Published October 26, 2011
Last spring, I told you that Jenna Lyons, J. Crew’s president and creative director, wasn’t just having a little, harmless fun with her son Beckett when she published a photograph of herself painting his toenails hot pink in a J. Crew catalogue—a catalogue distributed to millions of people.
The quote accompanying the image of Beckett read, “Lucky for me, I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink. Toenail painting is way more fun in neon.”
I said Lyons was making a cultural statement about masculinity no longer being important to boys—that she was, essentially, uncomfortable with his gender.
Comedian/commentators like Jon Stewart came out in force, defending Lyons and her behavior, and suggesting that I must be wrestling with some psychological demons of my own. How could I possibly think that a mom enjoying a little harmless dress-up with her son could mean she was messing with his gender?
But I didn’t just think that. I thought Lyons was promoting a cultural agenda at her son’s expense—and at the expense of all our sons whose masculinity was being downplayed. Why else would you pick that photograph, decide for Beckett that it was a really good one with which to brand him in the minds of millions, and make sure that his hair was long and wavy for the photo shoot? Why spend tens of thousands of dollars (or a hundred thousand or more) to distribute that particular photo of Beckett to millions of us?
Well, I’ve never evaluated Lyons psychologically, and I’m not pretending to have any more expertise about her psyche than any other commentator. But it turns out there was, indeed, more to the story. If reports in the media, from the New York Post's Page Six, for example, are correct, Lyons is now divorcing her husband, is romantically involved with a woman and battling over how much of a settlement to give her husband, since she was the breadwinner in the family.
All this says nothing about the value of a heterosexual versus homosexual relationship; that’s an individual matter and not an appropriate focus for criticism (It certainly has zero to do with my criticism).
All this says nothing about Lyons’ divorce; marriage is a difficult journey for almost everyone. When it ends, I feel nothing but compassion for the people hurting.
What it says is that my worry that Ms. Lyons might be expressing her own discomfort with masculinity and projecting it onto her son—and mine, and yours—seems to have been justified.
It says that Lyons does seem to have been promulgating her perspectives on gender roles having no value.
It says that she was, indeed, apparently using J. Crew—a brand so many of our kids gravitate toward—as her launching pad for a mini-campaign to change the way our kids think about their bodies and their gender identities.
See, I don’t think it’s so terrible that boys are different than girls. I think it’s just fine, in fact, that a central supporting beam of the architecture of most boys’ senses of self is that they look like boys and act like boys and feel like boys. I don’t think that’s pathological. But I think that Jenna Lyons—and maybe J. Crew—would disagree with me.
Well, stay tuned for updates. And don’t be surprised if Ms. Lyons is cast on a reality show in the future.