Girls should focus on having fun, not worrying about whether they’re wearing the right swimsuit for their body shape. (Photo: Stocksy)
As if it weren’t hard enough for adult women to accept their own bodies, now tween magazine Discovery Girls is targeting 8 to 12 years old girls’ self-esteem with an article on finding the right swimsuit for their body shape — one that plays down their perceived flaws and makes them feel bad about their developing bodies.
The article suggests that if you’re a tween who is “curvy up top” that “coverage is key,” and that you should look for bathing suits with “side ties and cutouts that draw the eyes down.” For young girls who are “rounder in the middle,” the article suggests choosing a suit with “busy geometrics” that “draw the eye inward,” reports The Cut.
Discovery Girls describes itself on Twitter as a magazine that “gives girls ages 8 and up the advice, encouragement, and inspiration they need to navigate those difficult preteen years.” But the article does exactly the opposite by contributing to the body shaming and self-consciousness that many tween girls are already facing. So it’s no surprise that the magazine’s body shape bathing suit story encountered a wave of backlash on social media.
Twitter user @GiantYorkiePud wrote: “Pretty ironic that it’s called @DiscoveryGirls discovering that life’s pretty sexist & shallow.” Another Twitter user, @rebeccabehrens, wrote: “The only tip girls need for swimsuit shopping: Buy whatever makes you happy and in which you can have the most fun.”
On Facebook, Robyn Cohen, MD, wrote on Discovery Girls’ page: “Would there be a similar article in a boys’ magazine about ‘cute fun swimsuits that make you feel confident?’ There is no need for any article that highlights how focusing on your appearance at this age (8-12) will make you more confident. Not developmentally appropriate material. Period.”
Twitter user @taffyakner calls out Discovery Girls’ body-shaming article. (Photo: Twitter/@taffyakner)
Because of the outrage, Catherine Lee, the publisher of Discovery Girls, was forced to respond, posting an open letter on the magazine’s Facebook page. “I am in total agreement with all of you regarding this article, so much so that I wanted to make this letter as public as possible,” she wrote. “We want to make sure that our girls know that any article that makes you feel bad about your body is not a good article, and should be questioned.”
Lee added: “The article was supposed to be about finding cute, fun swimsuits that make girls feel confident, but instead it focused on girls’ body image and had a negative impact.”
But some say it’s too little too late. “I’m so tired of hearing the excuse, ‘We were just trying to help girls feel confident,’” Erin Bried, who is launching Kazoo in July, a magazine dedicated to empowering girls ages 5 to 10, tells Yahoo Beauty. “Guess what: Girls are born confident. When they’re young, they’re not afraid to ask for what they want. They’re not shy about taking up space or making noise. They own their bodies and are proud of what they can do, how fast they can run and how high they can climb.”
But Bried notes that by adolescence, girls begin to question their own voice. “And it’s because of stories like these that tell girls that there is a right and wrong way to look or act,” she says. “You’re not solving a problem, when you’re the one introducing it in the first place. I’m glad parents are calling out this story, but unfortunately it’s not at all unusual. You’ll find similar messages in other magazines, on TV, in the movies and in the toy aisles.”
At this age, Bried says we need to reinforce what girls already know about themselves—that they can do and be anything. “They can be loud, messy, strong, silly, shy, whatever,” she says. “As long as they’re true to themselves, they’re perfect as they are. And if we give them that space to be themselves—to dream, build, explore, think, ask questions—without burdening them with how they’re supposed to act instead, then they can achieve anything.”