J. Crew’s Toenail-Painting Ad Causes Pink Scare

The sweet J. Crew ad I celebrated last week has ignited a “pink scare,” with socially conservative commentators outrageously upset. The ad features a mother– J.Crew’s creative director, Jenna Lyons–and her son delighting in one another’s company on a Saturday afternoon by painting their toenails hot pink (and thereby selling J. Crew’s Essie nail polish). The ad doesn’t make much fanfare of the nail painting and is fairly inconspicuous. As Melissa Wardy, founder of Pigtail Pals- Redfine Girly, comments on Good Morning America‘s coverage of the gendered hoopla:

The camera has to zoom in SO much on the toes to make the news story, you completely lose sight of the delightful moment between loving, doting mother and happy, beautiful son.

In, what Nikita Blue calls, “ominous paranoid ramblings,” Dr. Keith Ablow goes off in a “conspiracy-theorist tangent,” claiming this ad contributes to “psychological sterilization,” erases gender differences and homogenizes males and females by propagandizing them to choose a gender identity that is not the “natural” one they were born with:

Well, how about the fact that encouraging the choosing of gender identity, rather than suggesting our children become comfortable with the ones that they got at birth, can throw our species into real psychological turmoil—not to mention crowding operating rooms with procedures to grotesquely amputate body parts?

Media Research Center’s Erin Brown claims the ad exploits Lyons’ son, Beckett, through the “blatant propaganda celebrating transgendered children.” According to Brown, ads like these and irresponsible mothers such as Lyons will create more confused boys, much like the controversial “Princess boy.”

Sexist and homophobic concerns like the ones expressed by Ablow and Brown raise several important points worth exploring. First and foremost, the notion that there is a direct correlation between color, gender and sexual identity is ludicrous. Color codes are recent social inventions, constructs originally inverse. Phyllis Burke’s Gender Shock and Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter trace the sociohistorical origins of pink and blue segregation–gendered coding that wasn’t instilled until the early 20th century. Prior to that, glancing at a babies clothing didn’t reveal any trace of gendered identity: They all wore white gowns. Photographs of my great-grandparents, both born circa 1902, are identical and indistinguishable. Check out this photo of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1884!

Once color coding got underway in earnest, the colors were reversed. Pink, a color close to red, was equated with strength and masculinity. Light blue was a “natural” sign of femininity and, according to Orenstein’s reasearch, equated with “intimations of the Virgin Mary, constancy, and faithfulness.” Given that history, it becomes clear that color codes are arbitrary, socially constructed and have no bearing or impact on one’s “natural” gender or sexual identity. As Dr. Logan Levkoff explains:

Dear Fox, colors don’t have genders. Colors are just colors. Liking certain colors [doesn’t] mean you like girls or boys, or want to be either of them, now or in the future.

Secondly,  there’s nothing “natural” about gender. Gender is a social construct reflecting cultural dictates within a specific historical context and those gendered prescriptions change as the culture changes. Just as culture is dynamic and fluid, so are gendered expectations. Obviously, Ablow and Brown aren’t familiar with the difference between the biological concept of sex, referring to maleness and femaleness and the continuum between the two, and gender, the socially constructed definitions and expectations of masculinity and femininity. Their critiques of J. Crew’s ad demonstrates rampant essentialism–the idea that one’s biological sex is destiny while ignoring historical and contemporary contradictions to that idea. If having a penis “naturally” led boys and men to embody “masculinity” and a vagina “naturally” equated with all things “feminine,” we’d see much more historical and cultural uniformity.

Third, not only is the idea that the J. Crew ad squelches “naturally” assigned gender identity ridiculous given the difference between biological sex and socially constructed gender, but Ablow’s quote doesn’t address the real culprit in stifling natural and healthy explorations: the color-coded assault by marketers on children’s play. It seems to me that the hyper-segmented pink world of the princess and the blue world of the boy warrior is much more responsible for shaping gender identity than an ad featuring hot-pink toenails on a boy. In that way, J. Crew is a small sign of opening up gendered possibilities–possibilities that represent authentic personal choice.

In Brown’s opinion piece, she goes on to say that mothers such as Lyons or Sarah Manley are setting up their sons for a hard time in the future. There she’s right, and this gets to the crux of the issue. The system of patriarchy values masculinity and devalues femininity. In fact, within patriarchy, masculinity is a fundamental mainstream cultural value. In the Good Morning America segment, Manley rightly points out that if the ad featured a girl playing with trucks in the mud there wouldn’t have been this type of outcry. While girls are awash in a sea of pink, they are more likely to be encouraged and celebrated for exploring and developing “masculine” characteristics, while boys are discouraged and shamed for developing “feminine” characteristics precisely because of masculinity’s cultural capital. What Ablow or Fox don’t acknowledge is that these are simply human characteristics, gendered one way or the other and thereby differently valued. As I wrote on my Feminist Fatale blog last week:

When a 17-month-old boy is beaten to death for being too “girly,” a five-year-old is accused of being gay for choosing to dress up like Daphne from Scooby-Doo for Halloween, a boy who likes pink dresses causes headline news and a high-school football player is kicked off the field for wearing pink cleats during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I think it’s more than obvious that social expectations regarding femininity and masculinity continue to be incredibly rigid, stifling and too often dangerous.

J. Crew’s ad doesn’t depict misguided and dangerous decisions made by J. Crew or parents like Jenna Lyons. The reactions and social outcry against it depict the dangerous world of gender policing within the system of patriarchy.

