Confining your fashion choices to what "works" for your body type is limiting, and it isn't body positive, regardless of a woman's age. But that kind of message is really troubling when it's aimed at elementary and middle school-aged girls. Discovery Girls, a kids' magazine that reaches approximately 900,000 girls, ages eight to 13, landed in hot water today for a swimsuit story (yes, you read that correctly) in its latest issue.
The spread promises to help "find the perfect suit for your body type," with suggestions for girls who are "curvy up top," "straight up and down," and "rounder in the middle." Considering the magazine's tween demographic, this obviously didn't sit well with many people (us included).
Following an onslaught of (justifiably) incensed feedback, Catherine Lee, the magazine's publisher, issued an open letter to readers and parents on Facebook. "As the founder of Discovery Girls magazine, and even more importantly, the mother of the first Discovery Girl in 2000, 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 explained that she, too, was shocked by the article, and that the story's original intention was lost somewhere in the process. "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 on Facebook, adding that the Discovery Girls staff is cognisant of its impressionable readership and the impact its content can have, and that healthy body image is always important to the magazine. Lee also thanked readers for holding the title accountable for the story and the potentially detrimental message for young girls. "We’re not immune to making mistakes, but we are always willing to get better and learn from our mistakes."
Still, many commenters (mostly mothers) pointed out it's inherently problematic that these sort of "flattering swimwear" or "be confident when you're poolside" articles are so gendered — you probably wouldn't ever see a story for boys in that age group about those topics. That's unfortunately not an age-specific problem — women's (not men's) swimsuits and clothes in general are too often discussed in terms of being "flattering" (translation: things that make you look thinner and/or taller).
While this is hopefully a one-time gaffe for Discovery Girls, there is an innovative new magazine for young girls headed to newsstands soon that promises empowering (princess-free), hopefully body-positive content: Kazoo, a title for girls, ages 5 to 10, was fully funded on Kickstarter, and judging by its premise, we're not expecting any negative body image messaging in its pages.