For Children, “Fat” is the new “Ugly”

CNN has an excellent series on perceptions of beauty in contemporary US culture. This week’s was on how the age for body anxiety to set in is getting younger and younger:

“Fat is the new ugly on the school playground. Children as young as 3 worry about being fat. Four- and 5-year-olds know “skinny” is good and “fat” is bad. Children in elementary school are calling each other fat as a put-down.”

The message that “thin” = good and “fat” = bad is everywhere, and kids are pretty good at picking up on it. Children hear their parents talking trash about their bodies, obsessing over exercise, moaning about the pants that no longer fit, and chatting about whether they’ve been “good” and had a salad or whether they’ve been “bad” and had some cake.

And they hear adults saying unkind things about other people’s bodies. They learn from TV, from movies, from toys, from T-shirts, and from God-only-knows what else, too. I don’t exactly know what the answer is. I just know it has to stop.

The stakes are high–very, very high:

“People who diet a lot — and therefore regularly spend a lot of attention and self-control on what they eat — often don’t have enough focus for math problems or other exercises, says Jennifer Thomas, a psychology professor at Harvard Medical School. 

Even worse, Dr. Thomas goes on to say, is that people who severely limit their food intake for prolonged periods actually SHRINK THEIR BRAINS.

But hey, in a culture that worships the external appearance, maybe that’s a small price to pay for being skinny?

Seriously, though–and I’ll keep beating on this drum as long as it needs to be beaten–we’ve got to fight back.

It’s an insult to the Creator God to speak of anybody’s body with anything less than respect.

It’s an insult to a human being to be judged as if he or she were only a body.

I have cried actual tears over the time I wasted worrying about my body. No one goes to their deathbed thinking that things would’ve been better if they’d just made time to work out more and lose those last 10 pounds.

We just don’t have time for this nonsense.

What can we do?