Close-up of ad via J. Crew


  1. Because of binary opposition, anything considered ‘feminine’ on a boy, or about a boy is considered negative. I personally found this bonding experience between son and mother very adorable. However, I could understand how uncomfortable others would feel about this ad. What it truly comes down to is our gender roles, and having a boy with painted nails isn’t one of them. The strict separation our society has created for what is “girly” separates people from their own creativity, and in this instance this little boy and his mothers happy moment. Sure, he may be wearing nail polish, but that in no way means he will be gay, have ‘feminine’ characteristics, nor will it deter him later in life. Our intense obsession with gender socialization is sick, and we shouldn’t attack people for acting outside of our realm of what is ‘normal’ for a certain gender.

  2. Like WendyA I did not find anything wrong with Jenna Lyons painting her son’s toes pink with nail polish. It was merely a fun activity that by no means defines his sexuality or preference. The critique over this advertisement is the same as saying that a little girl cannot throw around a football. Clearly socialization and gender roles have constructed a false set of “rules” that restrict the range and capabilities of genders. Hence the newly accustomed gender associated colors which is, like the author said, completely arbitrary and insignificant. Gender socialization has gone too far and society need to learn how to take things a little less seriously in this sense and be more accepting of individual choices.

  3. What is the big deal about! If someone showed me the photo of Jenna Lyons and her son, and asked me to comment using adjectives, I would say: joyous, awesome and heartwarming. The confining boundaries stem from those who are uneasy with heterogeneity and refuse to deviate from the “system of patriarchy”. It’s a terrible path for everyone involved no matter the gender, race or class. Bottom-line its oppression; no matter what lens you use. Personally I think pink is a sensational color for both genders. It’s just a color, it does not define the strength or power or lack thereof. Through the article I kept on thinking about the endless possibilities in personal and creative development among the human race. How can we as society let go of the maleness and femaleness presumptions? Our deep reasons to categorize and label negatively robs us of the gorgeous spectrum of colors, leaving us with black and white, right or wrong and nothing in between. It is time to accept various expressions and focus more on the positive development in identity versus damaging psyche.

  4. It never occurred to me that Jenna Lyons was trying to make any kind of statement. I thought she was just goofing around with her little boy, having fun. If I saw that photo in a magazine — or a catalog — wouldn’t even stop to scrutinize it. I would just glance at it and move on. I agree with the author’s analysis about how society encourages girls to try more things not coded as “feminine” but punishes boys for trying anything not coded “masculine.” The link to the article about the 17 month-old beaten to death for not being masculine enough is tragic proof. If Jenna had been photographed tossing around a football with a young daughter, the same people criticizing her now would probably be cheering her on. Biological essentialism – as the author point out – is a historically inaccurate, one-dimensional view that seeks to limit humankind to only two strictly defined gender options. In an age where our social infrastructure is tattered and frayed by war, poverty, social injustice, polarizing rhetoric, economic decay, and political intransigence, it seems to me that those whose hands lay on the privileged levers of media power could find more useful issues to explore.

  5. Jorge M (Scholars) says:

    Reading this article may me think about the colors of pink and powered blue. Before pink was a mostly for boys and blue was for girls. I believe the pictures describe what I mostly feel about this article. I really don’t think there is anything wrong with applying pink toe nail polish to boy’s toes. I think was more important is the fact that mother and son are having bonding time together. However, I think society made think that pink is only for girls and it not natural. Just because the people believe the pink is not natural are totally wrong. Like I stated before pink was consider as color of war. To be honest, I believe people are making something so small blowing up out of proportion. Parent should let their children wear any type of color his/her child desires. Finally, I believe no color should establish children femininity and masculinity. J. crew I believe is giving the correct ideology for a her children; she giving him options to choose.

  6. Living in todays society, it is evident that gender socialization plays a huge role in what is acceptable and unacceptable for each gender. It is often emphasized that the color which one associates themselves with, such as blue or pink reveals their gendered identity. However, these colors which are said to be specifically for boys or specifically for girls are in fact really “socially constructed”, just ideas created by society of what the social norms should be. They therefore don’t have an effect on a person’s gender or sexual identity. The J. Crew advertisement, which depicts Jenna Lyons and her son with toenails painted pink, I believe should not be perceived in a way that shows the boy as a “princess boy” or in way that suggests the boy will become confused later on in his life. In the past, a boy having toenails painted pink wouldn’t even be an issue, because the color pink was in fact also a color that was associated with boys. However, this notion doesn’t apply today since there are specific colors associated with boys and others associated with girls. I think that the reason why this image may seem controversial in this society is because the system of patriarchy that we live in makes it so that if one were to have feminine characteristics they are looked upon as being weak and if they are found in men, they lose their sense of masculinity. Society, therefore, is constantly making it seem as though feminine characteristics in boy or man are something negative and something one should be ashamed of when in fact they aren’t. With this being said, I think the image of Jenna Lyons and her son in the J. Crew advertisement’s purpose is to show a moment of fun, love and bonding between a mother and her son and shouldn’t be analyzed so critically for the son’s pink painted toenails but to be enjoyed and admired for what it is.

  7. With a quick glance at this photo, it looks like a wonderful moment between a mom and a son. Is all the hoopla about a color? Is it okay to paint your son’s toenails blue? The fathers that I know that are older, like the fathers of my friends, never would have allowed painting of sons’ toenails because that in itself is feminine. Nail polish is supposed to be for girls. So I think that the people who are against this ad are against it for two reasons…1: Don’t paint boys toenails and 2: Certainly – don’t paint them pink. Its okay for girls to be tomboys, and be what we consider to be “masculine”, but if a boy is slightly “feminine” (of course keeping in mind all the social constructs that come with this label), then all the homophobics come out of the woodwork. My sister HATES pink (in spite of the fact that my mom put her in pink at every possible opportunity), and it’s my favorite color. As far as I know, colors aren’t masculine or feminine. Most recently, colors have made a huge debut in the male fashion world. Pink, purple, lavender, and bright neons have all become popular among both hetero and homosexual males. Maybe in a couple of years, pink toenails for men will be all the rage.

