Dear Media: Please Change Your Channel of Influence

Sept 12, 2011 After the ludicrous JCPenney toxic tee-shirt with a wink and nod to academic underachievement “I’m Too Pretty For Math, So My Brother Has To Do It For Me” and the fabulous rapid-reply from Pigtail Pals, Redefining Girly producing a proud and positive tee in response, “Pretty’s Got Nothing to Do With It” it makes me wonder why media continues to cover the problems versus the solutions.

Today the Twitter media firestorm is over Forever 21’s “Allergic to Algebra” tee, which Jezebel rightly marked FAIL and is petitioning,  succinctly lambasting this ongoing undermining of our youth, asking, “Would these retailers ever consider selling “I Can’t Do Long Division!” shirts for boys or men? Or “Proud to be Illiterate!” shirts for either gender?

My answer? Why of course not…Yet marketers continue to play the “free market” card with zero responsibility despite STEM research showing quantifiable harm when ‘dumbing down’ media messages like this perpetuate pop culture and seep into the psyches of young girls. Toss in the impact of media sexualization and the rampant objectification leaving its mark on childrens’ physical and socioemotional health (see 72pp APA study) and you have a strident case of disregard for public health in favor of profiteering.

Why isn’t the media covering tees like these? (at left, by Pigtail

I just ordered 17 of them for practice tees for our varsity volleyball team, THAT is how strongly I feel girls need to see and hear POSITIVE messages rather than be fed a constant diet of ‘dumb and dumber’ anti-empowerment in non-threatening ‘body over brains’ appearance-based messages.

As for toxic toddler tees like “Hooters girl in training” and such, we are constantly told by free market economists that they’d go away if they didn’t sell. Which leads to the parenting blame game of “who’s buying these tees?” Which I can only answer with “who knows? There are “sheeple” aplenty…my point is just because you CAN sell a toxic message doesn’t mean you should. 

Rarely would a company be stupid enough to produce a tee that tears down an entire culture, a religion, a race…(unless they’re baiting outrage to get free press, another cynical and overused media ploy as of late)

Yet throwing 50% of the population under the bus in the name of the almighty greenback seems to be unflinchingly common lately, as we’ve seen by these repeated marketing ploys attempting to market ‘stupid as the new hot.’ (see sample roundup of sexualization articles on Shaping Youth)

Marketers? Your “self-regulation” verbiage is bogus. At the very least, the Socratic oath of “Do no harm” should be in play…but it’s not.

Media? Same goes for you. Quit boosting your ratings with shock schlock baiting outrage at the latest padded bra swimsuit story or Toddlers & Tiaras nightmare and be MINDFUL of media messaging by focusing on POSITIVE PICKS with companies doing it right!

Need some examples? Welcome to a TEE PARTY of POSITIVITY. Support healthier messages created to counter-market toxic ones…uplift and inspire, don’t tear down and belittle.

I urge you to change the channel of influence by  wallet-whacking at every juncture and empowering girls rather than consuming them.

Promoting the positive and backlash to bury the negative is a hefty consumer tool. Let’s use it for good.

If you’re fed up with “boy chasin’ bed swappin’ lip-lickin’ hottie-hoochie booty-bouncin’ appearance-is-everything” cues comin’ at your girls…support the companies doing things differently. I am. Right here. Right now. 

Shaping Youth TEE Party:

Change the Channel of Influence!

Sick of suggestive innuendos plastered on the chests of wee ones? Tired of ‘So Sexy So Soon’messaging at ever-younger ages? Looking for media and marketing that builds up rather than tears down youth psyches?

Shaping Youth features worthy sites, thought leaders and conversations among those eager to raise the bar for healthier messaging sent to ALL children. (boys’ picks will be next month, so blitz us with your best offerings) Even if you’re not a fan of ‘human billboards’ nor even a ‘wearable art’ kind of reader, come join our TEE party to submit your own meaningful messages!

