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School teaches us how not to make girls feel good about their bodies

Summertime is just around the bend, and you know what that means: Females between the ages of 9 and 99 are getting ready to cardio blast, calorie-count and cover their bodies in the way that will be the least offensive to the world at large as bikini season approaches.

One school in the U.K., not wanting its students to be at a disadvantage, briefly offered its high school female students an extracurricular “bikini body” fitness class to prepare them for the occasion.

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The class, which has since been canceled and apologized for, was set up by a substitute teacher who didn’t find it necessary to run the monumentally bad idea past the principal first, invoking the ire of some of the parents who have girls attending the Ripley Academy in Derbyshire. The principal has also addressed the canceled catastrophe and said it was a fluke — the school would have never allowed it to take place had it known what was going on.

And that’s a relief. It’s good to see that, in the wake of what can only be described as a fustercluck of gigantic proportions, everyone who is actually an adult and not a sentient, crappy lifestyle magazine wearing a human suit found the idea of telling teenagers how best to up their sex appeal appalling.

That’s important, because messages like this one aren’t just distasteful — they can be downright dangerous.

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Consider, for instance, that 80 percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat (as though “fat” could be used interchangeably with “meeting Pennywise the Dancing Clown in person”) and that studies have shown that girls’ dissatisfaction with their bodies bottoms out somewhere between 12 and 15 years of age.

That’s depressing as hell, of course, but the alarm sirens really start to blare when you start adding up the consequences of telling girls how repulsive fat bodies are — where fat, of course, can refer to anything from obesity to anything over a size 3.

Those outcomes include everything from picking up fun habits like smoking to lose weight or being twice as likely to start drinking around age 15 because of a decimated self-esteem. It also includes disorders like anorexia and bulimia, often triggered by regular-ass attitudes toward dieting and that come with bonus prizes like self-harm.

Man, that fitness class is sounding pretty healthy now, huh?

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Girls are bombarded with all kinds of conflicting messages, and it sucks when they start to come from the schools they attend. They have to contend with the attitude that their body is never OK, because a “sexy” figure is just as shameful as one that is so “unsexy” it requires a class to make it acceptable. Those messages are everywhere. Messages like, “Leggings are bad because they make your peers’ penises too happy, but make sure you tighten up that body for summer, or their penises will get really sad.” Messages like, “Exercise is healthy, but you shouldn’t do it to be healthy — you should do it to be hot.” Or the less ambiguous message of, “Your body is wrong.”

There’s nothing wrong with exercise. There’s nothing wrong with exercise in school or outside of it in a school-sponsored club. It’s a very good thing, especially given that after high school, kids mostly just have a sedentary life of desk jockeying and frantic Google searches for “DVT or charley horse signs symptoms am I dying” ahead of them.

But if the aim is to get teens to develop healthy habits like moving around once in a while, it’s best achieved without simultaneously encouraging the development of deeply unhealthy ones. And getting girls to exercise by dangling the end goal of “other people won’t want to throw up when they look at you” in front of them is obviously the latter.

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