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[Updated] J. Crew and Jenna Lyons' pink toenail controversy

Jcrew-screen-grab A controversy has bubbled up over a photo spread in the most recent J. Crew catalogue. Under the caption "Saturday with Jenna" the company's president and creative director Jenna Lyons is pictured laughing with her 5-year-old son Beckett, holding his little feet in her hand. A bottle of hot pink Essie nail polish is pictured below them.

“Lucky for me I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink,” reads the caption. “Toenail painting is so much more fun in neon.”

To some the photo depicts a sweet moment between a stylish mom and her equally stylish son.  To others, however, it reads as a questionable endorsement of parental support of transgendered or gender-neutral children.

Erin R. Brown writing on the website of the Culture and Media Institute -- whose mission is to uphold traditional values -- says the spread “features blatant propaganda celebrating transgendered children.”  She adds that “Jenna's indulgence (or encouragement) could make life hard for the boy in the future.”

“This is a dramatic example of the way that our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity -- homogenizing males and females when the outcome of such ‘psychological sterilization’ [my word choice] is not known,” Psychiatrist Keith Ablow writes on

“If you have no problem with the J. Crew ad, how about one in which a little boy models a sundress? What could possibly be the problem with that?” he continues. (For the record, Ablow has a lot of problems with it).

But parenting expert Dr. Susan Bartell says the fact that young Beckett likes the color pink has nothing to do with whether or not he'll have any transgender issues. Speaking on the CBS Early Show, Dr. Bartell said, “[Our kids] gender is going to emerge naturally as part of who they are and has nothing to do with whether we put pink nail polish on them.”

We'd love to know what you think. What would you do if your 5-year-old son's favorite color was pink?

-- Deborah Netburn

Photo courtesy of J. Crew

[Updated at 10:30 AM 4/14/2011: Dr. Keith Ablow's name was previously misspelled as Dr. Keith Abalow.]

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sounds innocent to me.

Let him love pink. I see absolutely nothing wrong with this picture, and although I do not particularly enjoy the color myself I would happily let any boy I may have walk around with pink toenails or anything else he'd like. He does not have to roll around in dirt and make motorcycle noises or like red or blue to be a "normal boy." Gender roles are an ancient invention that should be dead, and i'm very shocked and disappointed that our society responds so strongly against "feminine" boys. Every single person that has said anything negative about transgendered people, this little boy, his mother or any parents that support their children in absolutely everything they do should really take a step back and evaluate themselves first. Why is this wrong? It's a difficult question to answer because it isn't.

What would I do if my 5 year old son wanted to wear pink nail polish?

Embrace it!

Really? This doesn't belong in a news story. It belongs in Tosh.0

There's nothing controversial about this ad. I am disgusted that a news source of this caliber would even waste time and money to endorse the popularity of this "issue". I am disappointed.

Not really a big deal. My son spent a lot of time with his two cousins, both of whom were girls.when they were growing up. One day, everyone wanted their toenails painted. My son loved it. But now he is 27 with a girlfriend, and would never go near nail polish for his toes. Just move on...there are so many bigger issues to deal with when you raise your children. By the way, Ian is not transgender,,,though he is a clothes horse. He likes to shop, but for himself. He also had a Barbie that he played with with his cousins. My point, is if you make a big deal, it will be one.

I have to say that I think this whole controversy is ridiculous, it really is... made all the more so by the fact that we're discussing this in 2011. Have we learned nothing? I wore nail polish a few times when I was little... where's the harm in it? There is none. If he likes pink and he wants to wear nail polish, let him.


I would imagine Beckett will grow up knowing the fun and privilege of having a mother who runs a successful business. His current fondness for the color pink has nothing to do with his sexuality, no mater what it is or will be. This so-called "psychiatrist's" own pre-conceived ideas of what little boys should and should not do is the real issue here. Blue is for boys, after all, not pink for heavens sake. Or so implies this tired old world psychiatrist. Seems he could use a bit of therapy actually.

