Confidence, Health and Body Love

Toddlers Learn Fat Shaming from their Moms

A new study published in The Journal of Experimental Child Psychology last month showed that toddlers displayed fat-shaming attitudes, learned from their mothers.

Researchers in New Zealand showed toddlers various pictures of thin and fat people, with their faces obscured. “The 11 month-old infants preferred to look at the obese people, whereas the toddler group (around 32 months) preferred to look at average-sized figures.”

This type of preference to look at thinner people was strongly related to maternal anti-fat prejudice. Meaning, the children learned their anti-fat attitudes from their mothers.

The mothers of these children were given questionnaires in which they also expressed anti-fat attitudes.

Researchers said: “The more the older toddlers would look away from the obese figure towards the normal weight one,” shows that FAT PREJUDICE is a LEARNED trait. You’re not born with anti-fat attitudes, just like you’re not born a racist or a homophobe.

What is most shocking is how young these children were and yet they still absorbed and internalized their mother’s preference for thinness.

What’s so wrong with fat shaming?  Well, the consequences are severe, causing:

  • Social, psychological and physical harms to those stigmatized.
  • Increases body dissatisfaction and eating disorders in underweight populations;
  • Increases social isolation, avoidance of exercise settings, and depression in very overweight populations.

Fat-shaming is on my mind a lot lately because I’m currently teaching Fat Politics and Body Positivity and this tyranny of thinness is omnipresent.

There’s this ingrained belief that thin is beautiful, powerful, and controlled, while fatness is viewed as ugly, lazy and weak. So, unless you are thin, there seems to always be something wrong with the female body. And this is troubling.

This obesity “epidemic” seems to be framed in such a way as to objectify, sensationalize, de-sexualize and commodify fat people, while simultaneously creating a massive medical-industrial complex that profits from the very people they are so disgusted by.

I’d much rather work on my career than count calories.

I’d much rather show my daughter the value of hard work and determination than show her how to use a scale.

I’d much rather encourage my daughter to take a risk, fail and try again, then make sure she can squeeze into her skinny jeans.

To a certain extent, you are your environment. And if WE raise our children to be hyper-focused on thinness and appearance, while displaying a loathing of bigger bodies, we’re going to raise emotionally wrecked children with a lot of self-hatred and contempt for others.

Publication Citation:

Ted Ruffman, Kerry S. O’Brien, Mele Taumoepeau, Janet D. Latner, John A. Hunter, Toddlers’ bias to look at average versus obese figures relates to maternal anti-fat prejudice, Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, Available online.