The "Discovery Girls" Scandal
It's no secret that young girls today are subject to an ever-increasing barrage of misogynistic ideas and standards about their appearance. In a recent article in the US magazine Discovery Girls, this particular strand of sexism has manifested itself in a more disturbing manner than unusual. Justifiably infamous, the piece advises its tweenage readership to choose a swimsuit based on strategically emphasising and disguising aspects of their bodies. The magazine ironically claims its support of young women on its website's subscription page:
"Discovery Girls is the only children's magazine that inspires your special girl to grow more confident and resilient and to believe in herself. It gives girls ages 9 and up the advice, encouragement, and inspiration they need to get through those difficult preteen years."
The article proposes, for those (8-12 year olds) who wish to “draw the eyes down”, to don bottoms with side-ties and cut-outs. It suggests asymmetrical straps and striking prints to "add curves" as well as outlining how to wear prints to create the illusion of a nipped-in waist. To me, these guidelines are reminiscent of a practice familiar to many young women, that of 'dressing for your shape'. I'm almost embarrassed to admit how long it took me to realise how absurdly literal this concept is in objectifying women. I mean - how did I ever accept within myself that I was a piece of fruit?
It's darkly apt that many of these so-called body types are objects intended for consumption (and no, I am not suggesting that hourglasses are edible), and this is the brass tacks of what outlets like Discovery Girls purport with articles like these: that women, even in their early youth, must place their value in their appearance — more alarmingly, they must work at making their undeveloped bodies attractive. According to the EWL, 75% of 7-11 year olds wish to alter aspects of their physical appearance and 4 out of 5 children fear gaining enough weight to be deemed fat. It's a distressing thought, but there are numerous industries dedicated to teaching girls to pander to the straight male gaze from a young age.
For example, it's not going unnoticed girls' clothing tends to be skimpier and composed of less substantial fabric than clothing intended for boys. It is worth noting that the latter could simply be down to Pink Tax, but for the former an argument could certainly be made. And summer rolls around the corner, an associated double standard rears its ugly head. Young women are shamed, formally through school dress codes as 'distractions' and informally by the judgment of their peers, for baring skin in the hot weather despite the fact they do not manufacture their own clothing nor dictate the fashion standards with which they are pressured to comply. Really, the whole thing is a mess. The sexualisation of children is unfortunately not just a creepy notion restricted to a Nabokov novel. Amongst other things, it has meant that many young girls are entering into sexual relationships too early. In addition to sustaining emotional damage from these, girls are suffering physically. The influence of pornography on boys (at the average age of 11) has unfortunately meant attempts at unrealistic sexual positions that turn harmful.
The backlash towards and ensuing apology from Discovery Girls is encouraging to say the least. When we speak out in this way against ideas pedaled by media, we set a precedent for the girls their messages are targeted towards: you do not have to accept this, comply with it, or stay silent about it.
Words by Jenna Mahale