I’ve been agitated about something for a couple of weeks now. Actually, agitated is the wrong word. It’s not strong enough. Angry as hell feels better to me. Let me fill you in: My 11 year old daughter subscribes to Discovery Girls magazine. It’s a magazine published by National Geographic, and it features stories and articles aimed at girls who love adventure and fun. Its target audience is 8-12 year olds. Great! Right?
One day my daughter brings me a spread from the magazine with photos of bathing suits, and she says “This one is really pretty”. Innocuous enough, right? I noticed the title of the story was “What Swimsuit Best Suits You”. I thought, “Awesome! This will be an empowering feature on what swimsuit is best for whatever activity you love to do most — diving, swim team, cannonballs”. I’m envisioning sleek, aerodynamic sports suits that will stay put for those epic diving board moments.
I was wrong. It was an article on HOW TO DOWNPLAY YOUR FLAWS. It featured phrases like “If you’re curvy on top, coverage is key!” And “side ties and cut-outs draw the eyes down” (Whose eyes? They are children.) “If you’re rounder in the middle, busy geometrics draw the eye inward!” I could keep going but I’m confident you see where this is going.
I immediately cranked out several tweets to Discovery Girls to express my extreme displeasure. And then I settled into how I really felt about this. And what I felt was deep sadness. My daughter, who still loves to play in the water, who still loves to dive for pennies, who still loves to horse around with her friends, was just told by a magazine I trusted that her body isn’t good enough the way it is. That it has inherent flaws that she needs to hide. That her job is to create an image that is pleasurable to others. Sure, it won’t be the last time she hears this message. BUT IT WAS THE FIRST TIME. So, we had a discussion on what total crap that message is. We talked about how everyone has different bodies and how each one is absolutely okay exactly how it is. How she will hear messages like this throughout her life but that they are total bull honkey. And I sent her off to play. In reality, the loudest voice she hears is mine. So I’m hoping all my positive messages drown out this insanely stupid one.
Discovery Girls has since quasi-apologized for their misstep. They received a lot of messages from a cadre of very angry parents. And rightfully so. They took something from their readers in that feature. For some girls it’ll sail right over their heads. No harm, no foul. For others it could be the start of a tumultuous relationship with their bodies. Only time will tell how each girl will respond to a message like this. But I think we can all agree that we should give our young girls (and boys!) all the time they deserve to be kids who just want to play.