Boy-Color: Will a Controversial Ad Hurt J.Crew’s Reputation?

Like many little girls, I loved when my mom would paint my nails when I was younger. I would pick out the most outrageous color I could find and have fantastic mommy and me bonding time. Inevitably, my little brother saw that for an hour or so, I received special attention, so he would also ask for painted nails. Being fair, my mother obliged, but under the condition that his nails be “boy-colored” which meant he have a coat of clear polish applied to his nails instead of my bright orange.

Earlier this week J. Crew released an advertisement of President and Creative Director Jenna Lyons painting her 4-year-old son’s toenails bright pink with a quote on that reads, “Lucky for me, I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink. Toenail painting is way more fun in neon.”

I agree, Jenna, hot pink IS way more fun than “boy-color.”

But J.Crew has met a lot of heavy fire for defying gender stereotypes. Some of the worst flack comes from Dr. Keith Ablow via Fox News who responded, “Yeah, well, it may be fun and games now, Jenna, but at least put some money aside for psychotherapy for the kid—and maybe a little for others who’ll be affected by your ‘innocent’ pleasure.” His comments caused almost as large a reaction as the ad itself and sparked a week-long discussion about what this ad means for not only J.Crew, but for our society.

Blogger Meredith Carroll responds, “Is there anyone besides me who is genuinely shocked — shocked — when you realize that we’re not more evolved as a society that the sight of a boy of any age with painted toenails is made into a big deal by anyone? Whether Beckett is secure in his boyhood or if he has one too many female hormones, why shouldn’t his choice to paint his toes be as celebrated as much as it would be if he were a she?” Do we really react with outrage because a little boy likes a specific color paint?

The question is how this ad will affect J.Crew’s reputation. The brand is well known for being a favorite of the Obamas and Oprah has openly praised Lyons. J. Crew is historically a clean-cut, preppy line of threads.  Could it be that this was a move to liven up their somewhat conservative reputation?  Did they cross the line to be offensive, or push the proverbial envelope in the right direction? Despite that some view the ad as controversial, a recent poll shows that the majority of responders say “Seriously? This is not a big deal” or “I couldn’t care less either way.”

Perhaps J.Crew is just trying to create a space where kids can feel free to express themselves using whatever color they like without pressure to conform to stereotypes. After all, we live in a world where kids feel so much pressure to be “normal” that they’ll have cosmetic surgery at age 7. Maybe this ad is the first step towards allowing children to feel comfortable with themselves and eradicating the concept of “boy-color” altogether.

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