Two seemingly disconnected bits of information came my way this morning: J.C. Penney’s recent marketing choice and Lindsay Lohan’s recent tattoo choice.
Punch The First: Forget Your Brains, Love Your Beauty!
The J.C. Penney news has the web all atwitter: the company just pulled a T-shirt from their website that read: “I’m too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me.” There are plenty of parents out there who didn’t like that message—they spoke up, and the T-shirt is gone, baby, gone. Sadly, the sentiment is not as easy to dispel, as it is part of a trend that includes T-shirts reading “Future Trophy Wife” and “I’m too pretty to do math.” (See this article for details.) Now, I like a funny T-shirt, and I could definitely see an ironic way to wear one or two of these. But these shirts—along with many other products that enforce the idea that a girl’s most important asset is her beauty (and, by extension, her sexuality)—are marketed to young girls, ages 7–16, on whom such irony is likely to be lost. Without the dubious saving grace of irony, these T-shirts are just insidious, pushy messages with the allure of candy: isn’t it fun to be pretty? Isn’t it hard to do math?
This will not be the end of such messages, not by a long shot. Selling these messages to a willing public has been profitable for others, or J.C. Penney wouldn’t have tried it. Maybe J.C. Penney can’t get away with it, but others have, and will continue to do so, as long as people are willing to buy products like this for their girls. Which means the message on that t-shirt is out there, making itself known in a thousand small ways to millions of small girls.
Punch The Second: Did You Buy That Crap We Said About Beauty? Sucker!
As I was trying to figure out what I wanted to add to the discussion around girls, bodies, brains, and products, I heard about Ms. Lohan’s latest tattoo, which consists of these lines from a Billy Joel song: “Clear as a crystal, sharp as a knife. I feel like I’m in the prime of my life.” The woman who delivered this news to me had one hell of a silky morning radio voice. This was a voice that could hold the remnants of a hangover and the memories of the night that created it at once, a voice that was both compelling and coddling, a voice that made you want to believe, for just a moment, that it was talking to you and only you. In other words, a voice that was made for the radio. And what did the woman who possessed this fabulous voice use it for? Shredding Ms. Lohan to pieces. She went on and on about how ridiculous these words were on Ms. Lohan, since she can’t get a job or keep one, since she’s a known drug addict, since she often behaves like a lost and angry child.
Now, I am no fan of Lindsay Lohan’s. I wouldn’t want my daughter using her as a role model, or believing that to be in the prime of one’s life, one must pursue self-destructive behaviors. But I don’t think she deserves to be cut down for trying to build herself up. (The actress says she chose the lyrics because they represent “…everything she’s been through…it signifies that she’s focused”). Lindsay has been a troubled young woman, there’s no doubt about it. She may or may not be focused at the moment, and I understand those who would have a cynical take on the matter. But the media, as they have gleefully done in the past with those who have fallen from grace, aren’t giving her even an inch of room for change.
Before I took the time to learn a little bit about Ms. Lohan, I knew this: she’s beautiful, she can be a danger to herself and others, and she doesn’t have a good relationship with her father. Thanks to the Internet Movie Database, I now also know this: she once saved her little brother from drowning, she’s been in the modeling and TV industry since she was three years old, she was widely recognized for her talent when she was very young, she’s been ranked as quite hot by a number of magazines, and in school she excelled at science and math.
I bet you knew she is considered quite hot.
I bet you didn’t know she excelled at science and math.
I don’t know Lindsay Lohan, or if she has the self-esteem issues that plagued one of her idols, Marilyn Monroe. But she seems to me to be part of a growing number of famous women who have bought the idea that beauty matters more than brains, or who didn’t buy the idea but tried to play the game anyway, to their own detriment. It seems to me that these women—Marilyn, Elizabeth, Anna Nicole, Brittany—have been given a one-two punch: encouraged to believe that beauty is their savior, and then mocked mercilessly for buying the line hook, line, and sinker. Buying it so well, in fact, that they are willing to become the hook, line, and sinker for others to buy.
If we don’t stop shilling this line to our girls, we’ll be setting them all up for a one-two punch. Maybe it won’t be fame, maybe it won’t be wealth or drug addiction or a merciless and compelling voice on the radio, but eventually, someone or something will come along to let them know just what their beautiful bodies are worth to this world—and since they’ve already been told their beautiful minds aren’t worth much, where does that leave them?