  8. This was really incredible to read. Thank you so much for your insight! The outcry of this ad reveals the exact problem of our culture. As people, we naturally reward all maleness and strike down and femaleness. Like the professor states, there would have not been this sort of outcry if instead a girl was passing around a ball with her father. The idea gender socialization is getting confused- this is only something that is SOCIALLY CONSTRUCTED. Something completely separate from the sex of a child. Maleness and femaleness doesn’t need to necessarily belong to one sex or the other. It is more than okay for a girl to act like a “boy” and a boy to enjoy “girly” activities. However, our culture sees this as ridiculous. The activity of painting toes is “girly” and therefore unacceptable. What becomes the best argument in this article, I believe, is the fact that the connection to colors with sex has only been created recently. In fact, the colors used to be switched! Hopefully this ad was able to reveal the problems in our culture, and maybe it will point us towards being more accepting in the future.

  9. CourtyanaF says:

    When i look at this ad i think , “what great fun they’re having.” i see smiles and love how connected they are as mother and son. When i eventually notice the nail polish i figured that her son was caught playing in the nail polish. Just like all kids get caught playing in things you need grown up assistance for. The only difference is the color just happened to be hot pink. I could understand why the media would make such a big deal. They made the photo so serious because of the media’s perception on feminism and masculinity between women and men. Hot pink is for “girls” and blue is for boys. It befuddles me that this is the case, especially when gender wasn’t identified by color in the early days. little boys actually wore white dresses. This just comes to show you how things change over the years. All in all i feel that this was a great add.

  10. I do not see anything wrong with this ad that shows Jenna Lyons and her son Beckett having a little fun over some nail polish. Nor do I see a lifetime of therapy flashing before the child’s eyes. Perhaps it has been overshadowed by the giant smiles plastered on the mother and son’s faces. What is really sickening here is that a grown, supposedly educated man is attacking this beautiful moment with conspiracy theories. Society should worry more that it has raised an older generation of patriarchal men who have nothing better to do but obsess about gender-coding, a made up societal standard for boys and girls to begin with. Dr. Ablow could benefit from a women’s studies class in which he would have learned that boys used to dress in pink and girls used to dress in blue. He also worries that there will not be enough men to fight in wars because they will all be too feminine. I’m sure the boys would suffer less side effects from having a few pink toenails than years of therapy from posttraumatic stress disorder due to war. Furthermore, Jcrew is being very progressive by showing a boy with pink nails because it shows boys that they have options other than the highly segmented blue and warrior toys. It transcends the stereotypes that boys must be overly masculine beginning from such a young age instead of just being concerned with being kids. Lastly, this ad is proof that masculine traits are favored and feminine traits are devalued in today’s society. Contrary to what Fox believes, if boys were taught feminine traits like sympathy and how to care for others it would enable them to actually have an easier time in the future. I would certainly rather live in a world where society emphasized female traits such as the aforementioned, instead of living in the emotionally constipated patriarchal society we are currently in.

  11. When I first saw this image I didn’t even notice the boy’s toenails painted pink until my professor pointed it out. In my women studies class I learned that people use color code to define a child as male or female. It is incredible how color-coding has become every important for gendering a child after only being used in the last 15 years. According to my women studies class 50 years ago the colors that define a female and male today were reverse. Back then pink was associated with a boy because it was close to red that was a firing color and blue define a girl because it was a cool and soothing color. Personally, I think its weird that now we are color-coded even before we are born. I believe that colors have nothing to do with identification of a child’s gender. For example, just because the boy’s toenails are color pink doesn’t mean the kid would turn gay in that instant because if that boy was meant to turn out gay then he is gay even if his nails were painted pink or not. In the end, it’s not the color itself that defines the gender of a child but the way people use colors to represent gender.

  12. This advertisement in the articles supposed to be on how the J.Crew’s creative director, Jenna Lyons and her son are having a great bonding session. When the attention of the advertisement is actually plucked to the point that boys shouldn’t wear pink nail polish. How does that relate to anything about the advertisement to sell nail polish it sure creates a controversy. Both girls and boys should be allowed to do what they want to do and there shouldn’t be gender roles tied to each thing. For example if a girl decides she wants to play football instead of what a norm of what a girl should be doing such as playing tea party. And vise verse boys should be allowed to do things that would be typically labeled feminine. The fact that we divide activities based on gender qualities is unfair and sad. I child should be able to express their freedom however they want it doesn’t mess with the psychological. in fact the the kids are chastised for playing with the wrong toys we are sending wrong and twisted messages to the children.

  13. This article makes me so upset, instead on focusing on the relationship between the mother and the son, and how happy they look playing around together, people are focusing on the fact that this “irresponsible” mother put the color pink on her son’s toes. I don’t understand why people are making such a big deal about this, a color is just a color and it doesn’t determine your sex or gender. There’s that phrase even that “real men wear pink”. Color codes are a more recent thing, back in the days every baby wore white, and just fyi pink was actually correlated with boys. So I don’t understand why people are freaking out just because this boy has some pink nail polish on his toes, pink was a color close to red, meant that it represented strength and masculinity. This world is so caught up in gender roles and why wouldn’t they be? We still live in a patriarchy society!

