Back when I was a tween, long before the term was even coined (we just called them kids back then), I spent my summer living in a bathing suit. Whether I was at a pool, the beach, a nearby lake, or running through the sprinklers of somebody’s backyard, I wore my swimsuit — most likely a one-piece my parents picked up at the local department store without me even trying it on — with pride. Back then, it was all about getting wet and having fun, and the last thing on my mind was how I, or other people, looked in a swimsuit.
This week, a magazine for girls called Discovery Girls, which wasn’t around back when I was between their target ages of 8 to 13, is under fire for a controversial spread in their April/May issue titled, “What Swimsuit Best Suits You?”
In an illustrated diagram, the editors pick out which swimsuits will look best “if you’re curvy up top,” “if you’re straight up and down,” “if you’re rounder in the middle,” or “if you’re curvy on the bottom.” As an adult, I can translate this to mean, if you have big boobs, are skinny, are overweight, or have a big booty, but as a little girl in the tail end of elementary school, I think my reaction would have been, “Wait, what’s a body type?”
I started my two-decade long struggle with body image issues as a teen, probably around the same time I started subscribing to magazines targeted at the next age group up and reading features just like this one where they would divide body types into pseudo politically correct categories, such as those above, but that everyone knew were really “good” or “bad.” It was preferable to look like the really thin girls with big boobs who got to wear the cute bikinis, not the more realistically shaped girls with the pear-shaped figures stuck in the tankinis.
So I started shopping for my own swimsuits. I remember trying them on in the local Gap when I was in middle school, staring in the mirror and wondering: Do I look fat? From then on, being in a swimsuit wasn’t really that much fun anymore because there was a sense of insecurity attached to it. Even years later as an adult, when I was almost starving myself and looked absolutely emaciated in my string bikinis, self image consumed me when it came time to strip down into a swimsuit, and I was always worrying about what other people were thinking about how I looked.
This Discovery Girls article is disturbing on so many levels, but first and foremost because no child, especially an 8-, 9-, or 10-year-old, should be concerned with how their body looks in a bathing suit. It is way too young to start this dialogue and incredibly irresponsible for a publication “Created by Girls, For Girls …” to be introducing such a callous and mature topic.
And really, whoever is writing this crap, do you spend your summers at the pool judging little girls’ bodies and their choices in swimwear? Like, are you seriously thinking, “Oh that 8-year-old girl over there really shouldn’t be wearing a halter top or showing off her belly …”
After much deserving backlash, the magazine’s publisher, Catherine Lee, posted an open letter on Facebook apologizing for the “mistake.”
“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,” she wrote in her lengthy response, which put great emphasis on the lesson that everyone makes mistakes and should learn from them.
The moral of the story?
We need to teach our young, impressionable little girls that they are worthy no matter what their bodies look like and make sure they don’t start worrying about their body “type” until at least after they go through puberty, because let’s be realistic: The topic will eventually come up.
When it comes to executing a swimsuit feature, let’s show them fun patterns and colors that suit their personality type, or options that work better for the beach, pool, or lake, or suits geared toward summer activities like swimming, surfing, or boating.
Let’s keep the focus on the things that little girls should be thinking about in the summer, because the sad truth is that they will most likely waste many future summers worrying about how they look in a swimsuit.