Recently making headlines was an article giving tips for how to choose the right bathing suit for your body type and conceal problem areas. While this may sound like every article you see staring at you from in the grocery line, what made this piece newsworthy was that it was in a magazine aimed at preteen girls.
Understandably, many reacted with outrage. What does an 11 year old need to know about drawing attention down from her heavy top? Aren’t 8 year olds supposed to be a little round in the middle? Who in their right minds approved such garbage? Surprisingly, others reacted positively, stating that young girls are self-conscious about their bodies and maybe giving them the tools to look their best would help alleviate some of that insecurity. Still others suggested that articles like this were the reason that these girls were self-conscious about their bodies in the first place.
This article struck a familiar chord with me. When I was 13, I wanted to be an actress. I found a school that advertised itself as a modeling and acting prep school, emphasizing skill and confidence building. Awesome! I was lead to believe that the emphasis was on acting. This was not the case.
The first thing I noticed about this studio was that every room had at least 3 walls that were floor to ceiling mirrors. This, as you can imagine, was unnerving. I tried my best to avoid the gaze of my harshest critic—myself—but being surrounded by my own reflection all day made that impossible.
Each week was a class with a different emphasis. In one class, we learned about different body types. We did this by standing in front of the group and having the other girls guess what body type we were. I vividly remember standing up, with the instructor holding my loose-fitting shirt tightly in the back so that my body could clearly be seen, while the other girls called out, “H shape, for sure.” H meant straight up and down. The instructor corrected them, saying that I had curves so I was definitely more pear shaped. This did not build my confidence. I remember being weighed in front of everyone. I was tall, and I had started puberty early. I weighed more than most 13 year olds. I knew that H shape was code for fat. Pear shape was code for fat in the hips.
In another class, we learned how to apply make-up and take care of our skin. Unlike the other girls, my mom had strictly forbidden the instructor from plucking my eyebrows. She did not, however, forbid the instructor from inspecting my 13 year old skin with a magnifying glass and informing me that I had big pores. I guess my mom didn’t assume that was a likely event to occur.
They sent us home with a handbook to study that was akin to the article on swimwear for preteens, except it was over 100 pages long. In it were “helpful” tips for dressing for your body type, make up tips, and a lot of low calorie recipes. I studied it regularly, realizing how much work it is to be an attractive girl.
Each class, I learned something new that was wrong with me, but it was okay, because here were ways to fix it. This was the confidence building I received. This is the message these articles send to our young girls. This is the message we carry with us into adulthood. We aren’t good enough as we are, but it’s okay, because we can fix it. Or hide it. Or draw attention down from our heavy tops. I would like the article titled, “How to Choose a Bathing Suit for Your Body Type” where the content is simply, “Choose one you like, put it on your body, enjoy the water.”