  14. After viewing the picture of the delightful moment between loving, doting mother and happy, beautiful son, its a pleasure to see both mother and son have a smile on there face and are bonding with one another. I wonder to my self if there isn’t any other activities a mother can do with her son other than painting his toe nails pink. Me being a guy, as a kid I would not want my mother painting pink nail polish on my toe nails. Growing up in a public elementary school it would be so that girls would be the ones putting nail polish on and wanting to put make up on their face and the boys would want to do more boy things like play basketball or other sports. I feel like a mother putting pink nail polish on her son is a confusing situation to the son on weather who should be masculine compared by girl and boy.

  15. StephanieR. says:

    Looking back at my childhood I can clearly see how people nowadays can get so caught up in the fact that a little boy had pink nail polish on his toes. People have been told, and it has been ingrained into their minds, that certain colors contain certain characteristics. However, it is all made up! Liking a color doesn’t mean you have the characteristics society has associated it with. Pink is not ‘feminine’. It is pink. Blue is blue. Lyon’s has courage to use this picture as an ad. It is a great photo and you can see that it isn’t about painting nails, it is about bonding and spending time with her child.

  16. It really annoys me that this is even brought up by people as wrong or not right for the little boy in the photo. Ignorant people just dont understand. Wearing pink or painting your nails doesnt make a male homosexual just as not wearing wearing pink and acting masculine doesnt make someone straight. The comment by Brown saying that the mother is setting her son up for hardship might be true, but that shouldnt be the case. All the boy knows is that he is bonded with his mother, not that he is being depicted as gay. He isnt even old enough to know that. Our society needs to get over the gender roles and judgements because they are not accurate just make life negative and harder for people for no reason at all.

  17. I think gender and colors have nothing at all to do with each other. When I first saw the add I didn’t even notice it was a boy though, I thought it was a girl.To what that doctor says about making the kid pick a gender he is not suppose to be by wearing pink, is a bit nuts to me. The fact that pink use to be a manly color is very interesting to me to. And that blue was known as a female color. These things aren’t a big deal and people shouldn’t see it as a big deal. I’m a 20 year old straight guy and I wear the color pink all the time. I use to wear a pink hat every day. Doesn’t make me want to be another gender.

  18. Matthew H. says:

    Ablow and Brown’s comments strike me as being absurd, which they are. As you point out, there is a difference between socially constructed gender and biological sex. First of all, differing from normative gender roles does not cause someone to change or want to change their sex. It’s ridiculous that we still have people who have received a degree at the doctoral level spewing these inaccurate comments as fact. In our patriarchal society, men are discouraged from embracing colors that are regarded as feminine, yet women do not face the same judgments when embracing masculine characteristics. These comments, expressed by Brown and Ablow, just go to further promote the idea that the feminine gender is lesser than the male gender. A child having his nails painted pink is not going to make him turn gay. If there is anything that will “make” a child a certain sexuality, it’s definitely not a color that differentiates from the normative colors seen appropriate for their sex. On top of that, what’s so wrong with homosexuality anyways? It’s not as if we’re facing a shortage of humans!

  19. I feel this is so stupid that she is getting attacked for painting her son’s toenails pink. Its her child, who has the right to tell her how to raise her child. If she painted her son’s nails blue their wouldn’t be any problem, but now that she painted them pink its a problem. Crazy how society has standards which are outrageous !

  20. Its hard to tell if the problem here is that this little boy’s toes are painted pink or that he is just wearing nail polish in general, but I think both issues give a reason for people to be against this ad. I just want to say I hope society gets more open minded to guys dressing in what is traditionally thought of as “feminine” clothing because women transitioned to wearing pants casually in the 50’s in the spirit of individuality and self-expression. People thought it was weird to see a woman in pants back then as well and so with every person comes an independent mind. This allows people to create for themselves their own personality and tastes. That is a good thing that should be embraced. In the same spirit I think men should be able to wear what they think expresses themselves rather than being confined to societal gender roles. So I personally don’t see anything wrong with this little boy having his toe nails painted pink. In our society colors have associated us with our gender, which sucks because these are only viewpoints of our society. These socially constructed ideas aren’t allowing us to live freely.

  21. Carolyne A says:

    I actually find it extremely interesting that gender and color were not associated with each other until the 20th century. Since I was born into a world where blue is boy and pink is girl, it seems almost unnatural for me to see a baby boy wearing pink. The fact that this ad has caused such a controversy goes to show how much the world has changed, in a negative way. This picture is in fact a beautiful and precious moment, and the picture would in fact be celebrated had it not been for the pink nail polish. I think the only way for this to not be such a big deal is through education, teaching people that just because one is a boy, he is not born to love the color blue and vise versa for a girl.

  22. I would have to agree with the message of the ad for as a child i portrayed the exact same message. My favorite color growing up was blue, and I would always be made fun of by my extremely girly girlfriends on not having a bedroom that looked was covered in pink. I dont understand why colors have to be assigned by gender. Each and every person has their own liking and preference and it sounds absurd to have to assign young boys and girls what they can or can’t like. A boy liking the color pink doesnt determine anything about him or his feature. Its a closed minded stereo type that society has to get over.

  23. Jenna Lyons candid moment with her son reflects nothing more than just that; a mother enjoying time with her son. The absurd comments and abstractions drawn out from this advertisement makes me lose faith in humanity however, I believe reading the commentary everyone is providing gives me at least some fleeting sense of hope. Needless to say, there will always be the countermovement to progressive thought and action whether its a woman bonding with her son by breaking down gender constructs or vast movements of women and men in search of deconstructing binaries within society, there will always be an opposition praying to perpetuate the patriarchal heteronormative world we exist in.

