Junkfood Science: “I’m too fat…don’t you see?”

September 28, 2007

“I’m too fat…don’t you see?”

It’s become impossible to ignore that little kids are being harmed by the incessant scaremongering about “obesity” and messages to eat right and watch their weight. This excellent article in the student newspaper at the University of Georgia is recommended reading. The author writes compassionately about a disturbing and perceptive observation she made of four year old girls.

Weight issues affect kids, too

The pretty four-year-old blond girl whispered to me: "I'm too fat. Don't you see?" I was a summer camp counselor for a country club, and while I had seen my share of paint-splattered messes and attempted food fights, this was the first time anything at a kids' camp shocked me. Instead of asking me to play another round of Connect Four or declaring her love for "High School Musical," the four-year-old camper pinched the sides of her stomach, showing her so-called "pudginess."

I tried to hide my shock — how many four-year-olds sling around this statement? — and tried to assure her she was far from being overweight. She corrected me, saying this could prevent her from winning a crown or a sash in a beauty pageant— a favorite activity outside of school and camp.

The thoughtful writer reflects many women in not yet being altogether comfortable with her own body or able to bring herself to say that kids and grownups all come in different sizes and shapes and that’s okay. Had the child, or herself, come naturally in size large, would the little girl have been told that she’s okay, too? Children hear a very different message when they’re told about the natural diversity of bodies and that all types are good, rather than reassured that their body isn't too fat (or too black or too whatever). It's an important difference for adults and parents to get, because children do.

She is to be commended for making such helpful and valuable points for her readers, as she went on to write:

What's surprising is she already had started mimicking the body dissatisfaction that would be more common with the adults in her life — a mother, aunt or older sister. While this might seem abnormal for her age, she's just getting a head start on her pre-school pals… According to a 10-year study done by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Eating Disorders, 33 percent of the women and men surveyed reported they struggled with an eating disorder between ages 11 to 15. Ten percent said they started having an eating disorder at age 10 or younger.

Sadly, many of us are partly at fault. Our negative body image affects our younger sisters, nieces and daughters. And who could blame us? We're bombarded with magazine ads eschewing skinny as the norm, and anything more than a size six is considered "curvy" or "plus-size."... As much as we might hate our own sizes, we have to realize those images aren't the norm — that glossy magazine picture is merely an airbrushed package that took a professional team of make-up artists, designers an photographers to craft and cultivate….

The last part of this article, however, gave some mixed messages about the need to teach healthy eating and exercise but not to take things to an extreme, mistakenly believing children and young adults are able to understand such concepts or need to be more concerned with their health, as has been covered here extensively. As Canadian research of school health curriculums published in the journal Body Image a few years ago reported, "healthy eating and healthy weight" educational approaches send mixed messages and actually increase anxieties about body weight, fail to understand the causes of eating disorders and ignore the issues kids face with normal development.

Instead, head right for the end: “We must believe the size label is nothing but a number,” she wrote. The four year old camper and her friends shouldn’t be concerned about such things, she said, because what’s more important at their age is friends and playing… just being kids.

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