JELLY BRACELETS, SEX BRACELETS AND SHAG BANDS - THE REAL MEANING
Jelly bracelets (jellies, gummies, shag-bands, f*ck-bands) are alleged to be a sexual code among pre-teens. Varying interpretations are given on a variety of fan-sites, but the supposed "meanings" do not appear on the packaging, nor in the promotion of the bracelets which are sold solely as a fashion accessory. While there are several variants, some commonly rumoured versions of the bracelet myth in circulation are:
Yellow = hugging/kissing; Purple = French kissing; Pink = love-bite/flashing; Red = lap dance; Blue = oral; Brown = oral-anal; Black = "all the way"; Gold = "everything symbolised by all the other colours".
In addition, if a boy breaks one of the bracelets off a girl's wrist, the myth says he gets to perform the colour-coded act with her. This is referred to as the "snap" game, but the bracelets are actually very hard to break - being fancy elastic bands! Alternatively, if a boy grabs the bands on a girl's wrist, he gets to kiss her; simply a variation on the decades old playground game of kiss chase.
In short - there are NO real meanings to jelly bands. The bracelets are sold without any sexual meanings on packaging. The meanings are associated with internet websites and vary greatly. Under-age children are not performing sex acts as a result of wearing coloured jelly bracelets/shag-bands/f**k me bands/sex bracelets and are, in fact, alarmed by the over-reaction of adults. There is no reason to ban a fashion accessory - perhaps the websites should be blocked by parents. The myth of sexual meanings could just as easily be attached to other popular items such as coloured shoelaces or socks, hair-grips or scrunchies. The best way to make the bracelets uncool is for adults and teachers to wear them.
Jelly (soft transparent rubber) bracelets became popular in the 1980s when Madonna wore them and teenage girls copied her fashion statement. Jelly sandals and other jelly accessories were also popular. In the late 1990s the bracelets were back in fashion. In the 2000s there was a general 1980s fashion revival and female performers again popularised the bracelets. Coloured jelly bracelets are also a collectible/swappable accessory like friendship bracelets, painted metal bangles and charity wrist-bands. On each occasion, a schoolyard myth became attached to them regarding supposed symbolism. Internet fan-sites (to be taken with a pinch of salt) gave this greater visibility and resulted in schools, parents and even MPs wanting the bracelets restricted or banned.
Like all fads, the bracelets waxed and waned in popularity.
In October 2003 Alachua Elementary School, Florida banned "sex bracelets" due to rumours of their sexual meanings and the use of sexual language among young children. Malabar Middle School, Mansfield, Ohio banned them because the school "promotes good character". Other schools and kindergartens followed suit. In each case, the bans weren't due to actual sexual activity, but due to fear of sexualising children. This is ironic in a country where it is acceptable to dress young children and use cosmetics to make them resemble grown women in child beauty pageants; surely the ultimate in premature sexualisation.
THE SPREAD OF THE MYTH IN 2009
12th September 2009. The New York Times reported that Angevine Middle School, Lafayette, Colorado emailed parents asking them to stop their children wearing coloured bracelets associated with sex games. Staff had overheard pupils talking about the bracelets which had become popular. The ban was based on the distraction caused rather than sexual activity occurring, but (suggesting the school believed the myth) added it was also a preventative measure. Most of the girls were adamant the bracelets were fashion accessories and didn't have any connotations. A couple of weeks later, the New York Times published a follow-up saying the association between jelly bracelets and sex was a myth, and an old myth at that.
However, thanks to the power of the internet, poorly researched sensationalist journalism and parent paranoia, the story spread like wildfire. Parents seemed to forget that they had played similar games and discussed similar things in their schooldays, using words they didn't understand and playing "I'll show you mine if you show me yours".
In Totley, Sheffield, UK, a mother was "outraged" to discover her 8-year-old daughter had a "shag band". The Sheffield Telegraph gave over its front page to the story that children across the country without full understanding of the bands' true sexual meaning are buying them, wearing them, and talking about them thus helping to perpetuate the UL rather than defusing it. In fact the bands don't have a "true sexual meaning" and are sold as fashion items.
24th September 2009. The Daily Mail sensed a sensationalist "sex and kiddies" story and dispensed with accuracy (its article was republished in South Africa where the myth had not previously permeated). According to the Daily Mail, parents were shocked and outraged by the pocket money "shag bands" worn by children as young as 8 and allegedly used to facilitate kissing games. It didn't mention that kiss-chase has been played in playgrounds for generations, long before the bracelets were recruited into the game.
Always happy to alarm its readers, the Daily Mail reported the bracelets were linked to sexual behaviour ranging from hugging/kissing, to exposing body parts and more serious acts . A pink one meant exposing the breasts, a kiss or a love-bite depending on which version of the myth was circulating. A black one meant sex. It also mentioned the "snap" game, adding that snapping a gold-coloured band entitled the breaker to all of the sexual favours represented by the other bands. Hugging, kissing, flashing and even touching have been going on in primary school playgrounds for decades and the supposedly outraged parents seem to forget their children were doing the same things they themselves once did.
