Are all girls really created equal and are thin girls just superior beings?

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I’ve been thinking about this question as I’ve been writing my book on girls and body image.  I know it’s an ugly question– showing an ugly side of human nature. But the more girls who write to me about how they view themselves and others in their schools, the more I wonder if this question underlines and undermines how girls see themselves and others at school.

Does thinness make some girls automatically superior in school? Does any deviation from that thinness put girls at risk for being seen as inferior? Does this way of thinking carry on as we become adults?

Studies repeatedly show that girls who are seen as overweight, fat, bigger than average, or even just bigger than the “thin” girls must deal with discrimination, teasing, ostracization, and relational bullying.  They must deal with weight discrimination from peers and from teachers.

My belief is that the more girls are around other girls and teachers who have anti-fat beliefs, the stronger those beliefs become.  They become part of the “thin” group and reject anything or anyone that associates them with any “fat” group.  That means rejecting other girls but it also mean rejecting parts of themselves.  You wonder why there is an increase of eating disorders, dieting, purging, and over-exercising in middle and high school? Hmmm.  Your take?

I would love it if you could comment on this issue and/or tell your story for the book.  Please contact me through my story-collection website or let me know you’re interested in joining the facebook group “My body image story” by writing me a note on facebook.

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7 Ways to Raise a Sizeist Child

7 Ways to Raise a Sizeist Child

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

We’ve all heard it before. Media is riddled with it. Janice Dickinson scoffs at it. Tyra Banks yells about it. Keira Knightly and Kate Winslet are sick of media’s hand in it. It’s sizeism.

We see it when people stop and stare.  Point.  Laugh and say; “He’s sooooo fat.” “She looks gross.” “She’s way too short!” “Have you seen her thighs?  Her muffin top? Her butt?” Prejudice comes in all forms. Sizeism is just as ugly at the rest of them…and just as transferable.

Think about the people in your life. The folks at work. School. Your home. Do you know anyone with a sizeist attitude? Any idea where it came from? We can’t only point the finger at the media. It’s time to take responsibility for our own actions and reactions as well.

Here are 7 ways that you can teach a child how to be a sizeist citizen of our already sizeist culture:

(1) Your physical reactions out you: Even babies and little children can feel the difference when a parent holds them closer around a person that makes them squeamish. Imagine that every time a parent is approached by a fat woman or man, s/he is rude, belittling or snooty but every time a parent is approached by a thin person s/he is positive, kind, and relaxed. You might think that a child won’t pick up on your body language—but next to you, your child can likely sense body changes in you fastest and easiest. The message is clear; “Fat people make my parents feel uncomfortable, therefore they must be bad.”

(2) Your choice of words outs you: Everything that you say when you are around your children is likely heard—even if you don’t think it is. That means that what you shout at the TV, the comments you make when leafing through a magazine, or what you whisper to a friend at lunch when a fat person walks by may just be embedded in a young child’s lexicon forever. I’ve heard it in my parent coaching groups—a child will repeat what you’ve said in the most inopportune times. One client shared with the group last week that her 4 year old son walked into Walmart and sound loud enough for at least 25 people to hear “Woah! You’re right, Mom. Everyone IS fat in here!”

(3) Your reactions towards them outs you: When your children say something rude, sizeist or snobbish, the way you react is worth a lot more than words can say. For example, a parent came to me and described the following: In her 5 year old daughter’s dance class a few weeks back, one of the other girls was demonstrating a skill when another little girls said; “fat people shouldn’t dance. They look like rollie pollies!” The teacher couldn’t help but laugh. Laughter in this type of situation is not only completely inappropriate, it only reinforces these statements and adds fuel to the fire.

(4) Your choices out you: This one may be subtle but it happens all the time. If you choose to allow certain children to do things due to their body shape and size while restricting others from doing the same things, you are brewing up stereotyping and sizeism. So, for example, one of my girls from my preteen coaching group, Sassy Sisterhood, said in group, “Whenever we need to move the chairs and desks around in class, my teacher only picks the boys. She says they’re bigger and stronger than the girls.” I’ve also seen it when teachers evenly separate the fatter boys or girls on gym teams in school. I’ve heard a teacher say that she does this so that everyone has the same amount of “dead weight.” Choices such as these, however subtle, speak volumes.

(5) The way you take responsibility outs you: Upon hearing children say sizeist remarks, you can either pretend you don’t hear it or choose to take responsibility or not. Denial is certainly a strong reaction. Many people believe that children can’t understand what’s really being said or done. However, even if they don’t process it in the same way as adults, they do indeed process it. Shrugging off responsibility for sizeism (or any other kind of prejudice) is not helpful. Yes, they might not have gotten it from you—but it still remains your responsibility—all of our responsibility– to teach them the right way to react to others, isn’t it?

(6) The way you accept yourself outs you: Do you look in the mirror and bash your “fat butt” [fat=bad] or swear at your “skinny” jeans that don’t fit anymore? Do you joke with your family over the holiday table about needing to lipo your “huge gut?” You are your children’s role models. Your children hear this—they see it—and they process it. When we don’t accept what makes us who we are, how can we expect our children to accept themselves? In this case, parents are teaching children to reject these features in themselves as well as in others.

(7) Who you surround them with outs you: You likely heard the advice “surround yourself with positive people.” When it comes to our children, they tend to absorb what they see and hair from those who are around them most of the time—it’s part of positive assimilation with a group. Therefore, when you surround your children with people who make statements laced with sizeism or act or react with prejudice motives, your children have a great chance of adopting similar prejudices. One girl, age 13, told me that her Mom’s best friend (recently single) always put down her “big thighs.” Now she couldn’t stop looking at her own—and comparing them with those of her friends’. She actually said to me, “Fat thighs means No Guys.” Where do you think she heard that one before?

As educators, parents, coaches, and mentors, it’s crucial that we admit when there’s a problem—and there is– and then work to take responsibility to deal with the pertinent issues. Watch your actions, your reactions, and your words. We need to stop generalizing based on appearance (or any other trait) because it takes away our ability to get to know people’s unique gifts on an individual basis. It causes our children to be narrow-minded. It causes children to hate—not only others—but parts of themselves as well.

Please comment below. Do you know anyone who has raised a sizeist child? How do you think they got that way? What warnings or tips do you have for parents?