Even 3-year-olds think being thin is in
According to Live Science, a recent Pepperdine University study indicates that girls as young as 3 years old are already worried about watching their weight. Being thin is something in which girls are “emotionally invested,” claims the study, even at preschool age. Experts in child wellness and psychology find the study results troubling, as body image and body dissatisfaction issues at that age can easily lead to eating disorders.
An obsession with being thin
Lead researcher Jennifer Harriger told Live Science that worrying about being thin has been linked in numerous other studies to both eating disorders and depression. Taking a dim view of those who are overweight is also problematic, according to Harriger, as weight hazing and other forms of bullying behavior can become ingrained.
Getting creative to understand body image
The age of girls included in the study was generally not old enough for the children to verbalize complex thoughts and feelings, so Harriger had to use creative methods. In order to understand whether girls favored thin types or fat types, the preschoolers responded to three figures identical in every way except body size – thin, average and fat. With each, the kids were asked to associate six positive and six negative adjectives. Words like “nice, smart, friends, neat, cute and quiet” were available as positive descriptors, while “mean, stupid, no friends, sloppy, ugly and loud” the given as negative options.
On average, 3.1 negative and 1.2 positive words were affixed to the larger figures, while 1.2 negative and 2.7 positive adjectives were associated with the thin figures on average. When the girls were shown three of each body type and had to circle the three they’d most like to play with and one they’d want as a best friend, the preschoolers chose thin most often in both scenarios. Further game scenarios tended to reinforce these results.
Commercial messages color views of being thin
America’s obsessive connection between being thin and being beautiful is deeply ingrained, argues Harriger. Commercial messages are pervasive, even for preschoolers. What would be more productive would be to stress health rather than being thin or fat. Parents limiting mainstream media exposure, modeling healthy eating habits, exercising and practicing positive talk promotes healthier lifestyles.