According to the Daily Mail, parents had no idea their children's jelly bands symbolised anything until other concerned parents told them. In other words, credulous parents passed on the myth and blew it out of all proportion. Parents said they were horrified and disgusted that children were discussing such things when they hadn't had any proper sex education. According to the Daily Mail "the most disturbing aspect of this craze - imposing a degree of sexuality on children at an age when they shouldn't even know it exists." The Daily Mail and parents had evidently forgotten their own schooldays - there may not have been jelly bracelets, but children were still discussing body parts and garbled accounts of how babies were made!
The Guardian had more common sense about the matter, noting that different websites having different interpretations, but that mostly the bracelets don't mean anything except in paranoid parents' imaginations.
On 24th September 2009 (Radio 4) and 25th September 2009 (BBC News) Wakefield MP Mary Creagh, a whip in the Department of Health, called for 16s to be banned from buying jelly bracelets (sold in packs of 6 or 10) over concerns they represent different physical acts, including sexual behaviour. Creagh had looked for "shag band" on the internet and had evidently found some fansites, but not noticed the debunking articles. Regurgitating the myth wholesale, she claimed each colour represented an intimate sexual act. The issue apparently came to her attention after hearing from her local newspaper about parents who had bought the jelly bands to put in children's party bags, but were "absolutely horrified" when they read details on the packaging. Creagh evidently skimped on research because the packaging does not contain promote sexual acts. The supposed sexual code is a myth that attached itself to the bracelets. A shop selling the bracelets has threatened legal action against Creagh over her repeated and inaccurate allegations that they are selling sex-related items.
Fuelled by parents' paranoia and hindered by her own inability to properly research the matter, Creagh wrote to the Children's Secretary Ed Balls and Business Secretary Lord Mandelson about the issue. She also wrote to shops asking for the bracelets to be withdrawn, but said they did not intend to stop selling the items. Ms Creagh was quoted as saying "We are bringing sexual language and activity into the playground and I think mums and dads are absolutely right to be worried." Perhaps she never entered a playground as a child, because there has always been sexual language there - from kiss-chase, to touching, flashing and even rumours about sexual acts. Pity her constituents who have an MP who can't tell truth from myth. Her failure to check facts before raising the matter at parliamentary level puts Creagh on a par with David Amess who was fooled by a parody news programme (Brass Eye) into proposing a bill to ban a non-existent drug called "cake".
BBC Radio 4 should also be ashamed of itself for allowing the regurgitation of urban myth as a factual news story without researching the story themselves. Their news article was in response to a paranoid parent emailing them. Youngsters have always picked up and use sexual language (that they often don't understand) in playgrounds and from the media without the help of bracelets and they use the language to shock adults. Children get a buzz simply from using "naughty words" and have always been curious about each other's bodies. Banning fashion accessories just because they've attracted a myth will just make youngsters more determined to find out what is being forbidden.
2 October 2009: Carmarthenshire council in Wales bans pupils from wearing the bracelets because of the sexual activity myth. A spokesman claimed children chased each other around school playing the "snap" game. a shocking new craze. It called them a "shocking new craze" even though the bracelets have been around since the 1980s and boy-chases-girl games have been around even longer.
In October/November 2009, Children polled by CBBC (Childrens BBC) generally said the bracelets are bought and worn as fashion items and that they took any notice of the alleged meanings, or even that it was a fuss about nothing. The meanings are an internet craze and while it is sinister in the minds of adults, it seems that children took no notice of that craze even though many were aware of the alleged meanings. In many playgrounds, children have invented their own meanings related to having a certain number of days' bad luck for snapping certain colours.
November 10, 2009. Times Online T2 reported that many parents are horrified that young children are using explict sexual terms without knowing what they mean, but added that banning the bracelets would make them cooler. A teacher on the Times Educational Supplement website wrote "They are bracelets - nothing more, nothing less. If the kids wearing them want to attach silly labels to them, let them. I very much doubt they actually act on it." The children themselves are bemused at the adult hysteria. However, the article descends to alarmist level about the horrifying practices each colour signifies and says "there are not many playground crazes that have websites spelling out sexual fetishes in graphic detail" (perhaps parents previously haven't realised what websites their children have been visiting!). The Times then skimps research and claims the bracelets are known in America as "snopes" - snopes.com is an urban legends debunking website, not a name for the bracelets!
