Emma Teitel: Céline Dion is off-colour when it comes to kids' clothes
Next year, Céline Dion will leave her longtime concert residency at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. But have no fear: Canada’s beloved diva isn’t retreating from public life anytime soon. In fact, Dion has already emerged in a brand new role: fairy godmother (or I should say fairy godparent) to children struggling to break free from the rigid confines of outdated gender norms.
The brand released a profoundly bizarre but thoroughly entertaining ad this week starring Dion. The Canadian singer appears dressed in a low-cut business suit as she enters a neonatal hospital wing, where several sleeping infants are separated by sex — the girls adorned in pink on one side and the boys in blue on the other. Dion won’t have it. She unzips a black leather tote bag and pulls out a case of black fairy dust, which she then proceeds to blow onto the sleeping babes and poof: their pink and blue attire vanishes and is replaced with the gender neutral garb of CELINUNUNU.
In a voice-over, Dion says, “Our children: they are not really our children,” which should be news to most parents. “For us, they are everything. But in reality, we are only a fraction of their universe. We miss the past, they dream of tomorrow. We may thrust them into the future but the course will always be theirs to choose.”
Dion’s course appears to be toward jail. At the end of the ad, after she’s successfully liberated the infants from the bonds of the gender binary, two cops chase her down and apprehend her. Her defence? “But I’m Céline Dion.”
Indeed she is. And thank God for that. What a wonderfully wacky woman. A gem far more rare than the Heart of the Ocean.
And yet, though her intentions are probably infinitely pure, and the ad immensely entertaining, Dion and NUNUNU have missed the mark with this one. I’m no fan of rigid gender norms, but I’m equally critical of the notion, presented by NUNUNU and other brands that have released androgynous lines in recent years, that gender-neutral must constitute an absence of colour. Browse the clothing line and the theme is obvious: black, white and grey, with a touch of blue and yellow. Noticeably absent from the line and other gender-neutral collections are pink and purple.
In other words, as many before me have pointed out (writer Audra Williams wrote a piece about this a few years ago when Ellen DeGeneres designed a similar clothing line for Gap), gender neutral often means muted colours and traditionally boyish clothing, but rarely does it offer much in the frilly, sparkly, pretty department. This doesn't exactly relay the message to kids that girls and boys can wear whatever they like free from judgment, but rather, that girls can dress like boys.
Dion’s heart is certainly in the right place but her clothing partnership reinforces the idea that traditionally masculine attire is acceptable for all genders, while traditionally feminine attire is for girls alone. Plain: good. Fabulous: bad. Is this really the “new order” we want to establish? It certainly doesn’t seem to line up with Dion’s world view. (In 2011, five months after giving birth to twins, she returned to the Las Vegas stage in a shimmering gold mini-dress).
Kids clothes in major stores are often garish. Most t-shirts say something and that something tends to be stupid if it’s in the boys’ section (“Got Milk?”) or blatantly obvious if it’s in the girls’ section (“I love my mom”). Unless you shop at a hipster boutique where the clothes are very expensive (and, for some reason, look and feel like oatmeal), you’ll have a hard time avoiding shirts absent tacky graphics and embarrassing slogans. But if you take your non-conformist, pink-loving son to shop one of the new gender-neutral lines, you’ll have another problem: he’ll be bored. And no one should be bored shopping for merchandise endorsed by Céline Dion.