When It Comes to Weight Obsession, Children Start Young

Children are becoming preoccupied with their weight at younger and younger ages, CNN reports, due to witnessing or being targets of teasing by other kids. A Brooklyn mother, Marah Rhoades, whose daughter Emilia is now 9, said that the girl first called herself fat at age 5 when boys at her school started making fun of her build.

"At that point she became very aware of weight," says Rhoades. "She started coming home and telling her 3-year-old brother, ‘If you eat that you're going to get fat.'" "We all exercise a lot, and it's definitely just her body type," says Rhoades. "We started having a dialogue about it, but it's hard for her to understand that there are different bodies."

The increasing media focus on bodies of women has young girls as young as three and four already thinking that "fat" is bad and "skinny" is good. According to Dr. Robyn Silverman, the author of "Good Girls Don't Get Fat: How Weight Obsession is Messing Up Our Girls and How We Can Help Them Thrive Because of It," the national preoccupation with thinness, comes as it does at the time when Americans are getting bigger, inserts weight into all our interactions and perceptions.

"Fat and thin are no longer simply assessments of size or weight, but rather of character. So you can imagine why adoption of these attitudes, diet talk and disordered behavior is happening earlier as well."

The major challenge for parents who want to keep their children from becoming weight-obsessed, is that the messages about it start very early and penetrate everywhere. The t-shirt logos extolling thin physiques, ads for weight-loss classes, "thinspiration" messages are everywhere, and parents can not shield their kids from all of them. Peggy Orenstein, who wrote a book on the subject called "Cinderella Ate My Daughter," said that adults should accept the fact that they can not stand between every fat-negative message and the eyes and ears of children, so the best they can do is to minimize the damage.

Orenstein speaks from experience. She, herself, tried to keep such messages from her daughter, only to find her talking about her weight when she was 6.

"Teach your children that everyone deserves to be treated well, no matter size, shape, skin color or how expensive their shoes are!" says Farrell, "We come in a diversity of shapes and sizes. Enjoy your body, enjoy physical movement, eat tasty and good-for-you food and celebrate the fact that you are alive."

03 20, 2012
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