Candie’s #NoTeenPreg Campaign Shames Young Moms

candies-psa-carlyDear teens: Don’t have sex—or else.

This is the doom-tinged “advice” implied by a teen pregnancy prevention campaign put out by The Candie’s Foundation. In conjunction with National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, the foundation recently released a series of celebrity-endorsed PSAs for its #NoTeenPreg campaign, the shaming attitude of which is captured in its latest tagline: “You’re supposed to be changing the world, not changing diapers.”

At first glance, it may seem feminist to tell girls that they have a responsibility to be out there changing the world, but take a closer look at these faux-empowering posters:

You think being in school sucks? You know what sucks a lot more? A baby—every 2 hours for feeding time.

Not really the way you pictured your first crib, huh? Raising a baby can cost over $10,000 a year.

Being a teen mother is certainly no cakewalk (nor is mothering at any age), but the Candie’s campaign shames both motherhood and teen sexuality under the guise of faux-feminism. Many of these PSA’s are not even specific to teen pregnancy: Mothers of all ages change diapers, and feed and pay for their babies. Theses messages make motherhood sound like a punishment for being sexual, and shaming mothers or female sexuality isn’t exactly what you’d call feminist.

Says Feministing,

[Campaigns like that of The Candie’s Foundation] serve only to add stigma and do nothing to address the material conditions that actually affect young families and the poor outcomes that they can face: access to things like education, affordable health care, childcare, housing.

Candie’s also presents pregnancy as a burden reserved for girls alone. Candie’s PSAs more-or-less follow the same female-focused format as the one above: sultry, made-up celebrity face on one side, boldfaced sex-shaming sentence on the other. Although two of the campaign posters and one of the PSA videos feature male celebrities, The Candie’s Foundation’s website is laden with gendered words such as “girls” and “moms,” making it pretty clear that pregnancy is a full-time worry for girls while boys have the option to remove themselves from the equation. Although the Candie’s brand is marketed to girls, the issue it’s decided to tackle is not girl-specific; girls don’t become pregnant without a little help. 

As the foundation’s fact sheet indicates, nearly 750,000 teens will become pregnant this year, but it doesn’t include a stat of how many are doing the impregnating. In fact, the one statistic that explicitly mentions boys—claiming that 8 out of 10 fathers don’t marry the mother of their child—still seems aimed at girls (don’t expect him to stay around!).

Thus the onus to not get pregnant, to not “ruin” one’s life and to shoulder the blame if one does get pregnant is on teen girls—but they aren’t offered any help in making informed decisions about pregnancy, sex or relationships. There’s nothing about sex education, contraceptives or how to talk with a partner about consent—just this creepy (and kinda Pavlovian) crying baby app to help you snap out of getting “caught in the moment” by forever associating being turned on with the panic-inducing cries of (supposed) wasted youth and bad choices.

Although The Candie’s Foundation website offers input from teen moms (including that paragon of virtue, Bristol Palin), their stories are used only as warnings and examples of what not to become (unless you’re wealthy and famous, suggests Palin). The foundation paints these mothers as victims of poor judgment instead of who they also are: strong women. Raquel Ortega, who works with young people about reproductive justice at Choice USA, shares the side of young motherhood that Candie’s doesn’t show,

[Young mothers] not only raise their children, they also work full time, balance responsibilities and own their own homes … Any disadvantage that they had by getting pregnant is counterbalanced by the fact that they work harder.

Candie’s reduces teen mothers and their babies to abject lessons to scare teens away from sex and into abstinence (an approach that is silly at best and counterproductive at worst). The PSA below may not mention abstinence, but it doesn’t mention how to have safer sex either (nor does the video that flashes the word “condoms” across the screen—teens know what they are; what they need to know is how to use them).

Outraged by Candie’s take on young parents, Natasha Vianna launched a petition against the campaign and with the stated objective to meet with Neil Cole, the campaign’s founder, and offer ways of refocusing the conversation about teen pregnancy. A young mother and activist, Vianna asserts that motherhood and success are not mutually exclusive: “Although I was changing diapers at 17, I am changing the world.”

Candie’s has responded by posting facts about teen pregnancy on its Twitter feed. But the foundation seems to miss the point, implying that these numbers justify its reductive tactics. So far, The Candie’s Foundation has not further addressed the criticism.

To support young parents and challenge stigmas about motherhood, sign Vianna’s petition. You can also tweet the Candie’s Foundation @CandiesOrg and join the conversation at #NoTeenShame.

PSA from The Candie’s Foundation


  1. Meh – I don’t have a problem with these ads. In fact, maybe it’s not a bad thing for girls to be reminded that they have other options, and that having a baby can really put a cramp in the time you get to devote to things like studying, and going out with your friends.

  2. Please don’t suggest that working harder will compensate for interrupted education and the very real prospect of low wages all their mothering days. There’s a reason so many single mothers live in poverty and it relates strongly to job qualifications such as at least a high school diploma.

