Magazine Aims Swimsuit Tips At Prepubescent Girls

by Lara Rutherford-Morrison

Discovery Girls, a magazine aimed at girls between the ages of 8 and 12, is in hot water after publishing an article that some readers say is body shaming to its young readers. In its latest issue, the girls’ magazine shared “swimsuit tips” for tweens, instructing them on how to “find the perfect suit” for their body types. For a magazine aimed at empowering young girls, this article is a complete misstep, encouraging girls from a young age to feel self-conscious about their bodies and concerned about how other people perceive them. We already know that body shaming is pervasive in our culture — can we at least agree to let kids enjoy being kids?

The article, titled “What Swimsuit Best Suits You?”, gives advice about what types of swimsuits girls should wear to flatter their body types. For example, the magazine suggests that girls who are “curvy up top” should look for suits with “side ties and cutouts that draw the eyes down.” Girls who are “straight up & down,” in contrast, should try to “add curves with asymmetrical straps.” Girls with “rounder” figures should wear high-waisted bikini bottoms and look for busy geometric patterns to “draw the eye inward.”

We see swimsuit guides like this for adult women all the time, delineating what women should and should not wear when they hit the pool. These guides are problematic in themselves (Why can’t women wear whatever they want? Why should they have to conform to some stranger’s notion of what is “flattering”?), but to see such sentiments directed at girls as young as 8 years old is grotesque.

I also find the article’s advice for girls simply creepy. The text has instructions for girls to “draw the eyes down” and “draw the eye inward.” These are young girls. Why should we be instructing them to “draw” other people’s eyes toward specific parts of their bodies? Who is doing the gazing here? The text also suggests that girls with straight figures should “add curves” with their suits, a move which bizarrely seems to impose standards of adult beauty on girls who have barely hit puberty.

Discovery Girl readers were not pleased by the article, to say the least:

On Tuesday, Discovery Girls publisher and founder Catherine Lee posted a lengthy apology for the article on Facebook. “It’s still hard for me to believe that an article so contrary to our magazine’s mission could have been published on our pages,” she wrote. “I have been a loss for words for days. … As much we like to think that something like this would never happen to us, it did.” (So how DID the article get published?)

Lee clarifies that the article was “supposed to be about finding cute, fun swimsuits that make girls feel confident.” Some readers have suggested that even this original premise, regardless of how it was executed, simply isn’t good content for young girls. One Facebook commenter asked,

[W]ould 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.

“We’re not immune to making mistakes, but we are always willing to get better and learn from our mistakes,” Lee admits. She also writes, “Our girls need resources to provide them with the guidance they need to develop a healthy body image and love all that they are.” Here’s hoping that future articles in Discovery Girls will do more to provide those resources.