If you were looking for proof that our culture is unbelievably messed up around dieting, health, and weight, you need look no further than the fact that a study has come out called “Dietary restraint of 5-year-old girls: Associations with internalization of the thin ideal and maternal, media, and peer influences.”
Yes, we have reached a point where we are studying dieting behaviors and thin obsession in kindergarten girls. So what did the study find?
Thirty-four percent of girls reported at least a moderate level of dietary restraint. While most girls were satisfied with their body size, half showed some internalization of the thin ideal. Girls’ dietary restraint was correlated with weight bias favoring thinner bodies, and greater internalization of the thin ideal, media exposure, and appearance conversations with peers. Media exposure and appearance conversations were the strongest predictors of dietary restraint.
That is straight up horrifying, but sadly not even a little bit surprising. We put fetuses on restriction diets, and then give babies low calorie formula, schools grade kids on their weight, people who claim to be experts on kids’ health don’t feel the need to have any evidence before implementing interventions on fat kids, the First Lady fat shames her own daughters on National television and then holds up those who emotionally and physically abuse fat people as role models, we perform medical experiments on fat kids without informed consent or permission. So it’s not exactly shocking that by the time they are five girls understand and internalize the idea that a thin body is a good body, that food restriction is a good idea, and that all of this is a dandy topic of conversation among their peers.
We can make this stop. I think the solution is to talk about the health of all children, instead of the size of some children. I think it’s helping kids develop a strong relationship and sense of trust with their bodies, it’s helping them understand their bodies’ needs instead of being terrified of being or becoming “fat.” I think it’s helping them try out lots of types of movement and giving them a chance to find something they enjoy instead of insisting that if they don’t like getting dodge balls hurled at them, or playing organized sports, or being judged on their ability to do a random group of exercises once a year (for which they get no training the rest of the year) then they deserve to be ridiculed. There are lots of things that we could do if we really cared about kids’ health, and talking about their weight isn’t even close.
The piece talks about needing further research to determine if this will lead to higher incidences of eating disorders, and that’s important to discuss (in a decade we’ve seen a 119% increase in eating disorder hospitalizations in kids UNDER TWELVE.) But it’s not the only issue. What happens to gender equality when 5 year old boys are exploring the world, learning body confidence, and talking about their thoughts and dreams and ideas, and 5 year old girls are hating their bodies, dieting, and talking about the thin ideal?
As a society we are fucking up five year old girls, and they deserve better,and there are simple things we can do that will give them better, and we should get on that right fucking now. Thanks to reader Jill for sending me the link to this study!
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