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The real obesity crisis

November 30, 2009

Via Jezebel, a new study from the University of Central Florida finds that even very young girls worry about body image.:

Nearly half of the 3- to 6-year-old girls in a study by University of Central Florida psychology professor Stacey Tantleff-Dunn and doctoral student Sharon Hayes said they worry about being fat. About one-third would change a physical attribute, such as their weight or hair color.
Thirty-one percent indicated they almost always worry about being fat, while another 18 percent said they sometimes worry about it.
While the researchers emphasize that subjects’ responses were not related to whether they watched films that emphasized beauty (“such as Gaston telling Belle in Beauty and the Beast that she is ‘the most beautiful girl in town, and that makes her the best.'”) or films without such explicit messages about body expectations, Sadie at Jezebel hits the nail on the head: messages about the goodness of thinness and beauty, and about the pathologization of being fat or average-looking are so ubiquitous in our culture that there’s no escaping them.

Furthermore, even though we tend to believe that children this young are living in their own little fantasy universe in which the actions of adults are only momentarily relevant, this study makes clear that children live in the adult world as well, where diet-talk, body-bashing, and constant, constant hand-wringing about what we look like affects them, and quite deeply, too.

It’s important to recognize the difference between saying “It’s good to be as healthy as you can be,” and “It’s bad to be fat.” Narratives about obesity trend quite overwhelmingly to the latter, and then morph into “If you are fat, you are bad.” This is a harmful attitude to persuade anyone to incorporate about themselves, but we should also remember that we give kids very, very few opportunities to discover arguments to the contrary. Three-year-olds don’t have body positive blogs. They also don’t–in general–have adults in their lives who take them seriously enough to consider (and discuss!) the body image they’re developing. There are no benefits in growing up hating your body.

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