Pink toenails = fearlessness

April 18, 2011 | By Brent Almond | LESSONS LEARNED

Everybody and their dog blog has already covered this story. But as someone in the design/advertising field and one of 2 gay fathers of a little boy, I felt it was in too many of my wheelhouses not to toss in my 2 cents.

I assume you know the basics… J. Crew emailed an ad depicting their President/Creative Director playing with her 5 year-old son, who’s wearing neon pink polish on his toenails. Numerous talking heads have decried or defended this image (and PrezMom’s commentary) as either inappropriate or innocent, respectively. One Ablow blowhard even went so far as to suggest mommy save up for the kiddo’s therapy, as she had obviously scarred him (or at least his toes) for life.

I imagine PrezMom knew the ad would incite some discussion, but maybe not coverage from every network news show, comedy/news hybrids, more than a few politicians, and the entire blogosphere. In any case, I give her props for being secure in her son’s choice of nail polish color, especially when it clashes with his preppy J. Crew duds.

But this whole brouhaha brings up a couple of things for me personally. Namely my own childhood and that of my son’s.

I was once a little boy who liked to dress up. Sometimes in mom’s clothes, but more often as a super hero. In either case, some manner of flowing was required (hair, dress, cape). And yep, I turned out gay. But I know plenty of gay men—my husband among them—who never bent their gender, not even a bit. It’s kind of a non-issue for me, seeing as how I’m proud and happy of who I am, sexually and otherwise.

But now that I’m a dad, I think sometimes about the potential ways JJ could be ridiculed. He’s got 2 dads. He’s adopted. He’s got 2, possibly 3 cowlicks in his shaggy, little head. He’s just about to turn 18 months, so I know his teasing days are still a ways off, but I’m feeling like he’s gonna do okay. Because the boy is fearless. He’s already gotten his fair share of bruises and bumps, which never ceases to put knots in my stomach and a lump in my throat. But it’s a thrill for me, who spent most of his childhood inside drawing or watching Super Friends, to think of JJ being exponentially more adventurous than I was. Not to besmirch my boyhood, but I probably missed out on a lot of things due to my fears and insecurities.

So I revel in seeing JJ’s exuberance and never want to quell that, whether it manifests itself in sports, glee club, or toenail polish. I’m so honored to witness it all, hoping I can always allow his true self to shine, and that I can learn a thing or two from him about being fearless.

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8 responses to “Pink toenails = fearlessness”

  1. Bullgrit says:

    I gotta admit, when I saw the ad, (on some news site), I did have a gut reaction of, “hmm, that’s weird.” But then I went on with my day. There’s a lot weirder and worse stuff some parents do to/with their kids. I doubt painting a boy’s toenails is any more emotionally scarring than teaching a girl to hammer a nail.

    • Brent M. Almond says:

      I imagine every parent has a child that does or says something that might cause them embarrassment or teasing down the line. Someone’s always going to find something to insult someone else for. As long as our kids are healthy and happy, I figure we might as well let them be free and happy and innocent while they can be! 🙂

  2. All this talk about how the parent is FORCING the kid to have pink toenails is ridiculous. Let’s take for granted that this is something that mother and son actually do on a typical Saturday (the cynical part of me is fairly certain that J.Crew hoped for the viral reaction they got – but a blog on HuffPo by a woman who claims to be Jenna’s friend makes me wonder), and that what we see in the images we’re given is an honest representation of what’s going on here: nobody is FORCING that kid to do anything. The fact that he (or any other little boy OR girl) will sit still long enough to have their toenails painted pretty much speaks for itself, and if you want further proof, look at the huge smile on the kid’s face.

    A friend did say to me over the weekend, “It’s great that mom is so accepting of her son’s gender-outlaw stuff, but I wonder if it was the best thing for him to have this in a national ad that’s now getting so much attention.” And I had to consider that, and I think that my friend has a point. However, if even one kid (or more likely, one parent) out there feels a little less freakish as a result of this ad, then hooray for them. Because if one feels that way, there are probably thousands more.

    • Brent M. Almond says:

      Good input, Eric, as always! Having kids in the internet age is new territory for sure. In the past a parent letting their son dress up as Daphne for Halloween would probably cause a stir at school or in the neighborhood. But now you post it on a blog and get 46,000+ comments and multiple appearances on the Today show!

