Thursday, December 09, 2010

Nonshocker! Preschool kids think thinner is better.

I'm not surprised, are you?

A study out of the journal Sex Roles took a look at preschoolers' attitudes towards obesity by means of Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders. They took 55 girls aged 3-5 and had them choose which character they wanted to be. 69% chose the thinnest, 20% the average and 11% the largest. Moreover when asked to swap thinnest for largest, 63% refused.

One of the study's authors apparently was surprised by the findings and she was quoted in the Montreal Gazette stating,

"I was surprised that kids as young as 3 were so emotionally invested in their game piece that they would say to a complete stranger, 'No, I don't want to switch with you. No, I hate that one'. It was completely shocking to me"

You were surprised that 3-5 year olds didn't want to switch from the character they initially chose by themselves? I'm guessing you don't have kids or you've forgotten what 3-5 year olds are like.

I'm also not shocked by the bias.


Because kids' movies quite regularly point out that fat is either bad, clumsy, funny or stupid, and unlike thin villains and foils, obese characters' weights are almost always central to the jokes and situations they find themselves in so even when not an outright villain like Ursula, they are shown to succeed despite their weights (Kung Fu Panda and Shrek leap to mind).

Oh, and lots of parents say awful things about weight. Whether it's comments like, "Do these jeans make me look fat" or disparaging remarks about others, it's not as if weight isn't the last socially acceptable form of stereotype and it's not as if kids don't pick up on the things their parents say.

So colour me unsurprisingly sad by this study. It's too bad that the authors didn't take their sound bite opportunities to drive home how sadly unshocking these results were.

Harriger, J., Calogero, R., Witherington, D., & Smith, J. (2010). Body Size Stereotyping and Internalization of the Thin Ideal in Preschool Girls Sex Roles, 63 (9-10), 609-620 DOI: 10.1007/s11199-010-9868-1

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  1. It's just my take on it, but I think the negativity compounds the problem. It adds to the addictive cycle of feel bad, comfort, feel bad, comfort.

    It is truly a sad thing where anyone is devalued. In any sort of situation, I think it always helps that people know they are valued, and valuable, and especially they themselves value themselves. Because we take care of what we find valuable.

  2. I wonder how much cartoon characters affect kids at this age. I remember Ursula, and I don't remember thinking "ooh she's ugly and fat" or anything. I just remember the "scary" feeling from the colours (the dark purple, her dark pet eel) and her voice. I DO however, remember growing up thinking it was funny to make fun of large people. I don't even remember where I learned that from. I never made fun of anyone in school, but my sister and I used to make fun of my father. He would get really upset and sad that my sister and I would make fun of him. I remember not AT ALL understanding why it would upset him so much. I just didn't get it. I even remember having a hard time stopping. Like the temptation was too great. Even though I knew it would upset him, I kept doing it. My sister was the EXACT same way. I have no idea what made us such jerks...

  3. And you don't have to be obese to feel this bias --just a little overweight will do fine.

    I hate seeing this happening to kids, going from that place where what their body looks like isn't given a second's thought, to where it becomes all that matters --especially true for girls.

  4. At the same time as we don't want them to be too skinny, or even want to be, we're trying to help them avoid developing eating habits that will lead to overweight later in life.

  5. They seriously did this study without looking at boys so as to compare genders? Why?