I like the color pink too, but my internalized homophobia (thanks to the likes of Erin R. Brown and Keith Abalow) makes me shy away from it when choosing clothing and such. The color itself has nothing to do with masculinity/femininity or gender roles - those are socially taught behaviors. If Beckett is brought up being allowed to enjoy the color pink, more power to him & his mum. It is only if lame bullies like Keith Abalow rain on his parade that will make his life difficult, not simply enjoying pink or any other color.

at maybe 4 years old, my youngest son's favorite color was pink, and he liked princess items as well. even wanted his fingenails painted pink. i explained to him that perhaps pink fingernail polish was only for girls (his father gets manicures, and frequently has clear polish on his nails) and instead, bought him a pink ralph lauren polo shirt. he was happy. and he eventually had a new favorite color. whether that was from peer pressure or not, i don't know. but, i'm glad.

and there does seem to be a blurring of the gender lines, both in outward appearance, and otherwise. before i had little boys, i didn't realize that there were actual differences in little boys and little girls (except the obvious). nor did i realize that there were so many biases out there against little boys, from entering school, to learning style while at school.

If you're going to bash a guy, get his name spelled right.

Dr. Keith Ablow

Really?! You people must have nothing else better to do. Why is this even a controversy? You people really believe that something so minimal and simple as pink toenails or a "sundress" as the other idiot mentioned is a recipe to transgender issues? How stupid and close minded do you have to be to believe that this is what makes homosexual males and females. I have to say that I agree with Dr.Susan Bartell. Pink toenails have nothing to do with the fact that a child may or may not have gender identity issues. Yes, pink toenail may trigger some issues but isn't it most likely that if it does, unclear gender identity was there long before that child had pink toenails?

I am absolutely disgusted by the media on this one. Picking this up as a "Scandal" of child-abuse proportions? Give me a break. A sweet picture of Mom and son having some fun. The folks that have "gender issues" are the ones that made an issue out of this in the first place.

How does his favorite color being pink going to make life difficult? Pink is a happy and fun color... in the picture he is a HAPPY and FUN child! My son is 3, ALL BOY, loves everything military (father is in the Navy), dinosaurs, legos, monsters, trucks... BUT he LOVES bright, happy, fun colors. His favorite are orange and pink actually. He loves having his nails painted. Want to know why? He sees his role model do it all the time (ME, his MOTHER). He likes the colors, he likes coping me. Do we forget that kids copy their favorite people? This is not going to confuse the boy. My son is well aware he has a penis.... and WHO CARES if any of the kids decide they want to be gay. WHO CARES! At least they aren't wanting to shoot people and go kill people.

I agree with Dr. Susan Bartell. The fact the boy likes the color pink, has nothing to do with what he's going to grow up as. It's just innocent fun. So he like's the color big deal. It's only a color people!

I have a 5 year old, and one of his favorite colors is pink. What do I think? I don't care. It's a color. Why is it that a girl can have blue as a favorite color, but if a boy likes pink then HOLY @#$&, he's likely to end up as a severely messed up adult? Ridiculous in my opinion.

Real men wear pink. Could it be that a five-year-old boy is more secure in his masculinity than Keith Ablow?

It's stories like this that make me lose faith in mankind...good lord. Here's how I see the person's thought process who first cooked up this story: "Hmm...I haven't gotten pissed off about something that doesn't matter for a while. This seems good."

Im sorry, I thought I clicked on a news article...

Seriously? There is a conflict in the Middle East, the next Presidential race is heating up, and THIS is what the media is focusing on? Unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable. The American media has sunk to a new low. I have never been happpier to live in Canada, where the photo of a loving mother playing with her son is looked upon with fondness instead of derision over such a trivial issue.

I always wore blue as a young boy-lil boy blue they called me be cause of my eyes. I still wear a lot of it today. But I also wear pink too, and have been told it takes a real man to wear it. It is a color and only has as much meaning as we place on it. Maybe if the nail polish was green, we would all think it was cool. But a kid will put glue in his mouth regardless of the color and use crayons on the wall with whatever color is around. kids are kids. can we just please let them be?

What I'm wondering is if it would be such a "controversy" if the photo instead showed a little girl playing in the dirt with trucks. It isn't okay for some "gender-specific" activities to be alright to one opposite-gender and not the other. (I hope that sentence makes sense.. hard to put into words what I'm trying to say!)

What's hilarious is, during the early 20th Century, little boys would be sent home from the hospital in pink because it's a "manly" color. And that was "when men were men." Or something like that. This whole story is very silly.

My initial reaction to my son asking me to paint his toenails a few summers ago, as he watched me do the same was, "Hmmm...this could go so many different ways." We, of course, painted each toe a different color as his older sister and dad walked into the hallway and said,"What exactly is going on here!?!". Let them be free.I explained the consequences of what others might comment, he shrugged and we moved on with color choices. He plays a sport every season and is one of the taller kids in his age group. Soon, alot of his friends at the pool were asking their parents to paint their toenails. This made Max and I both smile. (The other parents did not.) They have SOOOO many years where they are forced into being in a box, into college, into workdays, into running their families around...let them be kids. You are teaching them so much by your reaction and action. Embrace others for differences, embrace your free thinking, love yourself for creativity, be gracious and non judgmental and...have fun. They will love you for it.

