What a great post, Melanie! Indeed, it’s refreshing to see a diverse representation of gender on the web, from such a mainstream company.

    A quick clarification/added bonus: the J.Crew photo is not an ad per se, but a regular feature on the site. (I know this because J. Crew is my clothing soul mate, and I check out the site regularly, hehe).

    The woman in the picture is Jenna Lyons, J. Crew’s executive creative director, appearing alongside her son. Isn’t it awesome?

    Comment by Elena | The Illusionists — April 8, 2011 @ 4:53 am

  3. @Elena- You’re absolutely correct! It wasn’t an “ad” per se but was featured on their catalog’s website. The image is a screen shot from that page and I embedded the URL in a link above. I wasn’t sure what to call it :)Calling it a “regular feature” seemed too long and not quite right, although I suppose it is. hahah It still advertises for the company sooo…IF you have any other thoughts, do share. I’d appreciate it!

    What an interesting piece of trivia re: Jenna Lyons and her son. Super cool! Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Melanie — April 8, 2011 @ 7:35 am

  4. Melanie,

    I loved this post. I have taken some heat from my brothers and in-laws because my three-year-old son (who is also obsessed with all things wheeled) wears dresses if he wants to, and gets his toenails painted if he wants to. If, as another commenter suggested, my choices to let him express all of his interests mean that he is buffered from the toxic consequences of hypermasculinity, that’s a win. For now, I’m just letting him play–in whatever way he wants. Thanks for sharing!


    Comment by Ann Becker-Schutte — April 8, 2011 @ 1:08 pm

  5. Ann, great to read your comments, the masculinity you refer to can be like a straight-jacket, distorting emotional development and creating a rigid template of behaviour, often overly aggressive and stunted. I am sure most of my fellow males, if they explored that would relate to such feelings.
    In my humble view encouraging femininity within the male, during childhood, would be a wonderfully creative and effective way to moderate the hyper-masculinity mentioned. I wonder if it could have a similarly positive impact upon ‘developed’ males?

    Comment by Allen — April 9, 2011 @ 2:43 am

  6. […] at Feminist Fatale and Elephant […]

    Pingback by WIMN’s Voices » Make-up and Hot Pink Toenails- Not Just a Girl Thing — April 10, 2011 @ 8:47 pm

  7. I fully intend to raise my future child to enjoy freedom of self-expression. I have never understood the desire to instill shame and aversion in children so young. What’s the big deal? Painted toenails are certainly nothing to get your panties in a twist about, but Fox news lunatic, Keith A-Blow(hard) was freaking out Glenn-Beck-style over Beckett’s pink tootsies. Please check out my blog post on this: http://goddessblue.wordpress.com/2011/04/12/the-depravity-of-the-pedicure/

    Comment by Nikita — April 12, 2011 @ 1:27 pm

  8. Nikita, great post and loved your Blog.The reaction you mentioned is all too typical of my gender, which in itself suggests that guys examining and expressing femininity may be a helpful antidote to such aggressive maleness.

    Comment by Allen — April 13, 2011 @ 4:35 am

  9. I think your response is great and to the point. Your connection between the “hyper-segmented” world of marketing clearly displays how much influence a company’s bottom line really has on the way we live our lives. I’d hope one day they’d realize selling nail polish to both boys and girls might double their profit once people stop nonsensically flipping out–although contrary to the fears of many I think girls would still prefer certain things and boys would still prefer others. But let that sort itself out by individual: its unfair to us all otherwise.

    Comment by Sarai — April 13, 2011 @ 9:37 am

  10. Thanks for the comments. I may be quoting you for a response at Ms. Magazine to the #Fox and #GMA segment hoopla. Nikita- I’ll be sure to link your piece!

