I pulled my swimsuit from between my butt cheeks, situated it more comfortably and took a running start, sliding on the homemade slip and slide with ease, landing in a puddle of mud at the end. I came up sputtering, mud everywhere in my hair, my mouth. My white Jordache swimsuit was also covered with mud, ruined.
But, no matter- I hated that swimsuit. It still haunts me. It contributed to my looking like a butterball, and my older cousins wouldn’t let me forget it.
Last week, Discovery Girls, a magazine aimed at preteen and early teen girls, was put on blast for publishing a swimsuit guide for young girls, helping them choose the most flattering swimsuit for their body shape.No sooner than the ink had dried and in droves out came the moms of daughters, feminists and body positive advocates to make sure Discovery Girls knew exactly what they had done. The internet hoard had reacted and the magazine’s response was to apologize, almost instantly with various editors saying they did not approve the spread.
As someone who works in publishing and has considered herself a writer since age 10, I say, eh no. You can’t just say oopsie, sorry folks that one got by us. They retracted way too quickly, proving that these days integrity and conviction in what one publishes is lacking. But, I digress.
The public reaction to the spread in and of itself is a two pronged issue.
First, what if the internet hoard had acted with introspection as opposed to instant, reactionary anger?
Second, what if this instant, reactionary anger was misplaced?
Initially, I think it is important to decide if we are so angry because this guide for body shape exists or are we angry because there may be a need for it.
Let me explain.
The primary argument readers are making is that young girls should think that swimsuits are fun and choosing one should be all about those summertime shenanigans like tubing, swimming, running through the sprinklers or flying across the backyard on the slip and slide.
But, truth be told- for young girls who are overweight- summertime fun can really suck and knowing which swimsuit to wear can alleviate some of that drama and can contribute to increased self-confidence. When I was ten, I had that damn white Jordache swimsuit. And, I hated it. I really did. For one thing, it was white and prone to staining. For another thing, it was horribly cut for my shape and size. This is a fact. And, while I should not have had to think about how I looked in a swimsuit at that age I did.
And, it wasn’t because the internet or fashion models told me to. This was the mid-80s: a time when the internet was not accessible to everyone and models had meat on their bones. That did not stop my peers from reminding me that I was in a word- fat.
At that time in my life and several others after, I would have been happy to have the guidance that a swimsuit guide or any other fashion guide would have given. Maybe I would have been more confident as a result. Instead, I had to learn through trial and error what I felt most confident in.
Think for a minute about that time in high school or college before you knew you couldn’t really pull off skinny jeans or when you figured out that an A-line skirt accentuated your killer curves. Knowing what looks best on your body doesn’t mean you hate your body or any certain part, it just means you know and have explored your options.
Some of you may be thinking but by producing the spread, Discovery Girls brought to light an issue that was for some girls a non-issue. Really? You think so? Ha.
If not some magazine spread now, then something else later…something else would and will alter their innocence and sense of self. A magazine spread, other girls in gym class, their first crush or the required uniform for the volleyball team. At some point, our girls, all of them, will realize that the world will and does judge them based on their appearance. How they dress will impact how they fair in life; they will be objectified. Some of them already have been. This is truth. Why not give them the tools they need to survive?
In an ideal world, our daughters would be able to live their whole lives never questioning their worth, and they certainly wouldn’t base it on their appearance or how others perceive their appearance. But, we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a world that objectifies women, a world that supports and perpetuates a rape culture, a world where young girls are often judged and measured by the same standards we use for grown women. This is the world we live in.
My fourteen-year-old daughter has half-days every Friday. Most Fridays I take advantage of that time with her. We meet up after school, go to lunch and have girl time.
This is when I give her the tools she needs to not only survive this ridiculous world we live in, but also the confidence she needs to use or trash those same tools; it’s her choice.
I am filling her toolbox. I don’t always like the tools that I have to pass down, but in passing them down, I am giving her the knowledge of knowing. I am teaching her that sometimes unsavory things are necessary and a part of life.
Soon, she will be going to college, and I will have a whole new set of worries. Whenever I see a story on the news about a young woman in college who has been kidnapped, sexually assaulted, murdered- I go cold, wondering how their mothers feel, how did they prepare their daughters.
The female body is very strong and can achieve wondrous things like making a human…but the female body is also subject to vulnerability and judgement. We can ignore that. We can try to shelter our daughters from it.
But, if we do, then we also do them a huge disservice. We need to arm our daughters with knowledge, we need to make the tools they need in this world available to them.
A swimsuit guide today, self-defense classes tomorrow, we owe it to them to let them know what is coming.