No question we need some pendulum swings to balance out the tween thong-n-tee cultural shift and universal Pink Think…

Not to mention the David and Goliath ‘throw rocks at ‘em’ anti-male satire, Happy Bunny “tees with ‘tude” (and entitlement brattiness) or the offensive A&F blunders of yore, like, Who Needs Brains When You Have These…” etc.

One more “Bleh” and we’ll get ready to get positive. BLEH on Ashton Kucher’s rude, crude Blah Girls,a South Park-style trash-talkin’ newcomer to the media mix. Bleh. Bleh. Bleh!

Okay…can we get positive? Yes, we can!!!

Here are a few “tops” on Shaping Youth that bust open the ‘boy toy’ soul-eroding harm and psychological damage of early sexualization.(I’ve left the comic book ‘sheroes’ and Wonder Woman stuff out, as they’re a given and everywhere)

Here’s hoping you can wrap up some change this holiday season by supporting the company of your choice, and sounding off to others via purchasing power. Girlcotts, op-ed media stories, and ‘wallet walking’ is a great way to send the “money talks/retailers listen” message…

Smart Girls Rock:“Make smart the new cool” is the theme here, which is a Shaping Youth anthem of sorts, so it’s no wonder these witty designs like the emblem for “Madame President” appeal to yours truly.

Smart Girls Rock is the brainchild of Dayna Steele(author of Rock to the Top, What I Learned about Success from the World’s Greatest Rock Stars) these tees pack a punch that’s palatable for self-described ‘geek goddesses, red-headed rocket scientists, or brainy brunettes’ around the globe.

Emotional Armor: “Own it. Wear it. Feel it.”

As a branding/name generation gal by trade, this one tops the chart for me in terms of concept, form and function.  Sentiments like, “Write your own happy ending,” “Walking my internal red carpet,” and “weeeeeeeeeeee” are just some of the colorful bumper-sticker whimsy…

Moreover, it’s their new line that really kicks is up a notch with poignancy, called “Emotional Tattoos,” infusing the spirit of beauty and power that comes from within, quite literally, by offering a unique ‘tattoo’ of empowerment words “hidden” INSIDE the shirt rather than a chest thumping femme fest channeling Helen Reddy of yesteryear.

I LOVE this subtle “strength within” idea…

It’s like some secret elixir you carry with you…After all,  what’s going on with girls on the inside is often quite different than what’s projected on the outside, so it’s all quite fitting holding your own terms and boundaries.

Often we wear our inner scars like badges of courage, so this theme resonates with me thinking about all the strong women in my life (thanks, mom!)

Whether in need of inspiration, self confidence, strength, humor or courage you can wear your tattoo for those times when you are the only one who needs to know you have one.”

Smart. It’s brilliantly thematic in genuine extension, too, for net profits from emotional armor will be used to start an empowerment program for children and help fund ground breaking efforts in violence prevention via the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center.

Social entrepreneur and founder Jenifer Hoffman uses the marketing prowess of a pro…The simple shirt at left? “Lemonade print on Caribbean tee.” (copywriters like me notice things like that, I’ve written many a product description)

She’s giving girls survival skills to navigate the gauntlet of today’s pop culture with confidence and courage, with a worthy blend of cause-marketing and savvy branding that comes off as raw, real, and whip-smart…just like a few teen girls I know. ;-)

By the way, the “Face your fears” emotional armor tattoo applies to both genders, I’ll let you take a look at the icons and figure ‘em out. Bravo! (hat tip to Parent Dish where I found this one!) The antithesis of hushed and hidden under a sleeve, this site wears brazen and brash beautifully well with shirts like the one at left, acknowledging something is “very, very wrong with how our culture treats women and girls; we’re here to support you as you wade through the misogynist sewage our pornified culture spews out by the truckload every day.”

With great resources and links, this anti-porn-army of validation marches to an unapologetic drum beat, as if to scream, ‘knock it off people!’ loud and clear. You go, girl. I want in that parade. Her tagline? “Taking over the world one shirt at a time.”

Ava’s Closet: Cool Mom Picksnails this descriptor, “We’re always on the lookout for cool empowering tees for our girls that aren’t so empowering that they’re cheesy. You know what I’m talking about. Oh yes you do.”

