When I was a teenager, Cosmo Girl! used to pluck kids hanging around on the street outside our school for photo shoots. A few girls got complete makeovers. I got called pear shaped in a magazine with Eminem on the cover. The pear is a noble fruit, but I think I more resemble a banana that’s been chewed on by a bat.
I’ve kept a copy of the issue for many years as it is so far the only time I’ve been asked to model a swimsuit. I remember thinking I looked terrible and fat in this photo, which is obviously insane. At the time, there was no Joe Jonas rolling around in an Instagram filtered music video with Ashley Graham. There were no cheeky instructions on how to get a bikini body that said, “Put on a bikini. The end.” To this day, I have never worn a bikini to the beach, but I do go skinny dipping regularly. Go figure.
The Ripley Academy is a school in Derbyshire currently under fire for offering an after school fitness class that helps young girls get their bikini body right, and figure out what style of suit suits. The principal, Carey Ayres, says the course was organized by a supply teacher without her permission and has been cancelled. I think “supply teacher” is UK for substitute teacher, but it’s fun to imagine someone who has only taught packs of Bic pens, Scotch tape, and staples finally getting their chance with human children and blowing it so spectacularly.
The Derbyshire Times quoted a number of parents on their frustration with confusing body image messages being offered to their kids as electives:
One parent, who did not want to be named, said: “Isn’t it bad enough to have impressionable girls to already be worrying about the state of their bodies? I am all for healthy lifestyle but this is sexualising the fitness class.
“Surely this is not what the government had in mind for academy schools?”
If it was, that’s pretty effed.
Of the four girls photographed for that Cosmo spread, I was the oldest at 17. It’s been awhile since I’ve cracked a teen girl magazine, and I wonder if they’d still encourage a 15-year-old labeled “very busty” to cover up on top while “showing off your bum with a flirty bottom.” Talk about confusing messages!
A mom at Ripley Academy who did come forward with her name, Sara Reeves, says she’d be freaked if her 11-year-old were offered the cancelled course:
“It seems the world is one that is over sexualised, with celebrities, models and magazines all giving the image that girls should be skinny and wear little clothing - should they get this message from school too.
“Yes, it’s important to promote health and fitness but it needs to be done in the right way. Putting extra pressure on our girls is not setting the right example.
“My daughter is slim and very fit, she plays football. But she is also very young. I don’t want her going to bikini body classes - it sounds like it is something for women, not young girls.”
Though I have been called fat by someone speeding by in a moving car, no one has ever called me “pear shaped” again. It still haunted me for awhile, but more because of its complete wrongness. I was being put into the wrong box to suit some shitty copy for the sake of selling cheap clothes to young women. The ramifications of that were not something I comprehended during the giddy fitting session preceding the photo shoot.
I bet there were girls who wanted to take this weird, terrible idea for a class. At 17, I wanted to be told what clothes flattered my figure, a figure that was completely average, but felt in desperate need of wrangling to the person growing into it. Children are vulnerable to categorization because they long for it as they’re figuring out the world. The issue is what kind of categories adults direct their minds too. For someone who has never worn a bikini to the beach, I’ve thought about it an inordinate amount.
Image via the author and Cosmo Girl!