First Graders Are Body Shaming Each Other, According to a New Study

Kids as young as six have internalized messages of fat-phobia and actively bully kids they perceive as heavy.

poor, sad little child girl sitting against the concrete wall
Photo Credit: Olesia Bilkei

Being a kid has never been easy. You’re brand new in this terrifying and lovely world, and you have to learn the ropes all while your body is still growing and shaping itself. As if tiny humans don’t have enough sensory overload to stress them out, a recent study shows that children body shame each other as early as first grade. The depressing study found that kids as young as six have internalized our cultural messages of fat-phobia and actively bully kids they perceive as heavy or bigger than them.

Sadly, to anyone who was bullied or experienced body shaming in school, this is not a shocking discovery. Kids have been cruel to each other since the beginning of time and the insult of being “fat” has long been used as a way to bully and alienate kids at very young ages.

The study, carried out by the journal Child Developmentpolled as many as 1,164 six- and seven-year-olds in the United States, finding that kids considered thinner or a “healthy weight” excluded larger kids from their friend groups and named them as their least favorite classmates. In keeping with the sad and predictable curb of the trend, it was revealed that the heavier the child was, the greater the frequency of bullying and willful exclusion.


If you don’t already feel a strange mixture of sadness for the bullied kids and misplaced anger for the kids doing the bullying (who are really products of our fucked culture), other studies show that childhood obesity and bullying often form self-fulfilling cycles of self-harm and depression.

Amanda W. Harrist, a professor of childhood development at Oklahoma State University who led the study, touched on the problem in a press release, saying:

“Severe obesity is a clear psychosocial risk for children, even as early as 6 years old. Children who are ostracized, as occurred with the severely overweight children in our study, suffer great harm, with feelings of loneliness, depression, and aggression, and these children are more likely to skip school and drop out later.”

Awareness surrounding the issue of childhood bullying and fat shaming has been steadily increasing, but America needs to start figuring out ways to foster safer atmospheres for children. How do we approach ideas of health without inadvertently creating a hierarchy of genetics and body type, particularly for children who will gain weight during and before puberty? How do we create a culture that isn’t so obsessed with thinness that it trickles down to our six-year-olds? Body shaming will continue to start younger and younger if not addressed.

Bronwyn Isaac is a contributor to The Frisky. Follow her on Twitter @BronwynIsaac.

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