Beth Jacob - "Kids don’t have long before they learn the world’s limits"

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Apr 03, 2017
by Oscar Tollast
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Beth Jacob - "Kids don’t have long before they learn the world’s limits"

Salzburg Global Fellow features in The Washington Post after daughter’s letter to Gap goes viral Salzburg Global Fellow Beth Jacob speaking at The Child in the City: Health, Parks, and Play

Salzburg Global Fellow and director of CityHealth, Beth Jacob has revealed how Gap responded to her daughter’s request for a better range of styles and choices for girls.

Jacob’s daughter Alice made headlines last month after her letter to the retailer went viral, featuring on the Huffington Post and Today online

In her letter, Alice, aged five, explained she liked t-shirts which featured Superman, Batman, and race cars, but Gap’s shirts for girls were either pink or featured princesses on them. 

Alice asked Gap to “make some cool girls’ shirts” or make a “no boys or girls” section - only a kids’ section.

In her role at CityHealth, Alice's mother, Jacob uses policy as a lever to improve people's health and wellbeing. She has spent more than 20 years advocating for smart policies on behalf of children and families.

Her work led to her taking part in The Child in the City: Health, Parks, and Play, which was held at Schloss Leopoldskron earlier this year.  

As part of a new editorial for The Washington Post, Jacob revealed how Gap's chief executive and brand president Jeff Kirwan responded to her daughter's request. 

Responding to Alice’s letter in an email, Kirwan agreed GapKids could do a “better job offering even more choices that appeal to everyone.”

Kirwan said GapKids always tried to provide a broad range of styles for girls and boys, including a selection of girls’ tees with dinosaurs and superheroes, but designers would now “work on even more fun stuff” he thought Alice would like. 

In addition to this response, Kirwan provided Alice with a few of his favorite t-shirts from Gap’s latest collection, asking her for her thoughts.

Jacob wrote back to Kirwan along with her daughter. In her response, she said:

“Since Alice wrote you, we’ve seen word travel from Tucson to Beirut; more than I could count say they agree. We’re thrilled you, too, said she’s right and you want to do better. For kids like Alice everywhere, that means a lot.

So what next? Honestly, we’ve all got our work cut out for us. Because I haven’t told Alice the two other reactions to her letter. First, people ask what’s the big deal; why don’t we just buy ‘boys’ clothes? Or why don’t I learn to sew — and better yet teach Alice — so we can make whatever we want?

We grown-ups know what happens whenever someone small challenges the status quo. Even well-intentioned people at the top feel the pressure: Why take a risk if the majority isn’t speaking out?

Better not to rock the boat, right? Better to let the outliers change themselves to fit in. In 2017 girls can wear ‘boys’ clothes; you can even buy your son a polo shirt in pink. Why the fuss?

Why indeed? Because the fact is kids don’t have long before they learn the world’s limits — or their own. In the meantime, Mr. Kirwan, you and I have a chance to teach them a different lesson. Mine might come during a carpool conversation. Yours could come from clothes that say girls don’t have to be just one thing.

But we both have an opportunity on our hands: to help kids learn why being different is an act of bravery; why asking for something unfair to change is worthwhile.

Because sometimes people — even powerful ones — listen. Meanwhile, everyone sees they, too, have a fair shot at being heard.

It is not just about T-shirts, is it? You and I, we’ve got a chance to show kids everywhere that all big changes start small.

Sincerely yours,

Beth Jacob”

To read Jacob’s article in full and find out how Kirwan responded to Jacob’s latest message, click here.


Beth Jacob is the project director of CityHealth, an initiative of the de Beaumont Foundation in the US that "provides leaders with a package of evidence-based policy solutions that will help millions of people live longer, better lives in vibrant, prosperous communities." 

She was a participant in the Salzburg Global program The Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play, which is part of the multi-year Parks for the Planet Forum, a series held in partnership with the IUCN. The session was supported by the Huffington Foundation, Parks Canada and Korea National Park and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. More information on the session can be found here: www.salzburgglobal.org/go/574