  24. It’s very upsetting to think how critically and unfairly stricken down the affection this woman shows towards her son is attacked by society. I’d hope that people today wouldn’t assume that just because I child is messing with nail polish he isn’t defining his gender. I would expect more from the educated community as well. What is resounding the online response provided by the feminists involved in this community and scholarly critiques presented as well.

  25. I believe that this ad took courage and was an eye-opening to the viewers who saw this ad for J.Crew because of how it stepped outside of the box we are all trying to live by to accordingly. I do not believe that Color Coding has to do with gender and they shouldn’t serve as signifiers if a baby is a boy or a girl because in the end, as children grow up they make their own decisions on what color they like. For example I wasn’t really into all the girly girl pink cinderella stuff when I was growing up, I mean I didn’t mind it but I tended to lean more towards the color blue as my favorite it (which it still is today) and blue princess stuff or blue toys instead. In the end, as said in lecture, back in history, Franklin D. Roosevelt wore a white dress but he was the most macho president we have had. Back in time, all babies looked the same. Also, pink was masculine because pink was close to red and red was aggressive and light blue was for feminine → the color is relaxation, calming color, soothing color and is associated with Virgin Mary. In the end, I liked how J.Crew stepped out of the “norm” of society and showed this ad to express how boys can favor the color pink and be masculine and girls can like the color blue and still be feminine.

  26. It’s very interesting to see how great of an effect color has nowadays on gender characteristics. I think associating certain colors with gender and sex has gone a little too far in society today. A man wearing pink really doesn’t show much about him except the fact that he is wearing that color. There is nothing to judge there. It is quite ridiculous to look at that picture of a mother and son having a fun time and just criticize the fact that the mother decided to put pink pedicure on the kid. Yes, the kid is a male and the kid has pink pedicures. So what? It really doesn’t mean anything. Even if the color pink is taken as feminine, so what if the kid is feminine? There is really no problem there. The only problem that might occur is some of the hardships the kid might go through if he ends up growing a bit feminine because as we all know, society is not so gentle to that just yet. That’s a possible problem that might occur and if it did, one can make the argument that the mother made a poor decision. However, apart from that one point, the picture is absolutely fine and the color association with gender and/or sex has gone a little too far in society today.

  27. Michael Z says:

    At the first glance of this article, i thought the picture of the mother and her son was a very nice picture. I didn’t take offence or feel like it was weird that the son was wearing pink toenail polish. I just saw this as a funny and cute way for the mother and son to bond. I believe that both Ablow and Brown are really over-analyzing this advertisement. They are making a serious mistake by associating color, gender, and sexual identity together. This pink toenail polish is a color code. A color code is a social construct which serves as a signifier and a signifier is a symbol which communicates something. But it is absurd to just associate a color code with a gender. This is proven by the fact that in the past pink was associated with masculinity and light blue was associated with femininity. But now pink is associated with femininity and light blue is associated with masculinity. Clearly the comments made by Albow and Brown show that they don’t know the difference between sex which is biological and gender which is a social construct. I finally agree that in our system of patriarchy, femininity is devalued while masculinity is valued.

  28. Shannon He says:

    At first glance, this ad for J. Crew simply represented a mother and her son enjoying a day bonding together. They both look extremely happy and loving towards one another. I could never imagine how much harsh criticism this photo could receive until after I read the excerpts presented in this article. Unfortunately, our culture today has strict settings on color codes for boys and girls. While boys are strictly correlated with blue, and pink for girls these colors do not determine the sexual preference of these children as adults. While this young boy is wearing nail polish, his chances of being homosexual or heterosexual are still equally likely. This is even proven through history as red/pink was once correlated with boys and blue was for girls. The boys who once wore red and pink still have the same chance of homo or heterosexuality in their adult life. The fact that his mother allows him to explore both “girly” and “boyish” activities is actually better for his development as an adult. While there are parents in the world who are abusive toward their children, society chooses to criticize and bash on Jenna Lyons’ who is showing care and love for her son. As a result, I praise the bold statement of this J. Crew ad, showing that it is healthy and should be normal for children to explore both “boyish” and “girly” activities.

  29. Alireza D says:

    At first glance I didn’t notice anything wrong with the picture until I read the first line of the blog. The only reason I can think of that this made news was because it was a slow news day. It just nail polish, it comes off, and more importantly it’s just a color. Liking certain colors doesn’t make you more feminine or masculine, it’s all just preference. My mom has a picture of me smeared in red lipstick because I tried to put it on myself when I was four and I was also wearing all her jewelry. She has shown this picture to so many people and I turned out fine. The kid is going to turn out fine too, it’s not going to make him “confused” or question his masculinity in any way whatsoever.

  30. Seriously, what is the real problem here? People should be more concerned in important problems rather than making sure a boy is using the right color (I don’t consider a boy with pink nail polish as a problem at all). Why do people focus on something that is so small that they even have to zoom in to take a better look? Can’t they just how happy the boy is with his mom? That is the point of being a child: to be happy without worries and not to care about frivolous things like this. The boy seems to be really happy to be spending time with his mom there. That is the thing people need to look at instead of what color nail polish he has on his toenails. Only because he is using pink doesn’t mean he will turn out to be homosexual or that he will be too feminine. Why should a specific color label who you are? If we look back in history, pink wasn’t a feminine color: it was a masculine color, and blue was a feminine color. In order to get out of this color coding, we need to go way back when color coding didn’t even exist.

