Did you know that size awareness and size shaming both start very early and are evident in children as young as 3 years old? Only 3 years old?? And, if left unaddressed and unchecked, only get worse. In fact, by the age of 9, studies show that weight bias is as common among kids as racial bias is among adults. That is incredibly sad.
Another study (as reported by Edutopia) determined that when 3 – 5 year old’s were asked to identify the “mean” character in a story, up to 81% of the time, they indicated that it was from the fatter kid. How horrible! The profundity of our weight bias is so ingrained and normalized that such young children already internalized and adopted these beliefs and behaviors.
Weight bias is a learned behavior and it makes kids feel as though something is wrong with their body, that they have to apologize for it and/or be ashamed of it. Starting from 2011 adolescents have reported that weight based bullying is a very common and a particularly traumatizing form of bullying for them, one that occurs even more often than race, religion, or disability based bullying.
How, then, can we rid ourselves of this stigma, bullying, and judgement? The only way to do it as adults is to unlearn these harmful stereotypes. But for our children, we can start modeling better behaviors at home and instituting prevention programs in schools, ensuring that they don’t experience or participate in these types of behaviors. Teachers must intervene when they hear fatphobic comments or notice fatphobic behavior. They must be trained on how to be supportive and helpful in these instances thus ensuring that they do not reinforce them. We must teach our children to be analytical thinkers and to critically evaluate what they see on social media and in society.
Often it is our nature to judge something that is outside our direct experience or understanding. The reality is that people come in different shapes and sizes and personalities and talents and abilities and intellect. Judging people on their outward appearance is like judging them because they can’t draw as well as you can or because they can’t play the piano as well. Sounds ridiculous when we put it that way, doesn’t it?