She goes on to say that tees from Ava’s Closet, with slogans like President not Princess and Doctor not Diva, ensure newborns to six year-olds can “proclaim some pretty lofty aspirations. Plus it’s a diplomatically subtle hint for the relatives to ease off the sparkly princess crowns at birthday time.”

Personalized Rosie The Riveter: Exclusive to the pbs catalog, they’ve taken the “We can do it” retro WWII theme and done the ol’ “insert name” bit. “Madeleine can do it!” “Tiffany can do it!” Kinda fun. “Run, throw, kick like a girl,” or “Stop the meanness, spread the kindness” worthy words that I think have come out of my lips just tonight! (I overheard my daughter on the phone in one of those ‘who did what to whom’ moments, as she barked “why would she DO that to me? That’s SO messed up!” Of course the room fell silent as soon as I walked in, “It’s nothing, mom, it’s fine…you can go away now.”(gee, thanks, love) Stop the meanness indeed. Ugh. Future Leader of the Free World, Future Marine Biologist, Future Brain Surgeon, Future CEO, Future Best Selling Author…the list goes on…Find your fave, add your own, more on Andrea and her company in a full interview up next.

Sticker Sisters: Their collection of “brave girl” picks includes a cartoon antidote to princessdom,“My kind of princess escapes the tower, outsmarts the dragon and finds the treasure.” Woohoo! Best of all, boys can support girls with this one too; as it’s organic green, sweatshop free AND unisex.

I Am That Okay, Marlo Thomas visions aside (showing my childhood touchpoints here) the designs are au courant, the colors vibrant, and the philosophy inspiring,

“It’s not just a t-shirt, it’s a lifestyle, a conscious effort to respect yourself, love yourself, walk in confidence. It’s about standing up for something you believe in and sharing it with every stranger you see.”

Interesting. Alexis Jones is the diva behind this one (a pop culture product of the reality show churn herself as a cast member on Survivor: Micronesia, on ESPN, Sports Illustrated’s pop-culture Top 10, etc.) She appears to be taking a ‘celebrity approach’ with some strong fashionista and passionista hybrid energy shining through.

“I am That Girl is the confident, classy girl who dreams big, is perfectly flawed, lives life on HER terms, knows what she deserves and defines beauty for herself!” –mama media proof-reading fingerwag: ‘yay! now go fix the typos on your site!’

One Brown Girl: Feeling good about the skin you’re in and wearing cultural identity and pride, the clothing and blog both speak to the one in four Americans in minority groups that are projected to make up a majority by mid-century…Their landing page says it all, “Giving brown girls everywhere positive messages to wear and live by…Be proud to be Brainy. Gutsy. Artsy. And Blessed. In fact, wear it on your chest.”

They offer a global celebration of self, poetically painting with universal inclusiveness, “Our skin comes in every shade: From cocoa to tan to honey to onyx to olive to cinnamon and back again. Our eyes are shaped like almonds and coconuts and mimic the colors of maple syrup, tanzanite and the deep blue sea. Our hair is Black, Brown, Blonde, Red, & sometimes even Pink; Short, Long, & In Between as well as Coarse, Curly, Wavy, & Bone straight. We are every age and speak every language. No matter where we live, work or play, what we eat, or how we worship and celebrate life, we all share a universal human experience. We are all One Brown Girl.” The theme is all about ‘being’ —(B-ing!) and believing (in yourself!) and bringing the aromatherapy of doing good things into a sustainable company concept.

Cathryn writes, “I created B-girl while I was a publicist in the music industry. Among my artist clients were Sarah McLachlan, Patti Smith, Carly Simon, Aretha Franklin, AC/DC, and David Bowie, I’d like B-Girl to be the kind of company I want to see in the world; taking what I learned from being a music publicist, an environmentally aware person and someone who cares about wildlife and animals…”

Seems she’s more about aromatherapy and organics than her organic tee, but either way, B-Girl serves as a reminder to take time to stop and smell the flowers…

Hey Ugly! Products: U.G.L.Y. stands for “unique, gifted, lovable, you!” Just like America Ferrera in “Ugly Betty” takes a loaded term and turns her persona into an aspirational hero, this product line diffuses the angst out of ‘ugly’ by facing it down in ‘bring it on’ style.

