Syndicated Columnists

Heidi Stevens: Finally, Target — Bikini bodies, without the photo editing

Target is asking customers to upload photos of themselves in their swimsuits as part of its #TargetSwim campaign.
Target is asking customers to upload photos of themselves in their swimsuits as part of its #TargetSwim campaign.

What a difference three years make.

In May 2014, Target was widely ridiculed for Photoshopping the thighs (and then some) off the young women modeling its juniors swimwear line. (“An unfortunate error,” Target explained at the time.)

Now, the retailer is kicking off a new #TargetSwim campaign that features models with curves, stretch marks and nary a Photoshop edit in sight.

“Target shows women of all shapes, sizes and colors looking beautiful and confident in themselves and their swimsuits, and that resonates with women everywhere,” one of the models, Kamie Crawford, says in a statement. “Confidence is contagious!”

Brilliant marketing? Sure.

Capable of moving the body positivity needle? Certainly.

I stood in line buying groceries on Sunday, staring at Gwyneth Paltrow’s abs on the cover of Women’s Health. The headline screamed “Get. Her. Abs.” And I thought, “Which aisle?”

I mean, honestly. She looks fantastic, but the notion that we can all Get. Her. Abs. if we do three simple moves is a tad misleading. Those abs are a product of genetics and hard work with expensive professionals — trainers, chefs, dietitians — that most people can’t access.

But that’s the body type we celebrate. That’s the body type we see most often on magazine covers and billboards, bus stops and TV screens — selling everything from spray tans to jeans to multivitamins.

When an article promises to get your body “bikini ready,” it doesn’t mean “slathered in sunscreen.” It means “Gwyneth Paltrow’s abs.”

It shouldn’t.

Kids as young as 5 express dissatisfaction with the way their bodies look, according to a 2015 Common Sense Media report on how media affects children’s and teens’ body image. Around 30 million people — all ages and genders — suffer from eating disorders in the United States, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.

We need to see and celebrate more realistic body types. We need to stop pretending narrow and taut are the only markers of good health. We need to stop Photoshopping people’s body parts off.

A couple of years ago, the staff at the women’s lifestyle website xoJane invited readers — and prominent magazine editors — to submit photos of themselves in swimsuits for a gallery that would push back against the idea that you need a certain body type to enjoy sunshine and water.

“We constantly get the message that a body worth putting a swimsuit on must be a long-term construction project,” deputy editor Lesley Kinzel wrote. “A prize to be won, a trophy that can only be attained through hard work, sacrifice and deprivation.”

“For me, it’s an issue of balance,” Kinzel told me at the time. “The only bodies we see represented and celebrated are bodies that fit a very specific and narrow mold, and that leads to a lot of women feeling like they have no right to go in public wearing a swimsuit.”

Target’s new campaign provides some of that balance. Let’s hope more brands follow (swim)suit.