I'm not very surprised seeing this article making such a big commotion in the media. It's not unexpected that a lot of the "traditional" Doctors and bloggers are finding this article to be riveting and uneasy. How ever this is the new age, transexual living, stylish but secure. I doubt this boy will have conflicts growing up because his mother let him wear a dress or painted his toes pink. Any boy with an older sister was forced to do that growing up and we do not have a haywire society because we are all "psychologically sterilized".

Lets actually break down what Jenna Lyons is doing here: she is showing her son that liking pink is okay. She is showing him that embracing his interests is something to be proud about. He is not going to turn twenty and come out of the closet because his mother let him paint his toe nails once. Homosexuality is not a choice, and your mother's trendy tactics cannot influence that non the less.
We are in a new age where our fathers don't push us to be on a baseball team and scold us for taking an interest in playing the tuba. Its not about the strongest man and anyone under him is a sally; this age is about being who we are and being strong because we are not afraid to show it [even if it involves a little pink toe nail polish]. The generations before us were raised to never show emotion or failure. You were raised to either be the strongest or abandoned because of your weakness. Men were to work when women were to stay in the kitchen and serve.
The attention from Dr. Bartell is truly respected by me because no matter what we dress our children in they will always shape into the person they were meant to be.
Let the kid wear what he'd like, let him be different and embrace that. He will grow strong as a leader and his mother as being a brave adult against this sea of critics!

I have a son whose favorite color is purple. Why does it matter? He is not going to be gay or straight based on color choice, or anything external--like having a single mom, living in a vegetarian household, wearing a purple tie, or >gasp< having his toenails or fingernails painted. (For the record, he has. It took about 15 minutes because it tickled; it took less than 30 seconds before he was over it and wanted the polish off.)

Gender preference and identity are matters of biology, not choice. By allowing our children to express themselves, and their preferences without assigning silly labels to activities or colors, we are affirming to our children that we will love them no matter what.

There are only colors; not "boy" colors or "girl" colors. My six year old son gets this. Why can't grownups?

What was this mother thinking?!? This is completely inappropriate; the boy is clearly a Spring or Autumn, not a Summer. Tomato red or dark gold would suit him better than bright pink.

what would i do if my 5 year old son's favorite color was pink?

i'd do the only moral thing there is to do, send him to a christian anti-gay healing camp, so he could meet other little boys who also like pink, and then get over that...

LET THE POOR BOY WEAR PINK. Sheesh. Aren't we supposed to be the generation of tolerance? He is beautiful and happy and THAT'S WHAT MATTERS. What a wonderful mother and a wonderful son.

I do not understand why it is such a big problem for a young boy to like the color pink! The amount of effort that society puts into homogenizing male and female roles is absolutely insane. Let people be! And by the way, so what about transgendered people? They aren't harming anyone, so why in the world is it such a problem?!

Oh boy oh boy oh boy
Think of what is going on in the world today and all this attention paid to a sweet little ad showing a mom and her son having a giggle over painting toe nails. It is actually a scary thing....and I do not mean the toe nail painting!

It doesn't bother me that Jenna painted her little boy's toenails pink or that he likes the color pink. What I do wonder is... where was the handsome, stylish Dad who said wisely, "Jenna, I know your catalog is ultra hip and cutting edge, but maybe it might not be a good idea to expose our son to the national media, not to mention teasing from other kids at school." Just saying'...

I wonder if Dr. Ablow would have blasted all those women who first allowed their daughters to wear pants or a baseball cap? What if the little boy wants a doll and his sister wants a toy truck? Goodness - what if someone's 5 year old daughter wants to pretend to shave like Daddy or put on some aftershave? When they're 10, I doubt the little boy will be wearing pink nail polish on a daily basis, and I'm pretty sure a little girl will prefer perfume. It's not like the mother is dolling her son up for a playdate. It looks like harmless fun on a lazy day. She was probably painting her own toes when her son asked to have some, too, because hey, kids think any paint is fun - especially when you can put it on your body! Would Dr. Ablow think face-painting at a fair is on the same level?

I would drown the little bastard and make a new baby and inject the fetus with testosterone.

I bet you Erin R. Brown is a closet lesbian. Or married to a closeted gay man. Or has a transgendered/gay child.

