The publisher of a US magazine aimed at 8-12 year olds has come under fire this month, after an article teaching girls how to choose swimsuits based on their size and curves appeared on social media. The article in pre-teen magazine Discovery Girl advised girls who are “curvy up top” to wear swimsuits with cut-outs to “draw the eyes down”, and warned against girls who are “rounder in the middle” wearing big block patterns. If you’re a straight up and down girl, however, you apparently need to “add curves with asymmetrical straps”. Because, y’know, it’s never too early to instil those feelings of self-doubt and body awareness into the young girls of the world.
Women are constantly told by extravagant TV personalities like Trinny and Susannah and Gok Wan which “body type” we fit into – pear, apple, hourglass, banana, other fruit-related shapes – and which fashion choices “work” for our body type. Confining our clothing decisions to these restrictive categories is in no way body positive, regardless of age. But this rhetoric becomes increasingly disconcerting when it begins to be aimed at 9 year-olds.
Teaching young girls who haven’t even started developing that they need to restrict their clothing choices because of their “curves” is clearly detrimental; it encourages these girls to become hyper-aware of their bodies and how others view them, contributing to heightened body-consciousness at an alarmingly young age. This becomes increasingly disturbing when studies like one from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image suggest that 25% of girls have attempted to lose weight by the age of seven – a statistic which is estimated to rise to 80% by the age of ten.
And who exactly is the owner of the “eyes” that are being “drawn down” teenage girls’ bodies? At an age where you’re likely still getting changed for P.E. in a room with both girls and boys, phrases like this send confusing and harmful messages to young girls, teaching them that their bodies are there to be “viewed” – and judged – before they’ve even hit puberty. Combine this with a bombardment of idealised images of women’s bodies from a very young age and you’ve got yourself a melting pot for self-esteem issues and body worries.
Many have also pointed out that articles like this are inherently gendered. Women’s (and now girls’) swimsuits (and other clothing) are almost always discussed in relation to what’s “flattering” – ie. what makes you look thinner/taller/accentuates your waistline/hides unattractive curves. It is incredibly rare to see the same pressures placed on men and boys when clothing is discussed, and you would almost certainly never see a similar article “for boys”.
Following a whirlwind of criticism online, the publisher Catherine Lee posted an open letter to readers and parents on Facebook, apologising for the article (which she claimed was meant to be “about finding cute, fun swimsuits that make girls feel confident”) and acknowledging that it was a mistake. But is this enough? Publishers of these magazines need to take far more care when giving “advice” to this highly impressionable group, and realise that they have a responsibility to spread positive ideas of body confidence and self-love to young girls, not self-hate.
[Katie Fannin – @katfnan]