16 and wearing “too much” nail polish and also pregnant.


 Fat and the Ivy’s awesome nails.


A few weeks ago at the CLPP conference, I went to a panel discussion called “Teen Families Take the Lead.” What attracted me to the panel was two fold-first, my well documented obsession with 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, and also the part of my brain that says that teen parenting will ruin your life, and the desire to be disproven. I tweeted the panel (#clpp2012), which featured Chelsea Kline, Ena Suseth Valladares, J’vaughnii Karakashian, Noalanii Karakashian, and Gretchen Sisson.

I came back to New York and watched numerous episodes of 16 and Pregnant and struggled to apply what I was now thinking to the show. Since not watching the show is apparently not an option, I’m going to write the following points on a Post-it and keep them within spitting distance:

* Why does being a young parent have to mean you ruined your life?
* There are advantages and disadvantages to having children at any all.
* People are one track minded about what parenthood should look like.
* If you believe in reproductive justice, you have to believe it’s for everyone.

And then I read some of the comments below the episodes, emailed Fat and the Ivy, and the following happened:

me: For the two hundredth time, while watching 16 and Pregnant, I noticed that in the comments, people had remarked on the fact that the girls have their nails done. They should be saving that money for the baby, etc, etc. It’s the same statement I’ve heard made in the Global South when I take participants there-people don’t have running water, but they have hair gel. For me, it’s about allowing people to be complicated and fully human and to do what they feel gives them dignity. We don’t get to decide how people spend their money, it’s another way in which we police bodies.

Fat and the Ivy: It’s also that nail polish can cost $1. We’re getting in such a huff over $1.  Yes, you can spend a lot more, but I have some fabulous colors with glitter and pizazz for under $5. It’s the downside of social welfare in capitalism.  Because we “earned” our money that gets redistributed through social welfare, we all feel entitled to police how “our” money is spent. There is a sense of entitlement and control that extends far beyond “paying ones dues” in society.  In this particular case is, we’re also dealing with misogyny. (What fun is capitalism without misogyny?!)  The comments speak to the ways in which the feminine is not valued.  Nail polish–a girly thing– is trivial and stupid.  It’s not worth time, energy, or money. And yet we still value women for their appearance. It’s such a completed fucked up system.

me: I was thinking that too. I don’t think these girls are getting manicures, but if they are? It’s STILL NONE OF OUR BUSINESS.  If you get pregnant at 16, you have to be punished to the fullest extent. Your life is over, and you deserve it. It’s the same conversation that gets had about weight and “health” and having to pay for other people’s health care. It makes me want to eat a sandwich and lay down. And then eat another sandwich, because you know, that’s what you do.

Fat and the Ivy: I see two things happening. The first is economic.  Our public welfare programs are in shambles and not able to support our basic dignities, and part of that is because we (as tax payers, as the landed classes) get to decide how other people spend “our money.” Of course, this is not an apolitical economic argument. If we really cared about “fiscal responsibility” birth control and abortions would be 100% covered and easily available. Plan B costs $40; a hospital birth costs thousands. 18 years of feeding, clothing, educating, and supporting a human being makes the abortion look like a better bargain than Groupon!

The second is the systematic devaluation of the feminine. We have this idea that what is feminine is unnatural– makeup, clothes, external things that you have to buy.  While we see the masculine as natural and innate– strength, facial hair, deep voices.  So when women engage in feminine things– like painting nails– we see it as something external, unnatural, and costly. And that means it’s and silly and wasteful.  It’s not artistic, enjoyable, relaxing, calming, or meaningful. And that means we, as a public, get to police it.

me: What’s also frustrating about reading the comments is that they are always from other young women, directed towards the young women on the show. I am aware of the alternative to not read the comments, but aside from morbid curiosity, I also feel like it’s important to read them because this is the stuff we have to fight against, and we should know about them.

I remember turning 20 and my friends and I saying to each other, WE ARE TOO OLD TO BE TEEN MOMS!!!!!! WAHOO!!!  It was more than the fact that we had dodged a (sperm?) bullet, it was that we thought we were actually better and smarter than these girls. We didn’t think about birth control being difficult to get and use, or about what makes it easier or harder to assert yourself or anything, other than that we were not stupid enough to get pregnant.

Fat and the Ivy: Fun fact: when I turned 20, I was a little bit disappointed that I wasn’t even going to be a teen mom, or even teen pregnant.  There goes my shot at being on MTV. But seriously, I think of this as a form of slut shaming. In high school, whenever someone got pregnant, the big deal wasn’t that she’s going to be a parent, but rather that she’s so slutty that she got knocked up. She’s having sex(!!) and she’s not even doing that right because she got preggers.

me: She doesn’t even feel badly about having sex!!!

Fat and the Ivy: THE HORROR!!!

me: Pregnancy is the punishment, it’s not just that she’s too dumb to use birth control, but it’s the punishment for being sexual and thinking that she’s entitled to pleasure. I always think during these episodes, I hope everyone involved had really good sex, and that they don’t regret it.

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One thought on “16 and wearing “too much” nail polish and also pregnant.

  1. “For me, it’s about allowing people to be complicated and fully human and to do what they feel gives them dignity.” Well said!

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