When did labelling our kids 'fat' become OK?
How do you react when your 10-year-old daughter tells you she has been on the receiving end of peer group name-calling? What about when she gently informs you that her so-called ‘friends’ have labelled her as fat?
This happened to me last week, when my usually private daughter, admitted to being teased and ridiculed for being ‘fat’. My daughter is not fat. According to the British Government’s Personal Child Health Record, her weight is on the 50th percentile and her height is between the 25th and the 50th percentile. This makes her slightly under-average in height and of average weight. She has a stockier build than her siblings and many of her peers, but this does not make her fat.
How does a 10-year-old determine who is and who isn’t ‘fat’?
Most of the perpetrators in this instance are what I would class as ‘thin’ but perhaps this makes me equally guilty of ‘labelling’. What is it that makes these girls look at another child and utter crushing remarks such as: ‘No offence, but I don’t think you’ll be any good at that sport, you’re too fat’? Young girls, not yet anywhere near the teenage years, compare themselves unfavourably to the female stars appearing in the US sitcoms they so avidly watch.
Popular ‘tween’ magazines are laden with pictures of young female celebrities all looking slim and pretty, wearing the latest fashion trends. No wonder our children make false assumptions that in order to be ‘beautiful’, they need to be slim or at least the world’s view of ‘slim’.
In 2009, during an interview for the fashion magazine WWD (Women’s Wear Daily), Kate Moss was famously quoted as saying ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’. How do comments like these help us parents who are on a quest to ensure our children retain healthy relationships with food and a positive self-image?
Is it just childish taunting that should be ignored?
An NHS report in 2011* stated that in 35 NHS hospitals across England, nearly 600 children under the age of 13 had been treated for eating disorders between 2008 and 2011. Almost 400 of those children were between the ages of 10 and 12. A study carried out by UCL’s Institute for Child Health** reported about 3 in every 100,000 children under 13 in the UK, have an eating disorder. There is no doubt that it is a very real problem.
During the evidence presented at the now infamous inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Group on body image in May 2012, it was stated that children as young as 5 worry about how they look. This same inquiry revealed that one in five of those people surveyed, had been victimised because of their weight and that appearance is the greatest cause of bullying in schools.
Following on from this 3-month inquiry, the Reflections on Body Image Report found that although parents were one of the main influences on children, peer groups become a stronger influence by the time they reach secondary school.
Back in 1999, Dr Andrew Hill conducted research alongside fellow Leeds School of Medicine psychologist, Jennifer Murphy***. They questioned 450 12-year-olds at a comprehensive school in the North of England. Twelve per cent of the girls and 16 per cent of the boys had been teased at school because of their weight.
These insults had caused them all to have problems with low self-esteem and they were unhappy about their looks. Half of the girls were dieting as a result, when in fact only the minority of those children would be classed as overweight, most were just hitting the usual growth spurt which typically occurs at the onset of puberty.
What can we do about it?
When faced with a child who has been on the receiving end of name-calling, our gut instinct as primary care-giver and all-round protector, is to convince them that they are perfect just as they are. Is this the right way to deal with it? Is this enough? If our child is a little overweight, should we begin to watch what they eat or are we perhaps at risk of actually encouraging an eating disorder in later life?
Any responsible parent knows that encouraging healthy eating is important, but moreover I believe that we are obligated to instil a positive self-image in our offspring. We need to promote a sense of worth that comes from within, not from acceptance by peers or indeed any other human being.
As parents we should be encouraging them to step away from being a carbon-copy of everyone else or the images portrayed within the media. Rather than reacting to insults and encouraging our children to become something that the ‘world’ views as acceptable, we should be nurturing their individuality and building their confidence.
Can we do this alone? The Government appears to have taken the results of this latest inquiry seriously and the MPs’ report recommended, among other things, a review of the Equality Act 2010 to include appearance related discrimination. They have also recommended that all schools take part in compulsory body image and self-esteem lessons.
I, for one, will be embracing the arrival of these lessons into the National Curriculum, in my opinion they are long overdue.
Tell us your views on body image by taking this short survey.