relational aggression and mean girl bullying

We know that bullying and relational aggression can strip children of their dignity, self esteem, and desire to go to school.  Having focused on appearance-based discrimination in my own research and in preparation for writing Good Girls Don’t Get Fat, I quickly realized that what I termed “body bashing” or “body bullying” can be particularly insidious as it plays on a major insecurity in many preteens and teens.

So it isn’t surprising yet still sad that a new study in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology suggests that teasing about weight can have profound effects on how young people perceive their bodies.

 “Criticism of weight, in particular, can contribute to issues that go beyond general problems with self-esteem.” –Timothy D. Nelson, the study’s lead author

Who? Hundreds of public school students, average age= 10.8 years

What did they look at? Calculated each child’s BMI and looked at the relationship between weight-related criticism and children’s perceptions of themselves.

What did they find? Pre-teens who fell into the “overweight” category and who endured weight-based criticism judged their bodies more harshly and were less satisfied with their body sizes than those who were not teased about weight.

Anything else significant? Even when they controlled for BMI and took it out of the equation, they found that anyone who was teased about weight regardless of actual BMI viewed their bodies more negatively. That means that the peer teasing itself can affect how children/teens see their bodies even if they are not medically “overweight.”

In chapters 5 and 6 in Good Girls Don’t Get Fat, you’ll meet many young people who have suffered from or are currently dealing with some form of appearance-based discrimination in school. They feel alone, frustrated, and unsupported.  It is often overlooked by teachers and school staff as rites of passage or something they simply can’t “catch” while in process. So what does this mean…if I don’t see it…it can’t really be happening?

What’s your take?

Dr. Robyn Signature

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