Clueless in the Classroom: Teenage Girls and the Fashion World

It was almost a month ago when the clothing company JCPenney came under fire for this back-to-school t-shirt.

Photo courtesy of the Huffington Post website

The $9.99 shirt decorated with the colorful message, “I’m too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me” set the Internet ablaze with blog posts and articles challenging the company on the message it was sending to young girls.

Rebecca Dube, senior editor of, blogged for TODAYMoms about her reaction to the t-shirt.

“Really, people are still buying into the stereotype that pretty and smart can’t go hand-in-hand? How dated, ridiculous and sad. Surely we can do better for our daughters.” (source)

After harsh criticism, JCPenney decided to pull the shirt from its website and stores. The company released a statement apologizing for its offense.

“We agree that the “Too pretty” t-shirt does not deliver an appropriate message, and we have immediately discontinued its sale.  Our merchandise is intended to appeal to a broad customer base, not to offend them. We would like to apologize to our customers and are taking action to ensure that we continue to uphold the integrity of our merchandise that they have come to expect.” (source)

Now just last week Gawker posted an article about Forever 21  releasing a similar shirt for teenage girls proclaiming that they are “Allergic to Algebra.”

Photo courtesy of Gawker website

Christina Ng, a reporter for ABC news, noted in her article that no shirts alluding to education appeared in the men’s section of the retailer’s online site. However, she found that the “Allergic to Algebra” shirt was not the only anti-education shirt in the women’s section.

“One shirt blatantly declares “Skool sucks” and another shirt has a list on the front that reads: “A+=amazing, B=brilliant, C=cool, D=delightful, F=fabulous.” The website’s tagline for selling the shirt is “F doesn’t always mean fail!”

One shirt seemed promising with the message, ”I heart school” emblazoned on the front, but a photo of the back reveals the rest of the message: “not…”” (source)

Britni Danielle blogged for Clutch Magazine about how a history of messages likes these have limited young girls in achieving academically.

“Back in the day women were told to focus more on finding a husband than achieving in school, and today many young girls are discouraged from pursuing math and science and often dumb themselves down to make others feel better.” (source)

I am not surprised that companies like Forever 21 and JCPenney have created shirts with these messages. For so long, women and young girls were expected to be quiet and look pretty. But in 2011 when more women are going to college than men, I would hope that we would have come far enough as a society to support these achievements. Unfortunately, we haven’t and it takes backlash  and petitions for companies to see the benevolent sexism in their products and advertising.

These shirts are just another socialization tool in teaching young girls that their skills and talents are not good enough in the areas of math and science–areas that are especially lacking in women of color. It is my hope that the recent events involving these two retailers will send a red flag to other companies about critiquing their product ideas before they leave the boardroom.

Please share your thoughts…

Were you offended by the messages on the t-shirts? Would an increase in diversity amongst employees prevent messages like these from coming out in the future? 


About kaileylatham11

Alumna of The Ohio State Univ., Graduate Student at Arizona State Univ., and an aspiring journalist.
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