16, pregnant, and stylish!

Forever 21: Where they’ll package your four-inch heels and three-dollar thongs in a bag stamped with “John 3:16” on the bottom.

Now you can add maternity wear to your bag if you like.

Yep. Adding to the dizzying myriad of über-trendy, usually skanky, and always very cheap and shrunken cotton/polyester creations offered by Forever 21, there is now a maternity line too.

It’s called “Love 21” (as if something could possibly be wrong with “Baby 21”), the styles of which are still, even on very “pregnant” models, oddly skanky.

I admit I’m all for pregnant women looking cute. And I don’t think that they have to walk around in shapeless mumus for the duration of their 9 months. I even think that tight, shapely clothing is a way to celebrate the pregnant female form—a way to realize that women are beautiful even if they’re not flat-bellied or airbrushed, but healthy enough to bring life into the world.

But I’m not as big into Forever 21. I know it well from my teen years; the clothes are incredibly cheap, the place is a disorganized madhouse, and the surprise proselytizing they stamp on all of their bags is annoying, off-putting, and quite possibly hypocritical given the company’s problems with lawsuits for copying designers (from Gwen Stefani, Anna Sui and others) and poor working conditions for employees (which caused calls for a boycott).

I suppose what bothers me most, though, is that Forever 21 markets to a very young audience. I’m not sure what age group they think they market to, but based on my experiences, it’s for girls between seventh grade and sorostitute. I don’t like thinking about 12 to 21 year olds thinking about pregnancy wear. To me, 12 to 21 year olds should be thinking about school, friends, work, and all of the sparkling possibilities for their futures—which may or may not include babies.

And if they choose to have babies, I sincerely hope they’ll do so at a time when they no longer find clothes from Forever 21 as fashionable or applicable to their fully grown-up lifestyles.

Not that Forever 21 cares about any of this, Christian message or not. They’re riding a wave of success, recently opening a store in New York where the Virgin Megastore used to be. I guess maternity wear is a great untapped market that offers possibilities for the company to grow. I suppose providing pregnant women with cheap clothing makes sense—after all, how likely are they to wear the clothes again, and how soon? I can sort of understand the idea.

But mostly I can’t, and here’s why: It’s the kind of clothing that would probably be convenient for the teens featured on MTV’s “16 and Pregnant.”

And I thought—or hoped—that the point of that show was to educate teens that it is not glamorous to be 16 and pregnant. Just as unglamorous, in fact, as Forever 21’s chintzy, flashy, very undurable styles: teenage pregnancy is not glamorous at all. And I’d never thought it’d be something to market to.

–By Tara Cavanaugh

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