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Davis, California

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Column: Pink nails and Barbie dolls

      When I was four years old, I was told I couldn’t play with Barbie dolls.

“Those are for girls, sweetie,” my mother would say, handing me a more appropriate Hot Wheels truck. “Play with this one for boys.”

      My father shared her sentiments. But he wasn’t so sweet about it.

      “Don’t be a fag! Let go of that doll or I’ll put you in a dress and see how you really like it.”

      Sure, my dad may not be the greatest with subtlety (or political correctness, for that matter), but he did what he thought was his job: Scaring his four-year-old son into believing that any man who embraced dressing like a woman was no man at all.

      Imagine what gems of wisdom my father would share about this: Recently, retail company J.Crew caused a media snafu around an image released in their April e-mail newsletter and online catalog. In the picture, president and creative director of J.Crew Jenna Lyons is sitting across from her adorable five-year-old named Beckett, both of them wearing identical smiles only a mother and son could recreate. But what sparked the brushfire of media criticism was the color of his toenails: a neon pink that was just perfection for spring.

      Okay, so maybe five is a little early to be so fashion forward. But neither the stylish toddler nor Lyons herself shied away from the boldness of spring color – the caption she wrote beneath the picture read: “Lucky for me, I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink. Toenail painting is way more fun in neon.” (Sidenote: Neon is hot this season. Spring is the perfect time for bright nail polish, tanks, blouses, T-shirts and shoes for both guys and girls.)

      Had my little piggies traveled to the supermarket for roast beef and came wee-wee-weeing back home in pink nail polish, my dad’s reaction would have perhaps mirrored the general uproar with J.Crew and their blatant disregard for gender boundaries. A boy with pink toenails? My father would never condone.

      One man in particular, psychiatrist and Fox News contributor Keith Ablow, took to his column on the Fox News website to express Beckett’s male polish as “psychological sterilization.” (And what’s with these columnists, anyhow? Thinkin’ they can run their mouf an’ shit like it’s okay. The nerve…)

      Ablow writes directly to Lyons: “It may be fun and games now, Jenna, but at least put some money aside for psychotherapy for the kid. This is a dramatic example of the way that our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity.”

      By all means honeybees, run this through a Google image search and see the ad for yourselves: It’s a mother and her child sharing a moment, having a laugh and enjoying some pink toenails. How traumatic is it really for the child to be a Beckett and not a Becky? Why did so many news stations, pundits and commentators feel the need to devote so much time in sexualizing the innocent fun of mother and son?

      Most coverage on Lyons and her son Beckett’s pink toes came laden with accusations of either bad parenting or deviant gender presentations. The Media Research Center called the ad “blatant propaganda celebrating transgendered children,” adding that Lyons was “exploiting Beckett behind the facade of liberal, transgendered identity politics.”

      What my dad and many of these “experts” might fail to realize is that no childhood plaything or activity has the power to determine sexuality or gender representation. I’d be straight as an arrow if basketball, baseball, karate and soccer were all it took. Just as sports didn’t ensure I’d turn out quite the way my dad had wanted, a pretty pedicure won’t certify any toddler’s admission to the homo circus.

      That neon pink is no different than lick-on tattoos or face-paint. As the great (and sexy silver fox) Jon Stewart said on the topic: “You’re all acting like this lady gave her son an ‘I Love Cock’ tattoo!” Pink nail polish can come off. And it certainly doesn’t say will-turn-your-son-gay on the label.

      Of course, that four-year-old who wanted to play with Barbies is now a 21-year-old queer, proud and out to all. And things are much different – much better – with Dad. I called him to see what he had to say about Beckett’s pretty-in-pink piggies.

      “First off, he ain’t my kid,” he said. “I can’t tell that lady how to raise her boy.”

      I asked if pink toes on a boy could indicate anything in the future.

      “I don’t know, kid,” he said. “But hey, if that lady happens to have a gay son, I’ve got one. I’d tell her they’re not so bad.”

      I love you too, dad. 

MARIO LUGO loves purses, feathers, Barbies, eyelash curlers, hair straighteners and romcoms. If you think all that stuff is just for girls, e-mail him at mlugo@ucdavis.edu and get ready to be enlightened. Hard.


  1. Have you read any other page 2 columns? I don’t think The Aggie has the expectation that all page 2 columns will “plunge into the deep.” If you are concerned about readers considering these deep examinations of morality and motives, have you considered a guest opinion? This piece is lighthearted and personal, as many page 2 columns are.

  2. The article is cliché: commentary on an overly discussed topic.

    I thought one of the main roles of the writer was to dive below the surface and to bathe in the grit of under-considered points of view. I think the submission would have been a lot more intellectually successful if it had explored, for instance, the social psychology of the moralizer or, in other words, if it had considered the reasons why people like Keith Ablow feel compelled to enforce gender norms.

    I get the disturbing feeling that the author is swimming in the shallows when he could, dare I say should, be plunging in the deep.


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