The ones that protest the most are always the biggest offenders.

This "issue" is entirely sexist. In that if the Mom had done something with her daughter that was precieved as masculine there would be no discussion. This is because the people who are making an issue out of this perceive femininity and females as being inferior to masculinity and males. Further, his gender identity and sexual orientation are not going to be determined by something as simple as this.

Good for this Mom and J. Crew for bucking the sexist, misogynistic system and engaging with her son is a playful, innocent, creative, and loving manner.

It's a good thing that doesn't have a comment feature for Mr. Ablow's article...

The bad part isn't a little boy wearing toenail polish, pink or otherwise. Kids play with all sorts of things.

What's wrong here is a mother using her child to make a volatile socio-political statement, that's the sick part. She knew perfectly well that it would be controversial, and her kiddo had no real choice on whether or not to appear in the advertisement.

Kid: Innocent.

Mom and the magazine: Guilty.

Okay first of all does this mean that females like my self who's favorite color is Blue shouldnt pain my nails blue? This is absolutly retarded. I'm a girl and I like male and female colors, this is rediculous and wrong. that boy has pink toe nails! kids get bored and like colors, grow up this shouldnt be news it should have been left alone. Grow up!

I found the picture endearing and the hilarity in the little boy's face cracked me up. I saw a photo of a loving mother and her son sharing a beautiful intimate moment that I hope they will always treasure.

That is if the idiots in the media and politics will just go away.

With all the money Fox has made off Kurt Hummel (Glee) and they way he dresses you'd think they'd be the last ones to go ballistic over this.

Off topic but Mr. Hummel's a heck of a dresser. You ought to do a story on that. Just saying.

Pink is a great color. Especially Neon Pink. I'd be just as proud of my son if he had any other favorite color.

i wouldn't care if my son's favorite color is pink because i'm not an idiot and i'd love him no matter what!

>>What would you do if your 5-year-old son's favorite color was pink?<<

i'd say "that's nice. mine is green."

not a BFD, people!!!

My son's favorite color at age 5 was pink also. Not a problem with us. Color is color. Favorites are opinions not indications of what is to come in the future. As I told this story to my son he agreed that this "concerned" take was absurd. We both painted our toe nails "Twisted Pink" tonight in support of this mom, her son and how in tuned they are with each other. A photo of our toes is now my profile pic on's to pink toes to whomever wants them!

Ok...Really? Where is it written that colors are gender-specific? Where is it written that boys cannot paint their toenails (or, fingernails, for that matter)? Is this the most important detail that parents have to deal with? Children, both girls and boys, love color, glitter and dress-up. How will they learn and grow if not for unlimited creativity?

Children are naturally drawn to all that is magical...paint, glue, glitter, textures (fabric, papers and nature)....the list goes on and on....this is an integral part of exploration and learning. Instead of setting up roadblocks that are rooted in their own uncertainties, parents need to embrace and, yes, encourage, their children's interest in all that is creative.

Parents need to give their child the opportunity to explore, learn and express their creativity. A creative child is a happy and successful child.

What does the color pink have to do with being transgender? This is insane

Back in the eighties we settled for simple terms like "androgyny" to describe rebellious and stylish young women taking to the streets and offices in blazers and ties to challenge "the masculine" [fashion] and I don't imagine Ms. Brown protesting that sort of "fun". Now however she's throwing out prejudicial wholesale terms like transGENDER regarding a boy FIVE years old giggly over an advertised instance of fun with his Mom?! Would she be happier if he were posed with a gun, or perhaps a smoking Marlboro hanging from his mouth?
What a ridiculously unpolished job of editorial that a respected journal such as yours would indulge such tripe.

Bookmarked. I'll come back in 13 years to see if he's on TMZ. Till then, I don't see a problem.

I think this is getting taken to a level it doesn't need to be. So what if a little boys favorite color is pink? It's pretty obvious that he doesn't care, and fairly obvious his mother isn't forcing him into anything, which cancels out any statement that might imply she us leading him in the "wrong" direction. She is simply giving him the freedom of creativity and the freedom of choice. And to take something like that away, to take away a child's free will, is what would lead to the anxiety that others are trying to instill in a child who would just end up confused and unaccepted. Shame on those who say free will isn't right. And shame on those who said this woman was "making" her child someone he isn't.

Pink was originally for boys, and dainty blue for girls. It changed in the 1940s. So less than a hundred years ago, a boy liking blue would be the problem. Seriously??? It's a color, and didn't MalePolish come out years ago? Liking something does not determine sexual orientation.

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