Girls’ Reactions to the JC Penney Shirt: It’s Insulting


In the past couple of days, led by Melissa Wardy of Pigtail Pals,  many adults have weighed in on what they think of a shirt JC Penney marketed to girls age 7-12. Opinions ranged from outrage about the message: “I’m Too Pretty to Do Homework,” to the predictable: “Can’t feminists just take a joke?” Responding to the criticism on Twitter and Facebook, Penney’s announced yesterday that the shirt had been pulled from stores and apologized for putting it there in the first place.

We haven’t heard nearly as much about what girls think of the shirt. Here’s what some current and former members of the New Moon Girls Editorial Board think about the furor and the bigger issues it highlights. This shirt is the type of product that inspired the soon-to-launch Girl-Caught Campaign by New Moon Girls. Get a preview of the campaign that launches on September 22, 2010.

These quotes are from girls age 9-16, from California to Maryland and many places in between.

I believe that this t-shirt is incredibly inappropriate and plants the idea in young girls’ heads that being pretty is better than being smart, getting good grades, and completing your assignments, which is not okay. Being pretty will get you nowhere, and it is certainly not the most important thing in life. I am very disappointed in JC Penney for making a t-shirt like this and hopefully it will not be up for sale anymore.   –Lara

This shirt is basically, a) putting down girls who are smart and b) it’s also sending a message to little girls, who might not know better, that it is better to be pretty than smart. These kinds of messages can lead to girls to do crazy things just to feel pretty. Girls should be told that it doesn’t matter what they look like, it just matters who they are.   –Beth

This is appalling! Are people trying to teach 6 and 7 year olds that all they can do in life is look pretty? What about the more important things–an education, etc.? Seriously–girls are more than just pretty faces. I think it’s wonderful they have apologized, but still–who would sell a shirt like that? Do they not go through exactly what shirts they will be selling before putting them out to the world? It’s still unacceptable, even with an apology, and I hope that this doesn’t happen again.  –Guinevere

There are so many sexist aspects of this slogan. Saying someone is too pretty to do homework creates a false correlation between appearance and ability. One’s attractiveness has no relation to his or her intelligence or merit. The second part of the phrase — in which she says her brother does her homework-is so sexist. She can’t do it, but her brother, simply by virtue of being male, can? I’m surprised that a shirt like this was being marketed. -Alexa

The message this shirt and its description is giving young girls is horrifying. It tells girls that they shouldn’t care about doing homework because maintaining a perfect look is much more important. It also tells girls who do complete their homework that they are ugly and should be more focused on being pretty. The description also implies that all girls are obsessed with Justin Bieber and have no time for anything else (except fixing their looks). This is appalling and I am shocked that JC Penney had the guts to make such a horrifying t-shirt and market it at young girls who may not know that what JC Penney tells them isn’t always the truth. I appreciate JC Penney discontinuing their shirt and apologizing, but if they agree that the shirt isn’t appropriate, why did they decide to sell it in the first place? I also think the way they phrased the apology makes it sound like an ad. It is unacceptable to sell this shirt or similar shirts and I sincerely hope JC Penney does a better job in the future of designing appropriate shirts. -Hanna

I despise clothing like this. Personally, I just don’t get the point of it. Being pretty has nothing to do with the completion of homework.  It might as well say, “I’m too dumb” or “I’m too lazy.” I’m glad that it has been discontinued. Shirts with messages like this shouldn’t be sold anywhere. They’re pointless.   -Autumn

We see the stereotypical girl everywhere. Long hair, make-up, and pink will always make its way onto the girl on your screen. Ultimately, you can dress the way you choose. Some girls dress like that and are happy that way. But this crosses the line. I love school. I am disappointed when we don’t have homework. There are so many bad messages coming from this shirt to girls like me. If I do my homework does that mean that I am ugly? The fact that you have to have your brother do your homework for you?. Girls can succeed in academics just fine without help. And the fact that you can be too pretty to do homework? That is just wrong.   -Miya

I read lots of comments online about this shirt saying “it’s just a shirt, it’s no big deal, it’s just a joke.”  But I believe sexism should be dealt with in all proportions.  I love sarcastic, funny shirts, sure.  But the girls getting this shirt are young, and may take it literally. This shirt is appalling, and I am sickened that people think this is a good idea to sell it.  It’s saying, first, “Being pretty is more important than intelligence!”  Next, “males should do the work, while women should just sit around and look pretty!”  The caption implies that we girls should sit around fawning over celebrities instead of working hard to get an education and take steps in our life.  Some say “it’s just a t-shirt!”  But what if someone came up to a little girl and said, “Being pretty is more important than intelligence!”  How would you feel then?  This is what this shirt is screaming to me.  Again, I am questioning JC Penney’s taste and I’m not sure WHY they thought this was a good idea.  It’s 2011, everyone.  We’re not in the 1800′s anymore. I appreciate that JC Penney had the grace to apologize, instead of just quietly taking the shirt away.  However, next time, why don’t you consider how this may affect people BEFORE you put out the shirt?  If you agree that it is offensive (which is a step in the right direction), why did you sell it in the first place?  Here’s a fact: did you know that the line that made the shirt is titled Self-Esteem and is targeted at young girls?  That’s irony at it’s finest, in my eyes.   -Jennifer