My favorite tee is their “I deserve” collective compilation, created by voices across the country finishing the sentence, “I deserve…” Results of their top answers?

“I deserve…happiness, love, respect, peace, friends, health, freedom, acceptance, equality, fun, joy, prosperity, honesty, fulfillment, understanding, balance, contentment, serenity, success, support, appreciation, harmony, tranquility, miracles, more than I can possibly imagine, to feel, to grow, to live, to be, to dream, to search, to find…” Sweet.

Jordann’s Positive Apparel: “A positive attitude is always in style” and like Emotional Armor, a portion of proceeds help survivors of domestic violence via the nonprofit R.O.S.E. (Regaining One’s Self Esteem) fund. (

Design It-Inc.: Sanctioned by the GSUSA as a vendor, you’ll find girl power and friendship tees galore, in all themes and graphics from subtle to rainbow, blindingly bright to simple and subdued.

Girls Can! These tots celebrate girlhood in multiple career forms, saying ‘girls can do anything’ to start ‘em out young in ‘think beyond princess’ mode…firefighter, doctor, astronaut, basically anything that plays well in uniform is depicted here.

In a related find, YoonKids enables kids to literally customize their wall art by choosing their adorable character’s skin, hair, career, background color, etc. to match their room or personality. (Yah, I know, it’s not a tee, but it sure is empowering, couldn’t resist!)

pinkstinks Yes, yes, I know I didn’t include PinkStinks (at left) and all of the cool self-created art meets retail approaches like Cafe Press and Zazzle, so if you know of must-sees, send ‘em along!Same goes for clever organizational tees…like Girls Inc’s glass ceiling and badge of courage sayings…Had to stop somewhere! ;-) Keep ‘em comin’ though, okay?


I’ll include them in this post update!!

BONUS: The first three new leads for cool tees/examples wins a FREE copy of by Shaping Youth Advisory Board/Authors Lyn Mikel Brown & Sharon Lamb.

Just leave your positive pick for healthier media and marketing messaging in the comment section below!

Further Reading On Sexualization by Amy Jussel

Girl Caught! New Moon Girls Slams Sexualization!

(Help us with the full Girl Caught! Stop It Sticker campaign slated to premiere on Girls Day Sept 22, 2011!! See sidebar to download/participate on your own blog!)

Vogue Cadeaux: Children ARE Gifts, Not To Be Bought or Sold

Bottom Feeders Like American Apparel Need Whacked in The Assets

Vamp Tramp Toys: A Monster Problem (Mattel)

Tips From the Trenches: Re-Imagining Youth Activism

Body Blitz: APA Shows Harm of Early Sexualization

Steamed About Sexualization? Healthy Media for Youth Act: Pt1

Healthy Youth Media Act: Can Change Be Legislated? Pt2

Teen Girls: Ready for a Rebel Yell to Spark Change?

Toxic Messaging: K-Mart/Alloy Episodic Back to School

Girls Are Not Candies, Tweens Are Not Teens, Thongs Are Not Undies

Baiting Outrage: Using Hooks With Media Mindfulness

Sexualization Summit to Spark Change!

Spark Ignites a Summit of Powerhouses, Geena Davis & More

The Girl Revolution: Empowering Girls Vs. Consuming Them

New Moon Girl Media Community Online

Girls Prescription for Self-Worth: Respect Rx

Raising Girls Amidst Meat Marketing: Carl’s Jr, Burger King Raunch

Taking Aim at Target: Think That V is a Coinkydink?

When It’s Not Hip to Be Square, Sexist Spongebob & Burger Shots

Sexed Up M&Ms Sell Fashionably Decadent Premium Sleaze

Mama’s Got A Brand New Bag…Er…Face. Nose. Belly.

