Three-Year-Old Girls Really Want to Be Skinny
Even preschoolers feel strongly about their weight.
When did you start thinking that thin was good?
Probably not as early as children these days. According to researchers, even three-year-olds are getting society’s message that thin is worse than fat, and that fat people have more negative qualities than thin ones.
In the study, conducted by experts at Pepperdine University in California, 55 girls were given a group of figures, similar to game pieces. The figures were thin, fat and average. Researchers also provided the girls with a list of six negative and six positive adjectives to use in evaluating the figures. The positive adjectives were nice, smart, cute, friends, neat and quiet. The negative adjectives were mean, stupid, no friends, sloppy, ugly and loud. An average of 3.1 negative words and 2.1 positive adjectives were used for the fat figure, while the thin one got 1.2 negative and 2.7 positive adjectives.
The girls were also asked to pick which figure they’d like to be friends with or play with. Most chose the thin piece. And when researchers asked them if they’d like to switch with a fat figure, some of the kids refused to even touch it. Besides that, a few kids made said things like “I hate her. She has a fat stomach” or “She is fat. I don’t want to be that one.” (The girls didn’t pay nearly as much attention to the average-size figure as they did to the thin and fat ones.)
Lead researcher Jennifer Harringer said that the results could be due to the increase in “body-size issues” over the past decade and to the constant bombardment of media messages about the need to be thin. The results of the study indicate that these messages get through even to very young kids.
The girls who want to be thin may be headed for a rough time as they grown up. Excessive concern about weight has been linked to eating disorders and depression.
At the same time we’re obsessed with thinness, we’re in the midst of an obesity epidemic. Harringer says she’s concerned that overweight kids could be victims of “weight-related teasing.” And that means that those kids are likelier to retreat into themselves, avoiding sports or gym class.
To keep kids from being obsessed with body size, researchers suggest that parents focus on health rather than weight; set an example by eating well; and praising kids for their accomplishments rather than how they look. (livescience)
Jane Farrell is a senior editor at BettyConfidential.