Fat is a Preschool Issue

Yesterday I posted a link on my facebook page  to an article on CNN.com called “Fat is the New Ugly on the Playground,”  which featured a few nice quotes by yours truly. In response to the post were comments including the following:

Excuse me in my experience fat has always equalled ugly on the playground, ain't nuthin new here, take it from a former fat kid.

'Fat' has always been ugly on the playground, or any where else for that matter!

I'm not sure why this is all of a sudden breaking news.

Absolutely true. Fat kids—boys as well as girls—have long been tormented, demonized and excluded by their schoolmates. In CAMD I talk about the history of American attitudes towards fat—the reasons it came to be seen as a moral issue, a character flaw;  how it became particularly taboo for women whose avoirdupois was once considered sexy. Check out an exotic dancer in the 1800s:


I struggle openly in CAMD  and elsewhere  over how to imbue a daughter with a healthy body image. In fact, I've been writing about women and weight since the late 1980s, so it's not like any of this is a surprise.

What’s new, however, is the ever-earlier age at which children—girls particularly-- become conscious of weight. In  Schoolgirls I cited  a study revealing  that 50% of  9-year-old girls were dieting (check this  Wall Street Journal article  by a reporter who, to see for himself, interviewed  a group of girls  when that study came out; he talked to them again recently as adults).  But now, it appears, by age three girls equate thinness with beauty, sweetness, niceness and popularity; they associate "fat" meanwhile with laziness,  stupidity and friendlessness.

Yes, I said three. In a 2010 study researchers engaged 3-5 year old girls in games of Candyland and Chutes & Ladders asking them to choose among three game pieces--a thin one, an average-sized one and a fat one--to represent themselves. While in the past children that age showed little ability to distinguish between average and thin weights, today's wee ones  grabbed thin pieces at higher rates not only than fat ones but than those of "normal" weight. When asked by researchers to swap a thin figure for a fat one, the girls not only recoiled but some refused to even touch  the  chubbier game piece making comments such as, “I hate her, she has a fat stomach," or "She is fat. I don't want to be that one."

Again: preschoolers.

As  I’ve written before on this blog, toy manufacturers have lately classic toys on a diet, claiming (apparently rightly) that “Girls won’t play with childlike dolls any more.” So take a look:




Our friends at  Pigtail Pals, in a recent blog about this baby-fear-of-fat phenomenon posted a photo of how Barbie--whose figure has reflected the idealized female physique for decades--has also whittled her waist and hiked her heinie. Meanwhile, the doll's demographic has dropped: she's now marketed at 3-6 year olds (her original audience was 8-12).


There's no more grace period. From the get-go girls are bombarded with images of women whose bodies range from unattainable to implausible (Disney Princesses, anyone?). Even  G-rated films and educational TV present thinness not as healthier (which it may or not be, depending on how you get there)  but morally superior.

Given the mental health vulnerabilities an ever-narrowing standard of beauty creates in our girls--not to mention the negative impact fat-shaming has on overweight kids--are we really okay with letting this slide?



Will She Design Buildings with Extra Ladies' Rooms?

Mattel just announced that it will be releasing “architect Barbie” later this year, complete with I.M. Pei-style black-rimmed glasses. There’s apparently been a concerted effort since 2002 by women in the profession into the doll’s career pantheon. In general, the recent (and hard to find) "computer engineer" and architect aside, Barbie's recent careers have been disappointing: "baby doctor," "pet vet,"ballerina" and "cheerleader"  have largely replaced yesteryear’s "astronaut," "race car driver" and "ambassador for world peace" (not to mention my personal fantasy job: "See's Candy Store Cashier").  Though frankly, all of Barbie's careers are a little odd considering that she herself is supposed to be a teenager (though maybe she’s grown up since the 90s, when among the first words she “spoke” were  “math class is tough.”) Now for a little jolt of real life:  the good news is, 40% of architecture students are now female. The bad news is, only 13.5% of the architects in the AIA are—which explains the persistence of inadequate number of womens’ bathrooms in most buildings. Women have been entering the field long enough that this is not just an issue of numbers in the pipeline. The pipeline, as with the sciences and engineering, has some serious leaks. I can talk about this a bit. Then say: In truth, Barbie may actually be better equipped than many women entering the field, since she has no children—work/life balance Barbie would surely not be pretty.

Either way, I wish her good luck and Godspeed, and fervently hope those high-heeled feet can urge  girls to reach for the sky(scrapers).