The Glamorous Life of the Pregnant Teenager
When fast-fashion chain Forever 21 announced this month that they were rolling out a maternity line in five states—three of which have the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country—they were accused of what has become a common charge: glamorizing teen pregnancy. Like Juno, Jamie Lynn Spears, and Katherine Heigl's character in Knocked Up before them, Bristol Palin, 16 and Pregnant, and The Secret Life of the American Teenagerhave all faced criticism for promoting a deceptively attractive view of teenage motherhood. Have the baby, their implicit argument seems to go, and you can still look cute, have a career, and maybe even marry the father of your child.
Certainly reasonable arguments could be made that each of these pop culture icons have contributed to a softened, normalized view of teenage pregnancy. Kendall Jenner, the Kardashian half-sister and the face of Forever 21, is only 14. And the store's omnipresence in malls across the country, along with its trendy, low-priced fashions and frustratingly small sizes, certainly targets teenage girls. But as a 24-year-old, I confess that I still shop there, as do most of my friends—many of whom are going through their first (or second) pregnancies and love cheap maternity clothes that don't sacrifice style. Forever 21 already has a plus-size line as well as a "contemporary" line geared toward young professionals. Diversifying their offerings seems more like a good business strategy than a plot to convince U.S. teens to accessorize their pregnancies.
Is it true that young women see examples of young moms and decide they might want the same for their own lives? True, Bristol Palin has parlayed her high-profile pregnancy into tabloid covers, a lucrative job as spokeswoman for the Candie's Foundation, and even an acting gig on The Secret Life of the American Teenager, an ABC Family show slammed by The New York Times as "didactic and soulless cheerleading for anti-abortion sentiments." But surely girls can recognize the unusual circumstances of Bristol's life, as well as her own admission that being a teen mom "kind of sucks."
So what would the alternative look like? The recent depiction of a 15-year-old's decision to have an abortion on Friday Night Lights, a show about a West Texas football town, was praised for offering what New York magazine called "the best and most honest portrayal of the heartrending decision to end a teenage pregnancy that we've ever seen." The episode, titled "I Can't," seemed to offer the antidote to the seemingly endless stream of affirming portrayals of girls who chose to keep their babies and actually addressed the complexities that surround the decision. Implicit in the critical praise of the episode is that an honest confrontation of the difficult realities surrounding an unwanted pregnancy will result in an abortion. Unfortunately, the show portrayed the Christian perspective, embodied by the father's parents, as out of touch: the boy's mom encouraged him by explaining that Joseph and Mary, too, found themselves in a difficult situation. "[We] are not Mary and Joseph," he replied.
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