Fat is a Preschool Issue
Yesterday I posted a link on my facebook page to an article on CNN.com called “Fat is the New Ugly on the Playground,” which featured a few nice quotes by yours truly. In response to the post were comments including the following:
Excuse me in my experience fat has always equalled ugly on the playground, ain’t nuthin new here, take it from a former fat kid.
‘Fat’ has always been ugly on the playground, or any where else for that matter!
I’m not sure why this is all of a sudden breaking news.
Absolutely true. Fat kids—boys as well as girls—have long been tormented, demonized and excluded by their schoolmates. In CAMD I talk about the history of American attitudes towards fat—the reasons it came to be seen as a moral issue, a character flaw; how it became particularly taboo for women whose avoirdupois was once considered sexy. Check out an exotic dancer in the 1800s:
I struggle openly in CAMD and elsewhere over how to imbue a daughter with a healthy body image. In fact, I’ve been writing about women and weight since the late 1980s, so it’s not like any of this is a surprise.
What’s new, however, is the ever-earlier age at which children—girls particularly– become conscious of weight. In Schoolgirls I cited a study revealing that 50% of 9-year-old girls were dieting (check this Wall Street Journal article by a reporter who, to see for himself, interviewed a group of girls when that study came out; he talked to them again recently as adults). But now, it appears, by age three girls equate thinness with beauty, sweetness, niceness and popularity; they associate “fat” meanwhile with laziness, stupidity and friendlessness.
Yes, I said three. In a 2010 study researchers engaged 3-5 year old girls in games of Candyland and Chutes & Ladders asking them to choose among three game pieces–a thin one, an average-sized one and a fat one–to represent themselves. While in the past children that age showed little ability to distinguish between average and thin weights, today’s wee ones grabbed thin pieces at higher rates not only than fat ones but than those of “normal” weight. When asked by researchers to swap a thin figure for a fat one, the girls not only recoiled but some refused to even touch the chubbier game piece making comments such as, “I hate her, she has a fat stomach,” or “She is fat. I don’t want to be that one.”
As I’ve written before on this blog, toy manufacturers have lately classic toys on a diet, claiming (apparently rightly) that “Girls won’t play with childlike dolls any more.” So take a look:
Our friends at Pigtail Pals, in a recent blog about this baby-fear-of-fat phenomenon posted a photo of how Barbie–whose figure has reflected the idealized female physique for decades–has also whittled her waist and hiked her heinie. Meanwhile, the doll’s demographic has dropped: she’s now marketed at 3-6 year olds (her original audience was 8-12).
There’s no more grace period. From the get-go girls are bombarded with images of women whose bodies range from unattainable to implausible (Disney Princesses, anyone?). Even G-rated films and educational TV present thinness not as healthier (which it may or not be, depending on how you get there) but morally superior.
Given the mental health vulnerabilities an ever-narrowing standard of beauty creates in our girls–not to mention the negative impact fat-shaming has on overweight kids–are we really okay with letting this slide?