How Weight Teasing Affects Body Image

Studies show being bullied because of weight impacts body image

Girl with tape measure on waist
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Although anyone can be bullied, tweens and teens who are underweight or obese are at a higher risk of being bullied. They often are targeted because of they way they look. When kids are targeted because of their weight, this is called weight teasing. And research shows that when kids are bullied because of their weight, they become dissatisfied with their bodies. The end result is a body image problem.

Body image has to do with how people think about their size and their shape. And it is an important part of identity. How a young person views her body relates to how she thinks about herself as a whole. As a result, a negative body image can lead to low self-esteem. This, in turn, leads to other problems. In fact, many people with negative body images struggle with eating disorders, depression and may even engage in self-harming behaviors.

A closer look at the problem

For overweight children, losing weight is not easy. But when you add in bullying, it becomes even more difficult. These kids can feel trapped, alone and helpless to change their situations.

What’s more, it is not just mean girls who are initiating weight teasing. Studies have shown that the victim's friends, teachers, coaches and even their parents might participate. They use subtle forms of bullying or relational aggression to bully and tease.

Or, they may use what is called a “license to comment.” In other words, they feel it is acceptable to make comments about the person’s weight. They also might comment on what they are eating, what they order in restaurants, their clothes and how they spend their time.

Most of the time, these comments sound like helpful hints.

But in reality the words are judgmental and critical. This causes kids to feel bad about themselves and their bodies. The result is a negative body image. Weight teasing also can create a vicious cycle where these kids begin to eat more to get rid of negative feelings. Then, they suffer from guilt and shame afterwards and the cycle repeats itself.

There also is some evidence that overweight children who are subjected to weight-related teasing are less likely to exercise. They are not being lazy. Instead, they fear that they will be made fun of during their activities. Or, they worry that others will judge or criticize how fast they can run or how many push ups they can do.

What can be done?

Most people think that the first step to dealing with weight-related bullying is to help a child lose weight. But really, the child cannot focus on losing weight and getting healthy when dealing with cutting remarks and criticisms. As a result, the weight bullying and teasing has to stop first.

If you or other family members are making comments about your child’s weight, stop immediately.

And, if the bullying is happening at school, it needs to be addressed right away. Make a commitment to report the bullying to the principal and help your child overcome bullying. It’s not until she is free of bullying that any real change can take place.

Once the bullying has been dealt with, you can begin by promoting healthy eating and exercise habits. In addition, you should help boost self-esteem and resilience by focusing on positive attributes and not on weight. Also avoid congratulating your child on weight loss. Instead, encourage her to participate in activities that will build self-confidence. And congratulate her on her success in those areas. Doing so will show your child that her worth is not tied up in her appearance.

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