My 5-year-old daughter wants to be on the Oprah show. (So, Oprah, when you read this… ) A while ago I was watching a show of Oprah in which the guests were all contestants of The Biggest Loser. Immediately, my daughter came up with a plan. If she would eat herself fat first, then she could join The Biggest Loser and eventually end up on the Oprah show. With a little childish imagination, anything is possible! I’m not sure if I would risk my health for the Oprah show though.
Then this week I was reading about this study by Stacey Tantleff-Dunn which concludes that 3- to 6-year-old girls worry about being fat. About a third of the girls would change a physical attribute as their weight or hair color. I think that this is pretty shocking. I still can remember well being a little girl, and I did not worry about my looks until much older. I remember going to the market by myself at the age of 10, and one of the sales persons asking me about my mother. He said; your mother is the skinny lady with the glasses, right? And I wondered for a long time about the description of skinny. I could not tell the difference between skinny people and fat people unless they were morbidly obese. Was I that ignorant or are kids nowadays more aware of things around them?
The same research, however, also shows that the self-esteem of these little girls was not influenced by video clips of beautiful thin models (or princesses), like with older girls and women. Little girls seem to be more sensible and understand that Barbie’s impossible proportions are not realistic, and that you do not need Rapunzel’s long hair or Snow White’s complexion to look great. And these results are making sense to me, because what do we think of 3- to 6-year-old girls? Do we think that they are stupid? They understand that a cartoon is a cartoon, and a doll is a doll. Have you ever seen a real person with legs as long as Barbie’s? It has been estimated that the only way a human Barbie could walk would be on all fours, and even then she would need someone to support her head because her neck is twice as long as the average woman’s. And if someone has hair as long as Rapunzel’s, it would not be suitable to use for tower climbing. Even my 5-year-old daughter can see that! Ignorant as I might have been as a kid, I would have been able to tell that it are all fairy tales.
So, what makes these 3- to 6-year-old girls worry about their looks? The earliest influence on our body image comes from our family. The words parents use around a child have a tremendous influence on a child’s sense of self. Mothers who constantly talk about how fat they are are more likely to produce daughters who feel fat as well. When a mother asks a friend “Do I look fat in this” with the daughter around, she is already giving an indirect message to what is desirable and what is not. And I guess as wife of a gym owner/fitness instructor, the message to my girl has unconsciously been that if you are fat, but have the will power to work out, lose weight and get healthy, you deserve some respect and praise (and perhaps even a visit to the Oprah show).