Monday, 16 May 2016

Discovery Girls’ Spectacularly Failed Apology for Body-Shaming Kids

Swimsuit layout

The full two page swimsuit article

Discovery Girls Magazine bills itself as “the one magazine that gives girls ages 8 and up the advice, encouragement, and inspiration they need to navigate those difficult preteen years.” They claim a readership of 900,000, and in the most recent issue they spent two pages giving those 900,000 girls advice about “What swimsuit best suits you.” Thanks to all the readers who let me know about this debacle.

First readers were asked to self-select into categories based on body type, then they were given advice. Those who think they are “curvy on top”  were told “side ties and cut-outs draw the eyes down.” Those who think they are “straight up and down” were given advice to “add curves,” and those who think of themselves as “rounder in the middle” were told that “high-waisted bottoms work best for you.”

This advice begs the questions – Whose eyes, exactly, are they hoping are drawn and manipulated by a swimsuit worn by an 8 year old? Why are they encouraging tweens to add curves? And why are they trying to give readers the message that if they feel rounder they should cover themselves?  (Note the message – don’t be not curvy, but don’t be too curvy…) Come to think of it, why are they suggesting that tweens categorize their bodies in way that encourages the kind of comparison and concern that can set the stage for body image issues, and even eating disorders?

Happily, many people recognized that this is super extra very much messed up and took to the internet to tell the magazine exactly.  Publisher Catherine Lee responded in an attempt to apologize that failed so spectacularly that I’m going to break it down here bit by bit.

First she tried this:

We want to make it clear that Discovery Girls does not promote nor support body-shaming. This article was intended to show that every body shape is acceptable, not that they should be ashamed of the shape they have.

But it turns out that the people complaining had actually seen the article, so there was no way this was going to fly.  Take two:

An open letter from Catherine Lee, Publisher of Discovery Girls

First, I want to thank all the parents and my amazing readers who brought this swimsuit article to my attention. 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. 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.

So, explain to me how an article that you agree is not a good article, should be questioned, and is objectively terrible, ended up in a magazine for which you are responsible?

It’s still hard for me to believe that an article so contrary to our magazine’s mission could have been published on our pages. I have been a loss for words for days.

I’m betting it’s harder to believe for those of us whose title isn’t “Publisher” of the magazine where the article appeared.  That Shaggy Song “It Wasn’t Me” might be catchy, but it was not intended to be corporate PR advice. Since you are at a loss for words, let me suggest some: “I’m sorry. I take full responsibility. Here are the steps I’m taking to make sure this never happens again.”

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.

It didn’t focus on their body image – though it most certainly could hurt it.  It focused on the bodies of 8-12 year olds – how they look, and how they can be manipulated to look, and how they can draw and manipulate the eyes of others.

Nobody knows better than Discovery Girls how impressionable our girls are at this age and we are ALWAYS mindful of this.

All evidence to the contrary.

We’ve received hundreds of thousands of letters over the years from girls sharing their insecurities about their bodies. We’ve been so concerned about helping girls have a healthy body image that we wrote an entire book, Growing Up, on puberty and body image.

I must have read this paragraph wrong because it seems like you’re pivoting from an apology to an advertisement for your book. Nobody has judgment that poor.

The book, which took over five years to write, was a labor of love. We worked with so many writers, editors, and over 20,000 girls and their parents, too. We invested so much time and effort into it because we knew how important it is to get it right. Our girls need resources to provide them with the guidance they need to develop a healthy body image and love all that they are.

I stand corrected, at least one person has judgment that poor.

As much we like to think that something like this would never happen to us, it did.

Oh for the love of… THIS DID NOT “HAPPEN TO YOU”!  You DID this. This happened to the 8-12 year olds who trust you to deliver empowering content, and not this Cosmo crap.

We’re not immune to making mistakes, but we are always willing to get better and learn from our mistakes.

Let’s hope you’re better at learning from your mistakes than you are at apologizing for them. In good news it’s difficult to imagine you could be worse.

We’d like to thank the readers who contacted us to let us know they couldn’t believe we could make such a mistake. It means a lot to us, because it means you hold us to a higher standard, which we hope you will continue to demand from us.

You know what would actually be great – if you could hold yourself to a higher standard. And let’s be clear that “It’s a bad idea to tell 8 year olds how to look curvier, draw the eye down, or cover their stomachs because they are rounder” isn’t exactly a high standard – it’s the kind of bar that you should be able to trip and fall over.

And for those of you who don’t know us as well as our regular readers, our reader’s comments are what keeps us improving.

How many comments do you need to understand that body shaming 8 year olds is a bad idea?

This is what makes Discovery Girls the magazine that we’re all so proud to be a part of. I know with certainty, if you hang in there, you’ll find that no magazine works harder to ensure the well-being of your daughters than Discovery Girls.

Catherine Lee

Please stop talking nonsense Catherine. I know with certainty that this is not remotely true, because there are magazines whose editors are not at a “loss for words” and finding it “hard to believe”  that an article that is actually dangerous and damaging to their core audience was published in full shiny color in the pages of their magazines.

The fact that anybody thought an apology like this was a good idea, and that there are actually people online misguided enough to support the original article, is proof that we have a long way to go in our journey to a world where children are nurtured and empowered and all bodies are celebrated.  But the fact that so many people knew immediately that this article was a hot mess tells me that we’re making progress. This is why it’s so important to let kids know that the world is messed up, but they are fine.

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