      I originally wasn’t going to show many photos of JJ on this blog for privacy reasons, but he’s just so darn cute. I say innocence and adorableness triumphs over all!

  3. Lissa Rankin says:

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE this post!
    Reminds me of the story of Mom who let her son dress up as Daphne, as she wrote about here (My Son Is Gay- http://www.owningpink.com/blogs/owning-pink/my-son-gay)

    For all the parents who have the courage to let their children’s freak flags fly- whether that means pink toenails or dressing like a girl or WHATEVER, I bow at your feet. Imagine raising children to live, not in fear, but in celebration of what their authentic selves want to express in the world.

    Now that’s a world I want to live in…
    With love and gratitude for people like you
    Lissa

    • Brent M. Almond says:

      Lissa:

      I read the blog post you referenced as well (and saw her on The Today Show, etc) and in both cases the point has been made that if this were a girl dressing up like a boy, there would be little to no hubbub. That speaks to not only society’s homophobia, but their general disdain of women. When someone says to a guy, “Don’t be such a girl!” why is that an insult?!?

      If you get the chance, rent “Ma Vie En Rose” (translates to “My Life In Pink”) – a great French film about a boy who likes to dress up like a girl and the family’s struggle with it. And it has some awesome Barbie fantasy scenes! 🙂 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119590/

      Thanks for your comments!
      DD

  4. Leanne says:

    Oh, just read through your comments (I am here via your comment at Nerdy Apple Bottom since I subscribed to them in my email inbox)… and yup, gotta love Ma Vie en Rose! I love the kid’s assessment of how one of the X chromosomes broke off while he was being made. Kids can be so logical.

    Glad to have discovered your blog. Mine are spread around (I have an art one, had an adoption one… I am bi and adopted as a single parent from china, and a “raising a trilingual kid” one. It is an issue when your kid already has an lgbt parent, adopted, in my case he is SN (cleft palate/lip… he still gets some speech therapy), nonwhite etc to think of him being teased for something else.

    My son is now 5.5 yrs old, and has always been really “throw myself into anything” and fearless. He loves the disney princess bike he had when he was 4, (the one he has now still says “princess” on it but it is fuschia and black tigerstripes), pink rubber boots from a garage sale, says his favorite color is pink (though sometimes he’ll say blue), and has a princess dress from Santa… He is kind of all guy beyond these aesthetic preferences, and does stick up for himself at preschool (the kids can be worse than the parents: “THAT IS A GIRL SUCHANDSUCH”) by saying some boys like pink and some girls like pink. Or “that is a princess bike, and it is my bike and I am a boy so it is a BOY’S BIKE”.

    Just in the past couple months (he’s nearly finished 4 yr old preschool now… he started last sept before he turned 5) has he started to say he likes something (the pink boots, or a plastic jewel) but will leave it at home cuz the kids at school will say something. I let him take the lead about if he is comfortable or not. I encourage him to like what he likes (ie I will point out men, or ask them to come over to say hi, that I see wearing pink shirts, to show him he is not alone, and that indeed grown men can look great in pink), help him think of what he can say to stand up for what he likes if other kids tease him, but will also support him if he says he’d rather leave something at home.

    I did put my foot down once though when he wanted to spend the $ we had for school picture clothes on a frilly Ariel pantsuit in pink and purple with lace and ruffles… we opted for a snazzy orange shirt and striped tie instead. Good luck with your sweet kiddo! Congrats on being a dad!
    ps, you can see a digital painting I did for a class project of my son in a karate pose in wig and princess dress for halloween at http://leannefranson.com

    • Brent M. Almond says:

      Leanne:

      Thanks so much for your comments and for sharing your story! Pretty soon after we got JJ I started saying to myself, “I have NO idea how single parents do this!” Big props to you! I’m sure you get things done just like the rest of us, but I recognize the extra amount of bravery and commitment it takes.

      It sounds like your son brought and continues to bring so much color to your life, both literally and figuratively. What a great adventure you’re on! I have a feeling JJ’s going to end up dressing less colorfully than his Daddy (me, who’s a designer) and probably more like Papa (who’s a lawyer) 🙂 But for now I’m in control and it’s lots of color and funky pajamas!

      By the way, can you email me the links to your blogs — would love to check them out!

      Thanks again and good luck with your kiddo, too!
      Brent

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