  31. Pink is a color, right? I mean that last time; I checked it was a color, not an indicative characteristics of one’s sexual orientation. I understand the reasoning behind those offended by J Crew’s ad, but what sense does it make to berate this child’s innocent activity of fun with his mother. I think more damage is being done to this child by those who claim he is being turned into a “princess boy”. These are nothing more than transparent displays of the ways our patriarchal society does not benefit all men. If Pink is exclusively for girls, the why isn’t a big parade made when a girl paints her nails blue. Color-Coding is biggest demonstration of gender inequality and sexism that is hidden under the pretense of tradition. Jenna Lyons son, consumed in his childhood, should be allowed the innocence of this moment with his mother instead of being reminded that this behavior is abnormal, that he is abnormal. Let the child be a child for goodness sake. Also, quite frankly I wonder if the hoopla around the issue has anything to do with the fact that Jenna Lyons recently left her husband and began a relationship with a woman. Oh no, Lesbians and Gays raise homosexual children, we have to nip this in this bud before they start to multiply. It just heterosexism on display and not a genuine concern for the wellbeing of this child. To end, I love Dr. Levkoff’s statement “Dear Fox, colors don’t have genders. Colors are just colors. Liking certain colors [doesn’t] mean you like girls or boys, or want to be either of them, now or in the future.”

  32. From the outside looking in one may be puzzled in seeing a little boy getting his nails painted pink, let alone painted at all. Its what gender socialization has done to us. We have been educated from the womb about what is supposed to be appropriate for both male and female behavior. There are wrongs and rights in all aspects including what color your furniture and walls should be painted. Men are entrapped in their masculinity, they cant attempt to tap into their femininity, especially in the public eye. At the same time it is true that girls from a young age are encouraged to do masculine things. It is also interesting to learn the history of the colors pink and blue and how their roles in defining gender has changed; demonstrating that color doesn’t truly affect one’s sexual orientation, or their social behavior, rather peoples reactions to it does, and society does. As seen in the JCrew ad in this post, the lady who is painting her son’s toenails pink is the creative director of the brand, so one can ask is pink the new blue? Trends in the media and the advertising realm are what define how a gender is to act within a time period in life, it will always change.

  33. Jonathan M says:

    At first glance, as I looked at the picture, I couldn’t help but notice how directly the camera had zoomed in on this child’s foot. I found this interesting because the main purpose of that effect was probably due to a homophobic scare, exploiting the boy and his ‘pink nail polish’. I find it very unfortunate that such an image of a mother and son together has to be taken to the extreme just to point out that his mom had colored his toenails pink. This scare is all due to the fact that this picture is going against what society would deem as acceptable for a young boy. When boys or young boys specifically are portrayed in pictures or any other form of media, they are shown as strong independent figures who are either building something or running around with some sort of toy gun shooting other boys as well. Once that boy is put into this context of having pink nail polish on, and just because pink is associated with femininity, I was not surprised to read what people had to say about this article taking into consideration the hyper-masculine society we all live in today. If only this child knew how much criticism was behind him for having pink nail polish on, and this whole time he was probably having the time of his life experimenting with new things.

  34. When I first saw the picture for J. Crew’s Toenail-Painting Ad Causes Pink Scare, I saw a mother and her son enjoying each others company smiling and sharing some laughs. They both look genuinely happy and look like they both are really enjoying spending time together. I am shocked and disappointed with the harsh nonsense the article receives. It really disappoints me that every single one of our actions are judged most likely with disappointment and negativity. Its very unfortunate that girls and boys have a strict setting on color codes. Why is it that a girl is affiliated with pink and a boy is affiliated with blue. I believe the “color code” does not determine the sexuality/ sexual preference as the child gets older. Its bizarre how its said that if I boy wears nail polish at this young of age, he has greater chances of becoming homosexual or heterosexual. I believe a child at that young of age should be able to express himself and wear nail polish if we wants to. Our social norms are very strict and unfair. I actually thought it was a good idea for the mother to let her son explore both girl and boy activities. Its not like the child is at an age where he understands girls are the one that usually wear nail polish. At the end of the day, I think the mother did a good thing letting her son explore all male and female activities even if she is being judged.

  35. Ariella M says:

    I agree that the direct correlation between color, gender and sexual identity is ridiculous. I think that the idea that pink is for girls and blue is for boys is simply a marketing strategy. That means that if a mother has a son and a daughter she must have two entirely different wardrobes for her children. I totally disagree with the way people have been socialized to believe that just because a boy is wearing pink nail polish in this ad it is going to make him confused in the future. Just because his mother is putting pink nail polish on his toes does not mean that he will have problems in the future. It is so upsetting to think that if this ad was the other way around, portraying a girl playing with trucks, it would be applauded. It is okay for a girl to be a tomboy, but once a boy wears pink he suddenly is confused with his sexuality? I do not think this is fair or correct. I remember the huge deal they made about “Princess Boy.” I first saw him on The Ellen Show. The young boy liked wearing dresses and pink clothing. It is sad to think that if this was a girl wearing boy’s clothes it would cause no attention at all. I remember in elementary school the term “tomboy” had a negative connotation, but it was not something to be entirely ashamed about. This just comes to show how people in our society have been socialized to think that it is wrong for a boy to wear something or act in a certain way that could be feminine.