Consultant clinical psychologist Emma Citron who specialises in child and teen development also wants them banned, claiming they aren't like kiss chase which she (wrongly) considers an innocent part of growing up. Citron is very wrong in that assumption. Wearing bracelets at least signifies a wearer's willingness to participate in boy-girl chase games (which do not end up in sexual activity), whereas kiss-chase involves groups of boys forcing kisses on an unwilling girl (and vice versa), humiliates the victim by restraining him/her. The aim may not be a kiss, but to touch a girl's knickers or expose male genitals to her - non-consensual humiliation games should not be considered a sweet, innocent part of growing up! Citron conveniently ignores the non-consensual element of kiss-chase (and the "kiss, kick or torture" variations) while demonising jelly bracelets (in 1999, an infant school in Luton banned kiss-chase as being inappropriate behaviour). Citron misses the point - it is the websites, not the bracelets that are explicit and the children themselves insist they do not perform the acts. With not jelly bracelets, children could just as easily have a shoelace-code or a hair scrunchie code. It isn't commercial exploitation of children any more than any other craze such as pogs, yo-yos etc.
Many parents who want to ban an innocuous fashion item probably allow their children to have TVs in their bedrooms, little realising the sexual content their children may be watching without understanding. I've personally heard 8-11 year olds setting up cops-and-robbers games shouting "I'll be the rapist and you can be the policeman that catches me" without knowing what rape is - it's something they've heard on The Bill.
OTHER "SEX COUPON" AND "KISSING LICENCE" CRAZES
As far back as the 1970s and periodically recirculating, youngsters at various High Schools throughout North America spread rumours that certain soft drinks pull tabs (ring pulls) were "sex coupons" exchangeable for (depending on the version) either sex or a kiss. The myth evolved into ring-pulls from beer cans and also into beer bottle labels if removed intact from the bottle. Supposedly if a boy gave a girl a ring-pull, she couldn't refuse him - no doubt there were many disappointed adolescent males. Some versions claimed the ring section on its own could be redeemed for a kiss; a ring with the tab still attached could be exchanged for sex or oral, and a ring with a whole lid attached meant full-on sex (British ring-pulls, unlike American pull-tabs, always detached from the lid). In the UK in the 1970s, ring-pulls were part of a different myth - that they could be collected to raise money for medical equipment.
Such fads don't even require ring-pulls or bottle labels as props. In the UK in 1976, paper "kissing licences" were copied out by hand and if not given to 5 more people (or 10 more, or 12 more depending on the variant of the myth) you wouldn't get snogged. These were popular among girls in the 10 - 13 years age range and schools clamped down on them because pupils were writing out copies of the licences in class time.
Without the benefit of the internet, parents in the 1970s didn't get to hear about these teenage myths, rumours and crazes. The rumours were also more localised and variable. In the 2000s, it's all online and can spread worldwide. If parents search for "sex bracelet" or "shag-band" they find fan-sites and Facebook pages that seem to suggest the bands are designed to be snapped, and the snapper given sexual favours by the wearer. Other sites suggest the wearer to chooses colours that relate to their sexual experiences, like a badge of honour. All of those sites should be taken with a dose of salt, being extensions of schoolyard boasting. The difference is, these days parents can see what their offspring are talking about and tend to forget it's the same sort of stuff that they talked about as children.
Those fan sites could have chosen any accessory to have a symbolic meaning - from hair scrunchies to the shoelaces on trainers. Youngsters are disappointed that parents are "listening in" and even more disappointed that their parents forget their own childhood, believe myths and start panicking. As for Creagh's suggestion - banning something just makes it more desirable; it's better to let the craze die a natural death. If adults started wearing rubber bracelets, they would stop being cool and children would lose interest.
ANY MEANING YOU LIKE
A sexual code (reminiscent of the "handkerchief code" among some gay men) is not the "true meaning" of the bracelets, regardless of what the bracelets are called in the local vernacular. The bands aren't marketed with that in mind. The packaging doesn't promote sexual acts. It is just a usage and legend that could have been attached to any wearable article that came in different colours.
Just to show how these jelly bands have no intrinsic meaning, there is another myth attached to them that one colour symbolises pro-ana (anorexia as a lifestyle choice) and another symbolises pro-mia (bulimia as a lifestyle choice) thus allowing teens to identify each other and to pledge themselves to an eating disorder "lifestyle".
Perhaps I should start a jelly bracelets myth of my own. Ten year old Maria in Market Rasen has been promised an electric wheelchair by a fizzy pop company if she can collect her own weight in shag bands. Parents can send confiscated shag bands to Maria's community church.
And here's my interpretation of the "true meanings" of jelly bracelet colours:
Yellow: my parent is a gullible twit
Pink: ooh, this matches my hair scrunchie!
Purple: I just want some of the attention these are getting
Red: mummy, what does "shag" mean?
Blue: I wear this to shock my parents/teachers
Black: I like goth or emo music
Lime: my constituency MP is a gullible twit
Clear/white: Radio 4 PM editors should be ashamed of themselves
Brown: I'm not allowed jelly bracelets so I'm wearing elastic bands
Rainbow: mummy, what's a "lesbian" ?
Rasta: my parents are dopes
OTHER HOAX-BUSTING SITES TO VISIT
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