Fashion has often been a key indicator of what is going on in wider society, and it seems that gender neutral clothing is “in.” Androgynous fashion has been popular among adults since the 1920s – often with chic results – while tomboys eschewed pink princess dresses for much of the 20th century without too much of a fuss. But now is the time to introduce unisex clothing ranges for kids, emblazoned with the slogan “NEW ORDER,” just to make sure the aim of the collection is absolutely clear.
In November 2018, Celine Dion launched her new clothing line, CelineNununu, in cooperation with Israeli children’s fashion brand, Nununu. But this isn’t just the usual money-making merchandise offshoot that so many celebrities these days are investing in; CelineNununu has a mission, and that mission is to change the world.
In 2017, The Telegraph asked, “Is gender-free kids’ clothing the way forward?” Indeed, brands have been sizing up the question for some time now, with an increasing number beginning to offer lines that are labeled – if not designed – to be suitable for both sexes. Major British department store John Lewis announced in September 2017 that it would remove gender-specific labels from its house brand of children’s clothing. The Independent and HuffPost have both run articles advertising brands that sell unisex baby or kids’ clothes, items like jeans, t-shirts and overalls, most featuring bright and interesting prints. Indeed, nobody in this day and age blinks twice at seeing either a boy or a girl wearing jeans and a t-shirt in a “gender neutral” color scheme, a.k.a. green, yellow, orange, purple, red … you get the drift. But CelineNununu is working on a whole new level.
Much of the criticism surrounding the venture has stemmed not from the unisex nature of the clothing, but the dark brand imagery, filled with skulls, black monsters, and models who have apparently been instructed (or not) to look as miserable as possible. But one thing is certain: Nununu seeks to shape the future in its image. “Fashion has the power to shape peoples’ minds, Celine and Nununu are trying to shape the future of all human beings by saying ‘find your own individuality.’” Nununu co-founder Tali Milchberg said on CNN. “We bring a new order as a concept into the world,” added her business partner, Iris Adler.
Celine’s solution to the gender binary has now turned the babies into drones…
But I’m Celine Dion!
The advertisement made to accompany the launching of CelineNununu makes abundantly clear the purpose of the clothes is to erase features separating the sexes – and the imagery is striking. Celine breaks into a hospital and gender neutralizes the babies in the nursery by blowing black glitter over them – hey presto, now rather than boys in blue and girls in pink, all the babies are now wearing black and grey. Yes, rather than transforming the world into a place of colorful new possibilities, Celine’s solution to the gender binary has now turned the babies into drones who must all wear the same drab shades. Thanks, Celine! Also, they are covered in black plus-signs and their cribs are filled with monsters – meaning what, exactly?
The ad opens with Celine explaining her rationale for transforming the kids:
“Our children. They are not really our children as we are all just links in a never ending chain that is life. For us, they are everything. But in reality, we are only a fraction of their universe. We miss the past. They dream of tomorrow. When we thrust them forward into the future, the course will always be theirs to choose.”
This little speech goes far beyond the simple realm of unisex clothing for babies. We see the value of parents questioned – with that authority to be replaced with what? LN has previously examined the tension between the roles of the family and the state in bringing up children – if parents make up only “a fraction” of a child’s universe in Nununu-land, who or what exactly are to be the most important figures in a child’s life and development? Perhaps the brainwashing power of crushing ideology itself?
“We help them feel free, creative, inspired, respectful of one another and happy in the world,” Celine told People magazine. For all the rhetoric about allowing kids to find their own individual style, however, Celine fails to notice that it is she who, in the video, chooses the kids’ fate. Her “new order” simply looks different from the old one.
Corporations have long sought to target children with their advertising, turning them into avid consumers at the earliest possible age. But CelineNununu offers none of the stimulating color or movement associated with stereotypical toy or cereal advertising – this video is aimed at adults. It seeks to convince parents to buy into an ideology, rather than to persuade children into begging their parents for these clothes. “CelineNununu lets children choose outside stereotypes and norms so they can bring from within their own tastes and preferences,” Dion told People, and yet it is difficult to see anything that even attempts to appeal to kids in this ad, or on the Nununu website. One wonders if this is really about letting kids choose gender roles for themselves, or, rather, imposing an adult’s ideology onto a new generation of developing brains.
What about Mickey?
A CNN interview gives another interesting insight into Celine’s mindset. She explains that she became motivated to produce the gender-neutral clothing line after taking her three sons to Disneyland and her amazement when they were excited to meet the princesses and Minnie Mouse. “What about Mickey?” she asked, apparently shocked. Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill. It apparently escapes the singer that the boys were perfectly comfortable expressing their interest in meeting these female characters despite having been deprived, up until that moment, of the supposedly now-necessary gender-neutral clothing. She says:
“You know what? You don’t know what they’re going to become later, and you don’t want for them to have a [psychological] problem of growth and say ‘I’m supposed to say that, I’m supposed to be like that because I’m a guy, I’m a boy, I’m supposed to do …’ No. No. You don’t know. Let people be who they are as quick and as soon as possible.”
Celine’s intense insistence that children should “be who they are as quick as possible” is itself fascinatingly misguided, and in contradiction to the rest of her statement.
Child psychologists view curiosity as a fundamental emotion, and one that should be nurtured to create happy children. Kids are designed to constantly explore the world around them and learn by trying new things – how else are they to decide who they are and who they are not? “It’s just a phase,” a parent might say, acknowledging that the obsessions children go through are oft temporary. “Intense interests,” whereby a child exhibits a passionate or even obsessive interest in a particular area, can help them to learn, gain confidence, and develop their cognitive abilities before moving onto another topic. One 2007 study published in Developmental Psychology found that intense interests typically last from six to 36 months. Elizabeth Chatel, a marriage and family therapist, told The Cut that, when a child grows out of a phase, “life gets busy and the world opens up, and other interests start to engage them.”
Children are not supposed to know who they are immediately upon birth – this is why they like to ask questions and explore different temporary interests as they grow up. This may indeed include different expressions of their gender. But Celine and the entire transgender lobby seems to be missing this key idea in their concept of childhood: Forcing what was merely a curious child into a “transgender” label, or the literally black-and-white “new order” of Nununu’s unisex clothing, is just as stifling as the fixed roles of pink princesses and blue truck drivers.