The animal onesie: the fluffy scourge of Generation Y

Adults, myself included, are regressing to childhood - moving back in with their parents, job-hunting in between porn-viewing sessions and eating bowls of Frosties for dinner. Who could blame us?

Even as a ten-year-old, I couldn’t stand fancy dress. One World Book Day, where primary school children dress as their favourite literary characters, I loopholed my way out of wearing a humiliating Harry Potter costume by writing Ellie; a two-page semi-autobiographical novella. I went to school that day dressed as the book’s protagonist: me. The last Halloween costume I wore (2011) was similarly half-arsed. I scribbled the Euro symbol onto a white shirt in permanent marker and told everyone at the party I’d come as failing currency.

But grown-up fancy dress is no longer purely the stuff of stag nights and themed parties. It’s seeping into everyday life with the insidiousness of something truly sinister. I’m referring to the fluffy scourge of Generation Y; the animal onesie.

In recent years, my fellow twenty-somethings have taken to dressing as cuddly fauna. Pandas, giraffes, monkeys, foxes – one-piece suits shaped like all of these critters can be seen covering a young person near you. They wear them everywhere from parties to nights out, to lying comatose on the sofa in front of Deal or No Deal. So ubiquitous is the animal onesie that I wouldn’t look twice if I were stuck behind a human kangaroo at the Sainsbury’s checkout, or fighting for bar space with a set of badgers. In fact, I recently spent a train journey tightly engulfed by a sweaty-crotched tedium of humans dressed as the contents of London Zoo.

As a recent Time cover story reminded everyone, millennials are widely disliked by older generations. They call us lazy, they call us entitled, they call us mollycoddled. The animal onesie brazenly confirms that we are all of these things and more. From Thatcher to Britain’s Got Talent, a great number of socio-economic factors have paved the turd-strewn way for my generation. These various obstacles have resulted in what’s been referred to by many as prolonged adolescence. Adults, myself included, are moving back in with their parents, job-hunting in between porn-viewing sessions and eating bowls of Frosties for dinner. Who could blame us? The graduate job market looks like a recently-flushed toilet. (Yes, yes, I know, but at least if it were un-flushed there’d be something in it). And there’s one bear/rabbit/chicken-shaped item of clothing that so neatly encapsulates the pathos of the situation.

Wearers of animal onesies are resigning themselves to the overgrown child stereotype. This isn’t even prolonged adolescence; it’s prolonged infancy. When a person in his or her twenties puts on a rabbit costume, they’re saying: “I give up.” Nihilists with bunny ears are collectively curling into the foetal position and jamming their thumbs firmly into their mouths. No act could be more submissive, more docile, more supine.

Admittedly, I’ve flirted with the idea of buying an animal onesie myself. One afternoon in bed, my eyes glued to an episode of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, while periodically shovelling Haribo Tangfastics down my throat, I thought to myself: “What could make this better?” My conclusion? Being dressed as a giraffe. As my cursor hovered over the “add to basket” icon of an online animal onesie shop, I had an epiphany. It was this: “Margolis, you suck.”

When I nearly bought that animal onesie, I was about to contribute to a generation-dooming stereotype. Not only this, but I also ventured dangerously close to the realm of kookiness. Kookiness – that self-conscious, wide-eyed, nail-biting effort to be “different” and, oh God I hate this word… “quirky”. This brand of cutesy, pseudo self-deprecating, supposed originality touted by the likes of zany (ugh) actress Zooey Deschanel is yet another element of the zeitgeist that badly needs exorcising.

Just consider this: animal onesies are the opposite of funny. They’re so unfunny, in fact, they make me want to stick kebab skewers in my ears. They’re malevolence with a bushy tail. And, for the love of all that’s holy, please stop taking pictures of people in them. They’re not “genius”, they’re grown-ups pretending to be hilarious squirrels in a land where you can pay off your mortgage in fondant fancies. Stop encouraging them.

But grown-up fancy dress is no longer purely the stuff of stag nights and themed parties. Photograph: Getty Images.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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