I tend to live under a rock...at least as far as the news is concerned. Frankly, watching 24 hour cable and network news reporting disaster after disaster (many of them over-sensationalized) as well as blow hard pundits (of both sides) spewing ill-formed opinion as fact doesn't make me feel better informed...it just makes my head hurt and my stomach feel a little nauseous. Therefore, I missed the controversy surrounding this ad from J. Crew. Apparently it's been discussed extensively on Fox news and made the Today show, as well as ABC. And based on various polls, comment boards etc, support for (typical statement: "he's a little boy playing with a clearly adoring mother, who cares?") and against (typical statement: "he's scarred for life. how dare she. little boys should never, ever play with girl things ever. he's on the direct path to becoming gay/transgendered/drag queen") is split about evenly.
As a former sissyboy (and let me assure you my turning from a sissy boy to a sissy man was not the result of my parents' indulging (which they did...I had more Barbies than my sister) me)....i didn't turn into a sissy because I played with Barbies...I wanted to play with Barbies because I was a sissy. Trust me, I know plenty of sissies who were never, ever allowed to touch a traditionally female toy...(but they didn't make them stop wanting to or from growing up sissified). I favor Jon Stewart's opinion here.
Here's my own take:
1. One thing that frightens me a lot, even more than any stupid talking points about painted toenails as the first step in transforming this toddler into some sort of crazed transgendered psychopath is that in Fox's Dr. Ablow's article and the Today show segment, as well as other "news" sources, the picture is described as "a mother painting her son's toes." One intro: "j.crew has an ad with a woman painting her son's toenails.." On one voice over, it states "...but take a closer look...she's applying nail polish..."
The problem: look at the picture. She's not actually painting his toes...they're already painted and the bottle of polish is closed. Why this bothers me: I think that new programs, even if they're heavy infotainment, should be accurate. Sure, the picture implies that she painted his toes, but that's not what is actually happening in the photo. Even the caption, "Lucky for me I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink. Painting toenails is way more fun in neon" doesn't actually say that she paints them. Let's be real...even though for the photo shoot Beckett likely had a professional manicurist paint his toenails, I'm sure she's the probably the one who paints them. but not necessarily...maybe he paints his own, maybe his dad, grandfather, or other relative does...who knows. We aren't actually shown his toes being painted or told who does usually paint them or if this is regular behavior of even told whose idea painting his toes was. That doesn't stop the fact that she is described as painting his nails and, in some cases, as pressuring him to paint them.
I know that some may think this is a minor point missing the greater issues in the photo, but aren't you a little frightened of news people who can't even accurately describe a photo that is right in front of them? God knows how accurate they are in any situation even slightly open to interpretation. That thought scares the shit out of me. People with no idea of what they are talking about influencing others.
2. I find the resulting brouhaha to be an eye-opening experience in how standing in different shoes can so dramatically change what that viewer sees. Some pundits and commenters see a provocative liberal challenge to accepted standards of masculinity and traditional values, some see coldly calculated opportunism (ad pitchman, "i bet if we show a boy in nail polish, this thing will go viral!"), and some see it as completely innocent (executive has cute kid with what she considers cute behavior, so she features him in ad).
My take is somewhere in the middle. One of the brightest things J.Crew and Jenna Lyons have done in the revitalization of the brand is the use of her as company muse and lifestyle model, much like all those ads of Ralph Lauren and wife in location appropriate get ups (WASP wear, island whites, cowboy coture) posing in their various homes decorated to co-ordinate, or Halston in the 1970s partying at Studio 54 surrounded by a gaggle of society and Hollywood beauties draped in his clothes...in each case a designer and/or executive showcases the company's wear in their daily lives doing their regular glamorous routine. The idea being---wear this Halston knit...be fabulous at the exclusive disco...just like he is! You see it today with the more successful bloggers---their whole lives (at least that part shared on their blogs) is branded...you see them doing and wearing things that make you think, "That is so her! I'd love to be more like her. I'm glad I read this blog about this fabulous blogger that does these bloggy things."
Jenna has carefully crafted and marketed this image of herself as the prototypical J. Crew woman: the new superwoman...the 80's having it all woman 2.0---glamorous, high-paid, successful career, beautiful home featured in glossy magazines, but with wonderful home life complete with beautiful child. I really think the whole point of the ad was merely to show this: look at me, i am a glamorous career woman...but i spend Sat. bonding with child....and look, i'm so hip, i let him paint his nails...aren't i hip and bohemian? but I still look fabulous doing...buy this shirt and polish so you and your family can be this fabulous.
did they have another agenda? who knows, but since they have yet to issue a statement, as of now going the tasteful, "we have no comment as we consider this a non-issue and don't want to add fuel to the fire" route as opposed to having a statement prepared, i don't really think so. my feeling is that a group of Manhattan "taste makers," fashion types, and marketers really consider a boy in nail polish a non-issue as they work in a world where Andre Leon Talley swathed in floor-length cloaks and Marc Jacobs wearing skirts to formal events on a regular basis doesn't result in a batted false eye-lash.
3. In a world with an energy crises, starvation, tsunami's', nuclear power plant melt-downs, suicides as the result of bullying, widespread genocide, plummeting literacy rates, rising health care costs, etc. who really gives a shit if some little boy that is not even related to you likes pink toe nail polish, even if he's in a national ad?