Body Image: Tips for Teens (Both Genders!) To Survive the Media Morass

What Sells: Infants As Fashion Statements & Joke Props?

So Sexy So Soon, Shaping Youth Talks to Jean Kilbourne

Beyonce’s Dereon Divas: PopTarts and Sesame Streetwalkers?

Sexist Undies: Slimy Santa Innuendo Gets the Heave Ho-Ho-Ho!

Bratz Movie Seeps Bratitude Into Kid Culture

Where My Dogs At? A Misogynistic Misfire-MTV2

Pussycat Dolls Vamp for Lame TV-the ‘F’ Word is Feminist? Hardly.

Celeb Pop Culture and Media’s Tipping Point of Toxicity

Hollywood Walk of Lame—Victoria’s Secret Models ‘Earn’ Star? For WHAT?

Mommy, Why Are Her Legs Spread Like That?

Shaping Youth Is In the L.A. Times (Miley Mess

Kids Are A Captive Audience With Ambient Advertising

Race, Gender, Sexism: Pop Culture Cues & Kids (3-part series)

Commodification of Kids: The Backlash Has Begun

Shaping Youth Through Ambient Advertising

Manga Makeovers And Other Body Image Cartoon Capers

Facelifts for Kiddie Characters?

Gender, Race & Sexism: Shaping Youth Through Pop Culture Cues

Girls As Boy Toys Takes an Even More Toxic Turn

Preteen Tips/How to Say it To Girls

America the Beautiful: See it. Support it.

Childhood Matters Radio Show: Raising Strong, Healthy Girls Today

Packaging Boyhood Authors/Interview: What ABOUT the Boys?

Packaging Boyhood: Corporate Pirates Raid Boys’ Souls

Turning Boys Into Monsters: Energy Drink Leaves A Foul Taste (Again!)

Buffed Boy, Body Image and Tween Scene ‘Hottie’ Factor

Media Literacy Resources for Empowering Girls (Besides Shaping Youth, Dr.Robyn Silverman, AdProofing,,  So Sexy So Soon, Respect Rx, Rachel, Rosalind, The Girl Revolution, TrueChild, & other youth advocate blogs, see the list of resources on our sidebar e.g. aligned orgs like: About-Face,, Packaging Girlhood, Hardy Girls, Healthy Women etc.

Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth: Recos & Must Reads

So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids Diane E. Levin and Jean Kilbourne

Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers’ Schemes (Packaging Boyhood, Oct 2009;  S.Y. Board Advisors)
Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown

Sexual Teens, Sexual Media: Investigating Media’s Influence on Adolescent Sexuality Jane Brown et al (Eds)

APA Task Force on the Early Sexualization of Children (full 72pp pdf)

Girls Shape the Future: Study/Girls Inc: Early Predictors of Girls’ Adolescent Sexual Activity (summary: 8 pp pdf)

Resource List from So Sexy So Soon

CCFC Fact Sheet on Sexualizing Childhood

CCFC Two-Page pdf of stats & resources on sexualization “Sex on TV4″ Program for the study of media & health

Wellesley Centers for Women: Commentary on So Sexy So Soon



  1. Excellent post, my friend. I remember when you and I had similar conversations talking about some of these amazing companies doing great things when compiling chapter 9. Fabulous!

  2. Amy, you knocked it out of the park again. I’m bookmarking this post for my in-laws and Christmas shopping!

  3. Great post! Also, I have a suggestion of another positive shirt:

  4. Thank you for this thorough resource of positive products and a well-reasoned argument for why they are needed. Love! I want to point out a few other companies that make positive shirts for girls: Princess Free Zone, Justice for Girls, and 7Womderlicious also have cute, fun, tees with positive messages that empower.

  5. What a great list! Will look forward to doing some holiday shopping at these sites to support these businesses that are doing the “right” thing.

  6. Thanks, yes, we try to uplift the creme to the top and let the grounds sink low, low loooooooooooow. heh.

  7. Love it! Thanks, Laura…always big on the ‘wearable art’ that has a philanthropy angle. Where do I send your copy of Packaging Girlhood? 🙂 Congrats!

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