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American Apparel Taught My Kids About Sex

Photograph by Getty Images

I’m at the American Apparel store. I brought my 6-year-old so I can pick up a few T-shirts for him. His little sister also needs some clothes. We’ll stock up for everyone while we’re here, I think.

But on my way to the baby aisle, I’m stopped in my tracks. In front of me is American Apparel’s new “Period Power” T-shirt. The picture on the shirt, based on a neon piece created by Canadian artist Petra Collins, depicts the crotch of a woman. The woman is both menstruating and masturbating at the same time.

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The shirt takes me by surprise. I’m not alone. A group of teenage girls is looking at the shirt, laughing and giggling. A mom holding her new baby rushes past. My son stops to take a look. “That looks weird,” he says. I agree and try to move us along. But he keeps looking at the shirt. “Mommy,” he continues. “What’s that lady doing? Is that a Halloween shirt?” “Yes,” I say ushering him past. “It’s a Halloween shirt.” I forget what we came for and get out as quickly as possible.

I’m a big fan of artistic expression. I’m a writer, after all. I’m a relatively potty-mouthed writer at that. Artistic expression is my middle name. But I’m offended by the “Period Power” T-shirt. Or, it’s placement, to be exact.

I don’t think I should have to expose them to overly sexualized ads and products as a matter of course through the day.

American Apparel has a designated and relatively well-known kids' line. I shouldn’t have to feel like I’m in the Hustler store just to buy my kid some white tees. Moreover, a parent shouldn’t have to question if a T-shirt shop is an appropriate place to bring her child.

Everywhere I go with my kids, I feel the need to protect them from the visual onslaught of inappropriate images. There’s the HIV test billboard on Highland that depicts a condom on a penis that looks remarkably like a syringe. There are ads for pop-up Halloween stores that make Count Dracula look far more like a rapist than a vampire. And ads for the new TV show “Masters of SEX” which has me thrilled my son can’t quite read all the words yet.

Kids are inquisitive by nature. And they can’t help but notice when something looks “weird.” As a parent, I do my best to be a filter for my children. I care what they eat, read and watch, and I try to shield them from what’s not appropriate. And while I’m raising my kids in the middle of the city so they will be exposed to a lot, I don’t think I should have to expose them to overly sexualized ads and products as a matter of course through the day.

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So I won’t be shopping at American Apparel anymore, nor will I be driving up Highland with my kids in the car. But there’s always another street and another store. And there’s always another person who thinks “artistic” expression means exposing kids to things way too young. I’ll do my best to shield my kids from what they’re too young to understand, but I’m sure that won’t be entirely possible. I’ll just agree with them when they say something looks weird and keep moving them along.

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