  36. After reading this article, I was thoroughly upset. The idea that people can blow up such a simple and pure moment of joy and love between a mother and her child is ridiculous! This is yellow-journalism at its finest and I despise every bit of it! I wish people could just look at the picture and enjoy the message or image being conveyed. It is sad that the process of socialization has embedded its teachings into the minds of so many individuals, male and female. Color shouldn’t be something that is gender specific and that a child can’t express themselves without being judged or looked down upon by society. There is nothing wrong with this add, and quite frankly, I made nothing of it when I saw the pink nail polish on the boy. It was a nice picture and nothing more, nothing less.

  37. Maria A. says:

    In my opinion kids should not use nail polish because it is not good for their nails. It is nice that a mother is spending time with her son, but painting his nails pink is not right. Color coding is important to our society and seeing a little american boy with pink toe nails will have people talking, and not good. I do not think this picture or experience will affect the way the little boy will turn out in the future. I do agree with J crew to let our children explore their sexuality like girly or manly activities.

  38. The fact that a doctor confuses gender and biological sex in his offensive and unprofessional statement is proof that we need more education on gender socialization. There is nothing wrong with letting a little boy paint his nails, and it is no indication of his intent to change his sex or be gay (although there is nothing wrong with either). Rather than demonize his mother for going against his gendered actions or supposed color, why don’t we open up our one-dimensional view of what it means to be a boy or girl in our society? We impose such rigid standards of femininity and masculinity and we need to realize that this is not an indication of anything other than color preference. Also liking the color pink or blue has nothing to do with biology since color codes weren’t invented until less than 100 years ago.
    Rather than demonize children for their choices in color, maybe we should look at our treatment of those who deviate from what is considered normal. The words against this child and his mother are so shocking and vile; the reaction is truly the most awful thing about the picture. And we should work to educate people about sex and gender, being that they are two different things and that we have the power to change gender socialization.

  39. Jasmine Gh says:

    We live in a society run by social constructs of gender. We tend to categorize pink with femininity, when ironically blue was once a sign of femininity. Pink is associated with what a female does, its doing gender. Pink on a male depicts a sign of femininity to society. Only because of color codes, a certain gender is expected to perform the characteristics that go with a certain gender. I do not think this ad should have ever been ostracized, but the reality is, there is still a one dimensional view of gender in our society.

  40. If you look at the picture, you see a loving relationship and shared laughter, happiness, and content. Of course, being in the world we live in, people always have to fish for more. They need to find something wrong, something that doesn’t fit into societies context of the norm, and if successful, they if successful, they bash it as wrong. Such oppression, narrow mindedness, and one dimensional outlook it painful to acknowledge, but it exists. So what if the little boy is wearing pink nail polish! Automatically, a hundred and one conclusions are drawn about his sex, gender, and sexual orientation. He is only a child, yet he is spotlighted under the media for the campaign. A color has no indication of sexual orientation, its just a color. Funny, pink used to be a boys color and blue used to be a girls color and even before that all babies dressed in white, but now there are rules, guidelines and associations between what colors we wear and how we dress. Relax people, find something else to fuss about.

  41. Kayla H says:

    J.C. Penny’s ad in my opinion captures a sweet and loving moment of a mother and son spending quality time. Their time just so happens to be painting nails. Because gender is a social construct, and our society today is obsessed with assigning activities and qualities to a gender, moments like this, where a young boy is delighting in his mother’s company, cannot be appreciated. The image is attacked because they are painting nails, which is considered “feminine”. In a society where the masculine is extremely valued, and the feminine is not, this becomes very shocking and concerning for many people within the mainstream culture. People, parents in particular, do not want their child to behave “outside their gender”. Many people believe this will cause them to be gay, feminine, etc. However, because these activities are not inherently feminine or masculine, but have been gendered by society, it does not inherently do or influence the child in any way. I think it is ridiculous that people believe certain activities will change the gender or sexual orientation of a child. Activities do not denote gender. Activities are gendered by society. Culture tells us that women dance ballet and men play football, and if a man were to play ballet, it would be feminine and therefore shameful. Because of this shame that society places upon people, people cannot express their full spectrum of their being, as they are restricted to the gendered activities and qualities that their culture has predetermined for them by their sex. If a mother and son want to paint their nails, let an innocent child do as he or she pleases, and not shame them for simple, fun loving activies.

  42. Bryan K says:

    Initially, I did not notice anything wrong with the ad photo. I saw a happy mother and son looking into each others eyes. I did not notice the pink nail polish until I read the article. Personally, I do not find anything wrong with allowing a boy to apply pink nail polish on his toes. I feel that children should not be limited to what they are “supposed” to do according to their gender. Therefore, if a boy wants to wear nail polish, then by all means allow him to do so. Furthermore, if a girl wants to play with toy trucks in the mud she should not be discouraged from doing so. When children are limited by gender norms their imagination is hindered. If your son desires to dress up as Cinderella next Halloween completely support him in his choice. Remember to get him the glass slippers!

  43. Brenda S. says:

    The first thing I noticed was actually the pink nail polish and not because it was on a boy but because it was such a bright and fun color. It was after I really looked at the picture that I noticed it was a boy with the nail polish and I’m not going to lie, but I was a bit confused. As I read the article I could not help but get angry at the critiques, who so narrow mindedly criticised Jenna Loyns. The fact that people believe just because the boy is wearing a pink and also believe that pink is a feminine color, therefore Loyns is exposing her son to homosexuality is completely and uterly absurd. Masculinity and femininity are social constructs, and therefore colors coordination is also socially consturcted. Colors are just colors, and only recently have people associated pink with femininity and blue with masculinity, where before they seemed to represent the opposite. With that being said, it is ridiculous to claim that it is not “natural” and it will lead to “create more confused boys”.

