The idea of a “bikini body” is a loaded one, and many women stress about whether they have one and how to get one for the majority of their lives. While the general consensus in feminist circles is that everyone has a bikini body (just put a bikini on your body and voila!), mainstream marketing is still catching up.
Take the recent — and depressing — spread in Discovery Girls magazine that told young girls which swimsuit would best complement their body shape.
On the plus side, Discovery Girls was very quick to issue an apology on their Facebook page, taking responsibility for the mistake and admitting they messed up. In the apology, publisher Catherine Lee explains, “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.”
This is a mistake that is all too easy for people, including parents, to make. Girls begin to get inundated with messages about what kind of body is desirable from a very young age. A 2015 study from Common Sense Media found that 80 percent of 10-year-old girls had been on a diet, and more than half of girls age 6 to 8 say they want a thinner body.
If we want to instill body confidence in our daughters, we need to rethink how we talk about bodies and bathing suits. So what should a swimsuit spread for tween girls look like?
DO: Tell girls it's important that they feel good in what they're wearing.
As long as they like how they feel, that's all that matters. Confidence is key to pulling off whatever look someone wants to rock. Whether it's a one-piece or two, bikini or tankini, if they love it, make sure they know that's all that matters.
DON'T: Use words like "flattering."
We should avoid language about what flatters someone’s body shape, because it implies that those bodies have flaws that should be hidden. Instead, we should focus on helping our daughters feel good in whatever they choose to wear, whether we think it’s flattering or not.
DO: Give them cute, fun suit choices that are unrelated to their body shape.
Because the pool and the beach are for having fun and splashing around, not worrying about how their tummy looks in their bathing suit.
DON'T: Explain how certain suits can hide their perceived flaws.
Instead of implying that certain bodies have flaws that should be masked, focus on emphasizing which suit will stay put when they cannonball into the deep end of the pool.
DO: Tell them that their body rocks.
Let them know that you think their body is wonderful, and remind them of all the amazing things their body can do. And if they share concerns about what their body looks like, it’s OK to validate those feelings by telling them that you’ve felt them, too, but that their worth will never be measured by the size they wear or the number that appears on the scale when they step on it.
None of us are immune from the messages our culture sends us, and we internalize them whether we mean to or not. It’s easy for a well-meaning comment to end up being body-shaming without us even realizing it.
Discovery Girls has pledged “to get better and learn from [their] mistakes,” and that’s a hopeful prospect. Empowering messages for young girls out there are too important to lose, and hopefully we’ll continue to receive them from magazines like theirs.
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