The cost for young girls who prefer thin bodies

NEDIC Director, Merryl Bear comments on new research that shows girls aged 3 - 5 have already internalized the negative stereotypes of fat people that abound in society.  Read the full article here.

Posted by Online Connections (Source: NewsCanada)
November 18, 2013

It's not just teens who want to be thin.  Girls barely out of diapers already strongly prefer thin individuals to overweight individuals.

In new research by Dr Jennifer Harriger and colleagues at Pepperdine University, California, girls aged 3 to 5 years old have been found to have internalized the negative stereotypes of fat people that abound in society:  approximately 70% choose the thinnest figured images over average-sized or fat figures to be their best friend, and to represent themselves on board games.  Thin figures were most likely to be described by the girls as nice, smart, friends, neat, cute and quiet.  Fatter figures were more likely to be described as mean, stupid, friendless, sloppy, ugly and loud.

"This research clearly shows how early children absord society's messages that being thin means being desireable, good and successful, while being fat is seen as negative in all ways," says Merryl Bear of the National Eating Disorder Information Centre, Toronto, www.nedic.ca.  "This is a problem in so many ways, but especially in how it shames people based on appearance, and creates food and weight preoccupation in ever younger kids."

Even looking briefly at images of thin women has been convincingly shown to lead to girls feeling worse about their bodies, which is strongly associated with higher levels of depression, anxiety and eating disorders.  In addition, girls with negative body image are less likely to do their best at in school, physical activity or in social situations.  

Without minimizing the concerns of what being fatter can mean to an individual, both in terms of their physical and mental health, Bear contends that the time has come to turn away from scare-mongering.  "As a society, and as caregivers, we need to be mindful that our anti-obesity, anti-fat obsession can backfire into creating more body dissatisfaction and disordered eating.  We need to encourage health giving beliefs and behaviours, not one-look fits all."