When Young Girls Are Called Fat: The Consequences of Cruelty

My Bariatric Life Health Guide

    In the 6th grade my class nic-name was Tank. I weighed 145 pounds. By seventh grade my weight had ballooned to 164 pounds. This was my biggest year-over-year weight-gain ever. Now research shows that taunting a child about weight leads to more weight gain. 


    The Consequences of Cruelty, or What Can Happen When Young Girls Are Called Fat  

    Among other things, childhood is a time of suspicion. We suspect plenty. We suspect we are popular or unpopular, pretty or plain, average or something more. We grapple to define ourselves, and self-identification can be hard. It is the thin ice of youth, and we can use a little help, a little support. Friends, parents, and teachers can all partake in enhancing youth and in molding the person we will become. They are also capable of hurt and this, too, has an effect on how we mold.

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    Whether we suspect our flaws or know them as certain, confirmation of our imperfections can sting. When our imperfections are scrapped raw and presented with bad intentions we can stretch a moment into something more permanent and ugly.

    Careful What You Say

    A study by UCLA psychologists shows that young girls who are told they are fat by parents, siblings, friends, classmates, or teachers when they are ten years old are more likely to be obese by the time they are nineteen.

    The study was made up of 1,213 African-American girls and 1,166 white girls from Northern California, Cincinnati, and Washington, D.C. Fifty-eight percent of the participants had been told they were fat when they were ten years old.

    The result of these actions was that these girls were about twice as likely to be obese by the time they were eighteen. In addition, the more these young girls were told they were fat the greater the chances they would become obese. Despite statistically removing the effects of actual weight, income, race, and age when puberty was reached, the effect of these girls being called fat remained. 

    So Then What Happens?

    Whether the intention is to hurt a person’s feelings intentionally or to shame them by expressing distorted concern, the fact remains that making people feel bad about their weight is not useful. People often feel demoralized and as a result end up eating to comfort their emotional bruises. 

    The potential health consequences of calling a person fat are many. Research shows that fat shaming can lead to people being ostracized and leads them to gain more weight. Furthermore, media presentations that portray overweight individuals in overtly negative ways can also promote emotional eating.

    Additional health consequences include potential depression as young girls struggle with societal preferences for specific body design. As well, there could be body image issues because the emphasis is on weight rather than eating in ways that improve nutrition.

    Poor body image also contributes to the disordered eating that effects about 30 million Americans. Anorexia is the most fatal mental health disorder in the United States because of the high rate of suicide among people who suffer from disordered eating.

  • The fact remains that overweight kids are treated differently than slimmer kids. Perhaps we need to modify the conversation from designating what is fat and what is not, to what is healthy and in our better interest. And while we do that, let’s be nice about it.

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Published On: May 05, 2014