  3. I really feel that this is not a problem. Being a PARENT at sixteen is. I’m not bashing motherhood, nor teen mothers…I myself was one. But I think that the slogans above put teen parenting in a realistic light. When we live in a day and age where it is acceptable for a telivision station to broadcast a reality show about teen moms, and magazines have said teen moms blasted on their covers, we should be able to accept some negative comments, too.

  4. jackie robb says:

    I’m sorry, I disagree. Having a baby is not something teenagers should do, and there are ways to prevent pregnancy, even if a teen is sexually active — obviously the use of birth control. The fact is that if a teenager has a baby, she lowers her chances of completing her education, and will have a harder time truly finding her place in the world. I don’t have a problem with feminist organizations trying to dissuade teen pregnancies, and this add tries to do that. There is nothing shaming about the ad — it simply states that teen women should do whatever they can to avoid pregnancy. Again, I’m sorry if this sounds harsh, but young women need to avoid pregnancy before they’re ready to raise a baby. This ad doesn’t condemn teen sex, it simply intimates that teens should use birth control.

  5. Are you kidding me? You’re taking your time to criticize this? Shaming? What the hell? This is ridiculous. I’ve worked with Planned Parenthood and am 100% feminist. The problem with this ad campaign is the bias with which you approach it. Teen pregnancy is a huge problem in America. It more often affects lower socioeconomic classes who don’t have access to honest, complete education about sex. Sure there are going to be the anomalies – the kids who get pregnant and have it all planned out, the ones who are upper class enough to have limited struggles, the ones who do go one to change the world. But your little elitist way of looking at this denies the fact that teen pregnancy is a huge roadblock to success later in life. Congratulations, you know people who have been successful despite a teenage pregnancy. So do I. But I also know more people whose lives have been pretty much stuck in the same spot since they got pregnant in their teens. Candie’s is a retail brand. They can’t step into classrooms to educate kids. That they decided to create this ad campaign speaks to their ability to show concern for teens and the country. Are they perfect? No. Are the ads perfect? No. But at least they’re trying to do something to help some kids think twice about making a bad decision?

    Shaming? Who says it’s ok for kids to be having babies, anyway? Our brains aren’t even fully developed until somewhere between 21-27 years of age, depending on who you believe. And, sure, some baby-daddy’s stay with the family, but most leave at this age. It’s too bad, but that’s the truth. Teen mothers shoulder the vast majority of the burden. And it is always the woman’s responsibility to protect herself from pregnancy. Most teen relationships aren’t the picture of maturity, understanding, and equality. Therefore, the boy doesn’t feel the need to stick around. And often doesn’t feel the need to protect against pregnancy – or STD’s for that matter. Ultimately an individual can only rely on herself/himself. To take that responsibility away from a would-be teen mom is its own form of shaming and misogyny.

    Are these other issues important? Yes. Should we expect Candie’s to address them? No. (But we can thank Candie’s for bringing up the subject.) Maybe publications like yours should do more to address these issues and stop worrying about awareness-raising campaigns by organizations that have limited ability to change things at the level you suggest they should.

    (I apologize for any typos – this was typed with my cat on my lap…)

  6. MR Osborne says:

    THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR FIXING THE FORMAT PROBLEM HERE!!! I am able to read ALL of the words for the first time in months!

  7. Jan Neufeld says:

    Get it right. Listen to the wiser young women who object to what you are doing.

  8. I agree with the article. Think about it guys– when have scare campaigns actually ever worked? We know teenagers will be sexually active by a large percentage. So, the productive way to tackle this is by having a campaign that educates about birth control for both genders. You may think it is “realistic” to only target girls. But ad- campaigns are supposed to change the realities we live with now (or they would not be necessary). So, why be satisfied with letting boys off the hook? Why enforcing, through campaign like that, the idea that only girls are responsible? It certainly does not have to be that way. If we follow through with the logic of this campaign, girls will still get pregnant because abstinence only education does not work, then they are shamed for being pregnant, feel like they ruined their lives, and either get an abortion purely out of fear (for which they will be shamed) or live as a teenage mom (for wich they will be shamed). So, the article has a very valid point. NO ONE here says it’s ok for teenagers to get pregnant.

    • That would be quite interesting to see the male take on the above video. Teen fathers with the whole custody battles, no money due to child support, type psa directed at teen boys. lol

  9. donnadara says:

    I am in total agreement with your article. It is not the end of the world to be a teen mom. All teen moms are not poor. Some have supportive families who support them while they get an education and are able to better support their children. Some are married and managing with the help of their husbands. “You’re supposed to be changing the world… not changing diapers”? Some of us were able to do both. The people who promote these ads are probably the same people who are anti-choice. A girl can’t win.