    Comment by Melanie — April 13, 2011 @ 10:05 am

  11. This was refreshing, especially since my son has been dressing up since he was a tot. He’s obsessed with wheels and their impending destruction, and he’s equally obsessed with tromping around as the Wicked Witch of the West, Glynda (these have been his Halloween costumes twice now) or Hermione. His favorite thing when he was in pre-school? Painting his toenails bright red. Freedom of expression and individuality was en vogue there, not gendered judgment; I’m grateful for that, because it allowed him to be his authentic self. That all changed upon entering public school, though, and thus the gendered torment and teasing began. He still dresses up now and again, but the days of pedicures are few and far between. It’s too bad.

    Comment by Sarit — April 13, 2011 @ 10:57 am

  12. Here’s my response to the hoopla and Nikita, you’re quoted :)http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2011/04/13/j-crews-toenail-painting-ad-causes-pink-scare/

    Comment by Melanie — April 13, 2011 @ 5:05 pm

  13. Allen, thanks for reading! Melanie, Thank you so much for the link and mention!! You have no idea how awesome that is to me! I’m such a huge fan of Ms.!! Thanks!

    Comment by Nikita — April 13, 2011 @ 9:20 pm

  14. Nikita, was great to see your comments and thanks for sharing. Melanie, respect to you for an amazing rejoinder, totally with you on the points you raise.

    Comment by Allen — April 14, 2011 @ 2:54 am

  15. One thing strikes me on reading all the illuminating, thoughtful and sane contributions offered here on the subject, is just how warped male-gendering forces are. In that they generate the very attitudes of intolerance, aggression and prejudice that is so fearful of trans-gender expression and creativity. It pains me a touch to say this but I’m beginning to ponder if ‘maleness’ may be better classified as a form of mental incapacity.

    Comment by Allen — April 14, 2011 @ 7:41 am

  16. Melanie, thank you for the refreshingly mature review of a bold move in the fashion industry – real creativity! I think Jenna Lyons and J. Crew should be commended for bringing to the forefront the elephant in the room about what boys and girls “should” be like.
    The freedom to become what we are is not only our right, but it is much more enjoyable, less stressful and certainly more civil than trying to be something that we’re not. Our society needs to learn that each person is unique and that they have unlimited potential when encouraged, rather than discouraged.
    I wish to point out that many men wear nail polish. Nail salons report that men make up just shy of 28% of their business (source: Nails magazine) and that an increasing number of men top their pedicures with polish. And why not? Men enjoy color as women do, and wearing it is just that much more enjoyable.
    So, I honestly hope this trend for guys is here to stay, though I realize it’s not quite mainstream yet.
    Thank you for your post!

    Jake Raderick (aka Toepaintguy)

    Comment by Jake — April 18, 2011 @ 5:00 pm

  17. It’s interesting what the right-wing article you cited at mrc.org said:

    [quote]new marketing piece that features blatant propaganda celebrating transgendered children.[/quote]

    OK, I know the premises of the article are all c**p. But still… it’s ABOUT TIME we are celebrated!

    Comment by Elizabeth — April 27, 2011 @ 5:49 pm

  18. […] about when little boys dress in tutus or wear nail polish?  Melanie Klein at Feminist Fatale wrote about her son’s fascination with her jewelry and make-up routine after seeing the J. Crew […]

    Pingback by Frogs, Snails & Puppy-Dogs’ Tails vs. Sugar, Spice & Everything Nice?: “Genderless Baby” & Policing Gender | The Opinioness of the World — June 6, 2011 @ 7:50 am

  19. […] about when little boys dress in tutus or wear nail polish?  Melanie Klein at Feminist Fatale wrote about her son’s fascination with her jewelry and make-up routine after seeing the J. Crew […]

    Pingback by Frogs, Snails & Puppy-Dogs’ Tails vs. Sugar, Spice & Everything Nice?: “Genderless Baby” & Policing Gender — June 6, 2011 @ 11:53 am

  20. Great! Thanks for sharing with us, please continue writing and blogging so I can come here more often.

    Comment by Wings West — September 1, 2011 @ 11:57 am

  21. He must have been so cute with his make up on!

    Comment by Free Webcam Dating — June 8, 2012 @ 5:48 am

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