Old Navy Pulls Offensive Toddler T-Shirts That Discourage Art Careers

Would you buy your toddler a T-shirt that reads, “Young Aspiring Artist”? What if the word “artist” was crossed out and replaced with “astronaut” or “president”?

If you’re just as confused as I am about why anyone would even make such a shirt, then you’ll probably be pleased to find out that Old Navy pulled these ill-designed tops from their stores in response to a wave of criticism.

The toddler-sized tees featured “Young Aspiring Artist” in large print, but the word “artist” had a line through it and underneath read “astronaut” or “president.”

It goes without saying that the arts are incredibly important in our society and people with art degrees go on to all sorts of great careers. Some of those jobs might fit the old “starving artist” cliche while others are far from it – like any profession, basically.

The uproar from parents included tons of Twitter backlash using #oldnavyfail and plenty of great T-shirt remakes (see here and here). Critics, placing the blame at the corporate feet of the Gap Inc. chain, were also keen to point out the irony that the shirts were no doubt designed by an artist.

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Some say the shirts intended to discourage kids from pursuing art as a legitimate profession. Even if taken less seriously, the design comes off as an unprovoked slap in the face to the arts community.

“A lot of kids who want to become artists professionally already have enough discouragement from well-meaning adults who say something like, ‘Get a real job, do art as a hobby,'” Frank Chavez commented on a Huffington Post article about the shirts. “They don’t need more discouragement from some heartless corporation.”

But Melanie Tombari Davis commented that she doesn’t see the big deal.

“Isn’t it common when toddlers draw on walls and themselves that they are called aspiring artists? Common jab, folks, Old Navy may just be elevating artists and rethinking an age-old saying,” she wrote in response to the HuffPost story. “Artists aren’t being targeted ‘out of the blue.'”

Fortunately, Old Navy responded to its customers’ concerns with a statement to Buzzfeed saying they’re removing the shirts: “At Old Navy we take our responsibility to our customers seriously. We would never intentionally offend anyone, and we are sorry if that has been the case. Our toddler tees come in a variety of designs including tees that feature ballerinas, unicorns, trucks and dinosaurs and include phrases like, ‘Free Spirit.’ They are meant to appeal to a wide range of aspirations. With this particular tee, as a result of customer feedback, we have decided to discontinue the design and will work to remove the item from our stores.”

It’s interesting, though, that the store didn’t even attempt to justify its design. They might have argued that these days, a career in the arts seems more acceptable or even more common than jobs in science or politics. Perhaps art has become so mainstream, so acceptable as a profession that it’s now bucking the trend to choose a career in those other fields.

And let’s be honest – all of our kids are way more likely to become artists than they are to ever become astronauts or the president of the United States. So maybe this shirt is supposed to serve as inspiration; another way of saying “you can be anything you want to be.”

That said, I’m not really convinced that’s what Old Navy was trying to do. More realistically, this T-shirt design was probably just a stupid mistake that somehow got through the (presumably many?) layers of scrutiny and made it to store shelves before anyone really thought much about it.

The shirts are definitely offensive and it’s great that parents are speaking up enough to get a reaction from such a huge corporation. But I’d like to see parents stand up against all the silly and generally unnecessary labels that graphic tees put on our kids and just stop buying these shirts – especially for toddlers, who have no idea what they’re wearing. Whether she’s a future president or future artist, does your toddler’s T-shirt really need to make a statement?

What do you think? Do you find the Old Navy T-shirts offensive? Tell us in the comments section below!

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