Say What?

It’s back to school season and like many parents out there, I did a bit of clothes shopping for my girls. My go-tos are Old Navy and Marshall’s for a variety of reasons – convenience, cost, and variety. While I longingly admire the fashions from Hanna Andersen and Mini Boden, I cannot justify spending more on kid fashion than on my own when my daughters a) destroy nearly everything in a matter of weeks and b) outgrow their clothes so quickly.

While this thought whispered in the background in prior years, it was a raucous shout at me as my girls reached the ages of nine and six:  “Who am I to speak for them by choosing clever or sassy or inane ‘message tees’?”

Some of the big retailers have landed themselves in trouble with blatantly sexist phrases on kid’s clothing. Target, WalmartForever21, Morrisons (UK Dept. Store), and others. The offensively myopic perspective shown by these merchandising decisions is usually shredded by outraged influencers (what some assholes call ‘mom bloggers’) and then amplified by the likes of HuffPo, USAToday, BuzzFeed, etc. for broader awareness. I adore these debates and applaud the people who aren’t afraid to call bad ideas as they see them. The struggle continues on many fronts.

This message tee made it into the house… but this is objective statement of fact about the wearer.

[I do love the work being done by Primary and Princess Awesome which are focused on bright, gender-neutral colors and ‘unexpected’ patterns for girls (dinosaurs, trucks and trains, planets, etc.)]

But I also hesitate to apply the girl-positive messages. I think ‘Girls Rule’ but does that mean that boys don’t? And in my life so far, I have quite a lot of experience that girls do NOT, in fact, rule – both when they are not very kind to each other or when they tap out on the leadership path because the playing field is not even and not everyone wants to use up her whole time fighting. *Note to self – explore that in another post.

I can think of a dozen pro-girl, pro-resistance, pro-earth, pro-booksmarts phrases that I would wear under a blazer as my work uniform, if I could get away with it.


It was when I paused on buying shirts like this or this, or this, that I realized I just don’t want to put words into my daughters’ mouths (any more than the natural parroting process produces). Are peace and love controversial? Yeah, in this America, they are. Are feminist principles? ABSOFRIGGINGLUTELY. And what of claims like “Books are my besties” or whatnot – well, what if they aren’t?

You can’t make an artist into a bookworm or an athlete into a coder by wishing it so. Please don’t misunderstand, I am in no way limiting my or anyone’s kid to a type or a single interest. That’s absurd. Most of our kids will love more than one thing and those things may change year over year. It just feels inauthentic to me to apply my personality and priorities to my children for them to go out in the world advertising things that may not be true to THEM. Kids, teachers, parents all form opinions on our kids and I’m especially loathe to saddle my girls with their mother’s battles. (My hopeful self holds out that we might actually fix a thing or two before they have to take up the mantle themselves.)


Eventually, my first-world dilemma will sort itself out when the girls start selecting their own clothes and advising me on their values. But for now, I hope I can keep open their tshirt ad space for them to fill it on their own, by exploring and discovering a broad sample of ideas – especially ones we haven’t thought of yet.

What do you think about message tees for kids? Love? Hate? Indifferent?



2 thoughts on “Say What?”

  1. I love this! I read it aloud to your dad, and both of us were amazed at your gift of writing your message so clearly! I’m in total agreement about the T-shirt sayings but admit to having purchased some tees for my Granddaughters in the past that now I regret. Your words will certainly cause many mothers & grandmothers to pause before buying! I wish manufacturers would read & take note, as well.

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