  44. Danielle B. says:

    When I first came across this image of Jenna Lyons and her son, I saw a mother and son sharing laughter. I did not even think twice of her son’s sexuality based on the color his toe nails were painted. Having pink nails does not define his gender or make him any less masculine. I cannot believe how much attention this article has attracted from the media because of the color of his nails. If Jenna Lyons had a daughter in this image with black painted nails, it would not cause such uproar from society. What draws attention from people is that it is not acceptable for men to wear pink because it is a “feminine” color. Isn’t that shocking because at point in history pink was actually a masculine color. Our society is so obsessed with gender socialization and gender roles between males and females that there are actually acceptable and unacceptable standards tied with these genders. If pink was a neutral gendered color like black, then this image would not have gotten any publicity or raised any questions. I compare this situation to the fact that some would say cheerleading is a “female” sport only, but what’s so wrong with a male being a cheerleader? Men are generally physically stronger than women and would make efficient cheerleaders. Men who are cheerleaders are stereotyped as gay and frowned upon in society because it is categorized as a feminine activity. I find it unfair that females are actually encouraged to explore different sports and branch out of their norms, but males are not. Gender roles are set by society and it is more acceptable for a female to take on the role of a male than a male take on the role of a female.

  45. There is nothing inappropriate about this ad. There should not be such a great focus on colors determining gender in the first place. The fact that this little boy is having his nails painted does not mean that he will be confused about his gender identity. Gender itself is a social construct. That means masculinity and femininity is something that is learned. I also believe that this ad only received so much negative feedback because there is a greater pressure placed on males to meet the expectations of their gender. They are expected to be dominant over women and children, which is one of the four attributes of masculinity. Painting nails is strictly seen as a feminine thing to do-which makes the act itself seem weak. Femininity is devalued in today’s society. But if this add featured a little girl playing football, it would not have received so much attention. Girls are encouraged to take on male characteristics because they are highly valued, but boys receive negative sanctions as punishment for not following the expectations of their gender.

  46. Ashley K. says:

    I think J. Crew’s Essie made a very brave, and risky statement by making this picture their ad. It is definitely a big deal when absolutely no media advertisement is showing equality between men and women. I really respect them for being the first, if I am not mistaken, to show that if a little boy wants to wear hot pink nail polish, it should be seen as a norm and should not be criticized. The point the picture makes shows us how much fun the mother and the son are having. They are spending quality time and whatever makes your son or daughter happy should be what people focus on. It is truly disgusting to hear about how babies and young boys are getting beaten up for being a little more feminine. Nothing should make a little boy or girl feel out of the ordinary when that certain thing makes them happy, especially something so small as a nail polish color. I’m really shocked, in a good way, that J. Crew actually made this ad and I really hope that this opens doors for other advertisements and we see more of these kinds of ads in the future. Good for J. Crew!

  47. Bryan S says:

    I definitely agree with the author on how ludicrous this whole “pink scare” is. Like the author said, color is a social construct. Just because a boy likes pink doesn’t mean he’s going to want to be a girl when he grows up, just like if a girl likes blue doesn’t mean that she’s a lesbian. I think a similar double standard is how girls are encouraged to play “boy” sports, but boys are discouraged from doing ballet or dance classes. The author is right of course in that the problem isn’t what color boys wear on their toes, its how the society we live in blasts them for it.

  48. Eli-Ran Y says:

    I find it truly absurd that such a painting of a boy having his toenails painted pink by his mother stirred up so much controversy. With that being said, I think today’s society, especially the media, has pushed it beyond apprehension with what seems to be appropriate for each gender, especially color-coding. The kid in ad is no more than four years old; he should be able to color his toenails any color, its part of growing up. I can assure people that the kid won’t turn out any different because he painted his toenails pink once. I had my toenails painted pink when I was younger and I turned out just fine. Jenna Lyons epitomizes what a good mother should be doing (taking care and having fun with her child), without the presence of gender socialization. Until the media mediates the abolishment of gender socialization, such ridiculous controversies will continue to plague our society.

  49. Shahien Hendizadeh says:

    I think that it is absolutely preposterous to suggest that the boy’s sexuality will change or that he will want to become a girl all because he is wearing pink nail polish. The kid is very young and he will not even know what nail polish is. Besides that you dont even notice the nail polish in the ad unless you look closely, you are going to focus on the beautiful moment that mother is sharing with her son. The loving smile and stare will capture ones attention before anything else. If a boy likes pink that does not mean that he will become a girl or that he will change his sexuality. I find it very disturbing that people must lambast this boy for wearing pink, he is a young kid let him wear what he want, when he wants.

  50. Cristine B says:

    At first I have to admit that I was at first glance a bit thrown back, as I have been gender socialized to think this thing is out of the ordinary. Then I gathered my thoughts and realized this really isn’t anything at all, and the controversy around it is just absolutely ridiculous. It reminds me of how many people feel being gay is a choice, or that a gay individual’s parents did things while raising him that made him gay, yet when their own child is gay, they suddenly realize that it isn’t a choice, and is in fact the way they were born. I hope more ads come out like this in the future to keep a debate and dialogue going about gender socialization and gender roles.

    • This article really intrigued me to read because it made me realize how much we gender things especially with children. It shocked me how much people were so concerned with a little boy wearing pink nail polish. Who really cares? The little boy is happy and I am sure he is not gender confused. It also shocked me how homophobia there is out there. This ad should not be a big deal, yet because of the male dominated society we live in it unfortunately is.

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