I think this shirt is an example of negative media culture at its worst. Not only is it implying that all girls are dumb, primping machines who care about nothing except for looks, and that boys are smarter than girls, but that you can’t be pretty and also be smart! Personally, I do care about how I look–I want to look nice, I spend some time on what I wear, et cetera — but at the same time, I love reading, writing, math, and everything academic. (In fact, I miss school during the summer.) Most people I know are like that, too. What has the world come to that major clothing companies are putting such sexist and offensive ideas into girls’ heads through mainstream shirts? I would think that a major clothing company like JC Penney would have the common sense to not sell a shirt like this in the first place. It is great that they have stopped selling it and sent out an apology, but wouldn’t it be nice to live in a culture where this type of apology isn’t necessary — because things like this weren’t socially acceptable in the first place? I think the fact that we had this problem at all is disgusting. OK, so yeah, I’m really super offended by that t-shirt.    –Molly

This t-shirt’s message is ridiculous, sexist, utterly offensive, and untrue. Anyone who buys this shirt and wears it obviously doesn’t know that girls are capable of doing ANYTHING, let alone their own homework!  I, too, appreciate the apology from JC Penney, and that they are discontinuing the shirt. But if they agree that the shirt is offensive, why did they start selling it in the first place?   -Posie

And a closing thought from Mindy, mom of a nine-year-old girl who tracked down the company that designed and sold the shirt to JC Penney, the ironically named Self Esteem Clothing:  “If you go to Self Esteem’s website there is a video about the company. I found it subliminally sassy/offensive. The woman in the video [founder of the company] shows cleavage. Behind her hangs a tank shirt that says ‘Please Hold’ but the letters highlighted in BOLD are E D E… bra sizes? Really? On Purpose? Or, am I just feeling like a crazy mom? More than ever we need NMG!”


Related Stories:

JC Penney Pulls “I’m Too Pretty To Do Homework” T-Shirt after Social Media Uproar

French Designer Releases Sexy “Loungergie” For Young Girls

10-Year-Old Model’s Sexy Poses Ignites Debate on the Sexualization of Young Girls

Screen capture from JC Penney website


Jane Warre
Jane Warren6 years ago

thnx for this

Krystal M.
Krystal M6 years ago

This shirt actually says "My parents are idiots for buying me this shirt.".

nora l.
nora l6 years ago

I'm a teacher and I had a grade 2 student tell me she didn't need to learn how to read. I asked her why. She told me, she was too pretty. I asked her parents during a teacher parent interview and they told me they tell her this all the time. "She isn't very smart, but she is very pretty. The best we can hope is that she stays pretty and finds a husband to take care of her". Seriously. Ridiculous. We still have many battles to fight on our war for equality. Shirts like this do NOT help the cause.

Carole McKibben
Carole McKibben6 years ago

I join in the outrage that this shirt has engendered but I wish some of the people who have jumped all over this would have done a little bit of homework themselves. There has been tremendous backlash towards a company named, ironically, "Self Esteem" for manufacturing the shirt. Although Self Esteem is a clothing provider for J.C. Penney, they had nothing to do with the shirt. The company, in my understanding, was started by a woman and there has been quite a lot of damage to their reputation and their finances. As appalled as I am with this message, I think that the reaction has also sent a message to young women; "Go ahead and get your outrage on at any perceived slight. If enough of you jump on the bandwagon, it won't matter if there is a factual basis for your outrage or any innocents get hurt. Hey, you still demonstrated, "Girl Power" and that's all that matters, right?.....Right?...."

Eternal Gardener
Eternal G6 years ago

Well it sort of states that if you wear this you're "cute, sassy" and dumb!
Btw: Justin Bieber gives me the creeps!

Jamie Clemons
Jamie Clemons6 years ago

There are tons of way more insulting shirts out there. That one is actually kind of funny. Its funny what people pick and choose to get upset over. I wish there was a huge outrage over the war and they would withdraw the troops. Why don't people pick something real and something important to get upset about.

colleen p.
colleen p6 years ago

how about a boy's shirt about sports scholorchips? "education? I just need football"

Lika S.
Lika P6 years ago

I just wonder who comes up with these things in the first place. Regardless if it's up to the parents not to buy the inappropriate clothing, why is it that there is ugly and frumpy clothes or inappropriate clothes, thus making it hurt to choose what to go for? All too often there aren't enough choices out there. I often wonder where the choices are.

Amber Lilyfield
Amber Lilyfield6 years ago

All the girls made good points, and that's very good for them that they can think for themselves.

Amber Lilyfield
Amber Lilyfield6 years ago

And I like Hanna's comment too, I had to read the description of the shirt in the catalogue picture to understand the celebrity reference. That's the type of shallow stuff I can't stand, it's anti-intellectual, and self-degrading, a lot of times to the status of the stereotype of the 'air-head' who bleaches her hair--or perms, straightens, whatever is in 'fashion' at the moment--and does nothing but flirt with guys, gossip, and obsesss over mindless pop music and materialistic stuff, likes clothes, makeup, jewelry, and their phones, they 'can't possibly live without their phones', it's stupid. The effects may not be immediate for some girls, but for others, the media is what tells them how to look and act. It's tragic.