Shape photo

The photo is meant to be an adorable commentary on how it’s better to exercise with a friend. But that’s not what everyone sees in it.

Writing for Kidspot, mom of three Felicity Harley says the photo of two young girls posted on Instagram by Shape Magazine left her feeling unsettled.

The image features two girls of approximately preschool age dressed in trendy gym gear and apparently taking turns on a rowing machine. It’s captioned, “Workouts are better together,” and asks who you enjoy exercising with.

But there’s something about the posing of the girls that Harley found disturbing. Part of it had to do with the way the girls were wearing adult-style sports bras and leggings:

Well, let’s start with those cross-backed bra tops. Love these tops. I can’t get enough of ’em. Which Lululemon fan can, right? But I am an adult, these are children. Young girls, who at a guess might be four, wearing bras in an adult gym. Heck, I don’t even take off my top to reveal said fancy bra in a room full of sweaty women at hot yoga, and young girls certainly shouldn’t either.

The idea behind the photo might have been that it’s cute to see children dressed like grown-ups, but that’s not what Harley saw.

“The cuteness factor is amiss with the adult-like clothing,” she wrote. “These outfits sexualize the whole premise of this photo, and the innocence of the girls working out in a gym is sadly lost.”

Moreover, Harley feels that the photo plays into the culture of gym selfies and in a way that is harmful to children — something made even more disturbing when you consider the age of the girls in the photo:

Let’s not forget people that diet culture and gym selfies have a complex relationship. Many experts have warned that Instagram’s fitness culture of promoting health and weight loss is actually doing the complete opposite and there is a glaring disconnect between the posted picture’s actual meaning and the words written underneath. We need to spare our kids this problematic relationship for as long as we can.

On Instagram, there were some who thought the photo was just a cute picture. Several commenters tagged friends about the “mini us” in the image or wrote something on the lines of, “omggg so cute.”

However, there were others who agreed that the image was disturbing.

“This makes me uncomfortable,” one commenter wrote. “They are way too young.”

“Why are you featuring little girls posed as grown women?” another asked. “This is gross.”

In addition to finding the posing and clothing to be “weird and in poor taste,” some commenters had a problem with showing small children in a gym setting. One wrote:

The only exercise they need is running and jumping and playing in the park. They are way too young to be in the gym. I am disturbed by the message you are sending across. Shame on you.

One commenter broke down why the photo was disturbing — and why it matters — in a long response that touched on the sexualization of children and body image:

Just like words matter, pictures matter. While on the surface this, I assume, is supposed to be about working out with your buddy, it depicts two almost toddler girls sporting grown women workout wear (sexualization of children — girls going on here).

Also, women are bombarded […] starting in their teens and now apparently starting in pre-school with images of other women (girls) they should aspire to look like and be like according to the pictures that surround them.

“I usually find Shape to be a decent women’s fitness magazine despite their inability to depict fit women of all shapes and sizes,” she continued. “So why in the hell would you use two toddlers in a gym when you don’t show chubby or old or heavyset women working out?”

She concluded with a summary of what was wrong with the image from her perspective:

“The ‘cuteness’ factor you were going for was missed for me as all I see are two toddlers in sexualized gymwear working out on machines they are not old enough to be on.”

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