  10. This article is the real shame…. Maybe the taglines aren’t per se “empowering” but they are honest. They are an opinion and a perspective on reality of teen pregnancy. Nothing wrong with that .

    Second, with all the hoopla, assumption, and speculation about the “gendered” words and the focus on women (and that boys could just leave)…FACT: Candie’s Foundation is an offshoot of Candies which is a FEMALE clothing line. The focus of this non-profit is towards young women. That’s a positive thing!

    Third, “Candie’s reduces teen mothers and their babies to abject lessons to scare teens away from sex and into abstinence” You then explicitly say neither abstinence nor contraception is mentioned. So again, stop making assumptions.

    Finally, i’m sorry again but all the issues addresssed (will he stay around? Will i be able to go out? earning power…timing…future…progress) are all REAL LIFE SERIOUS CONCERNS that most young girls think about!!

    I’m sorry but this article was upsetting. Candie’s is a female-oriented non-profit that has done amazing things. Teen pregnancy is a problem (and can be a blessing). Abstitence can be a solution (as well as contraception). It is always infuriating when articles are criticizing genuinely motivating, honest, and important portrayals/campagains because they simply don’t seem to go far enough (don’t say teen preganncy is bad. Just say use protection or don’t say teen pregnancy for all studies leads to decrease in earning power, just say you control your own body). It’s so one-sided and biased and that is the real shame.

  11. I don’t have a problem with the ads, based on the present high teen pregnancy rate. Sometimes you need to be harsh and in your face to get the point across. The ad should also state to get to Planned Parenthood asap and get birth control if you can’t abstain from sex. Parents still aren’t providing sex education and the schools do a poor job too. I grew up in the country but I knew where babies come from and how they get there at age 13. Shame on government for continuing to provide assistance to those irresponsible people….ie. more babies, more money

  12. I have a problem with the poster saying ” You know what sucks- babies” I don’t have a problem with the ads for the most part. They’re encouraging and I don’t feel like they push an abstinent agenda. Not that I’ve seen. They should be more supportive though

  13. Whether one has problems with the Candies’ ads or not, the fact remains that there is no 100% guarantee of pregnancy prevention with any contraceptive. The only way for a teen girl to avoid unwanted pregnancy entirely is to avoid all forms of sexual activity, preferably until all levels of a girl’s desired education are completed. Should a girl get on some form of birth control before she has sex for the first time? Absolutely. Is that birth control a 100% GUARANTEE that she will never get pregnant? Absolutely not.

  14. With all due respect, the article is spot on. This notion that we’re not fully developed “until somewhere between 21-27 years of age”, doesn’t seem to have been much of a problem in the 1950s when the median age of first-time births for women was 22.8 years, and, surprise… teenage childbearing rates reached their historic high. More than 25% of women gave birth to their first child before the age of 20!
    Moreover, the average age of a teenage mother at the age of birth today is 18.5, a legally recognized adult.
    If your objections are over the dire consequences associated with early childbearing, well, longitudinal research also finds early childbearing to be far less devastating and pervasive for young mothers and their children, than previously thought (Furstenberg, Brooks-Gunn, & Chase- Lansdale, 1989). According to Hotz et al, teenage mothers from underprivileged socio-economic backgrounds are actually better positioned at age 35 than women from comparable backgrounds who wait until their 20s to have children. By age 35 teenage mothers were overall less likely to live in poverty, had paid more in taxes, and collected less in public assistance than their later childbearing counterparts (Hotz et al. 2006).
    Not that I think any of this will change anyone’s mind, but, listen, having been a teenage mother and having conducted a good of academic research on teenage pregnancy/motherhood and stigma, I can’t emphasize to you enough that society’s marginalization of young mothers is one of, if not the most, difficult barricade placed in our way. To shame, stigmatize and humiliate, is to encourage this marginalization, and ultimately, to encourage, what are often long-lasting damaging, and harmful effects for young mothers and their children, and Candie’s does just that.

  15. Shaming? Might I suggest the author if this article look back in time to a period when girls who “got themselves” pregnant were considered true societal outcasts. For example, in a March 8, 1966 Oregon Journal article, leaders and Portland expressed outrage at the number of illegitimate births among teen girls and one of these leaders was quoted as saying, “Frequently the girl has no regret, no remorse, and no conscience. We’ve come to the point, I think wee we must again speak in absolute terms about moral values.” I was fifteen when I got pregnant in 1968. I was sent away in shame for what “I” had done. I was told never to discuss what I did with anyone.

    Things have changed. Girls are not shamed like they once were. Yet girls are no doubt experiencing early pregnancies for the same reasons they always have – low self-esteem, sometimes poor parenting, etc., etc. I also believe that we really need to invest in girls, helping them to find their own voices and their own sense of self. Let’s address the larger systemic problems rather than expect sixteen-year-olds to have the ability to think about future consequences like a mature adult might be able to do. If you agree, I’d love to hear from you. You can post on a response on my website:

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