Too Ashamed to Eat - Bullying in the Lunchroom

How to spot it and how to help

iStockphoto

While it is not uncommon for kids to be bullied about their weight or body shape, the tactics bullies use to shame others about the way they look are changing. In fact, kids are getting increasingly subtle with their bullying tactics and learning how to bully others under the radar.

Aside from subtweeting about someone’s appearance, teens also will use looks and indirect comments to shame others. And this is especially true in school lunchrooms.

Teens, especially girls, are shamed into not eating or eating significantly less than they want. And it is happening at an alarming rate in school cafeterias across the country.

Teens are feeling a significant amount of peer pressure by certain girls to not eat lunch. For instance, girls will make indirect statements that make others feel ashamed about what they are eating or how much they consume. They also will roll their eyes as girls are eating. Consequently, lunchroom culture today indicates that it is more acceptable to throw out their lunches.

Weight Teasing Is Not New

Weight teasing is not a new concept, but the methods of bullying others are subtler. Rather than name-calling in the halls and classrooms, weight shaming occurs in much less obvious ways. Now teens make comments on social media, post pictures with rude comments and even resort to eye rolling and peer pressure in the lunchroom.

What’s more, all teens are potentially vulnerable to body shaming, not just those who struggle with obesity. For instance, thin teen girls also can be targeted for not having enough curves or not being developed according to others' standards. Meanwhile, research shows that it is not uncommon for normal weight girls to believe they are fat.

And boys can be victims of body shaming too. In fact, studies show that a significant number of boys desire to have a different body shape, whether that means wanting to be thinner or desiring a more muscular physique.

Dangers of Body Shaming

Body shaming and pressure to not eat lunch can have drastic consequences. For instance, when bullies target teens about their size, their shape, their weight or another factor, this can cause extreme levels of stress and anxiety. It also impacts self-esteem and distorts their body image.  

While some teens may fall into a depression or withdraw, other teens will resort to extreme measures to control their weight. They may even engage in dangerous behaviors in an attempt to attain what they see as the perfect body.

The problem is that these types of behaviors can lead to eating disorders. For instance, some develop an eating disorder as they try to conform to what they believe others find acceptable.  

What You Can Do

Keep in mind body shaming is a painful experience and many teens will find it hard to open up about what they are experiencing.

As a result, you need to be able to recognize the signs of weight bullying.

For instance, if your teen comes home talking about how fat she is, it is time to take notice. Sometimes bullied teens will become preoccupied about how she looks or not want to be around others because of the way she looks. She also might drastically change her eating habits. For example, she may begin to eat less, hide what she is eating or refuse to eat certain foods or food groups.

Additionally, if your child is particularly ravenous after school or brings home a full lunchbox, it is time to have a conversation about school lunchtime. While you do not want to automatically assume that your child is being teased and is not eating, it is important to have a conversation about what might be preventing her from eating at school.

You also should avoid making comments about her weight. Instead, focus on things she does well or how hard she works in school. The goal is to help boost her self-esteem and resilience by focusing on her positive attributes and not on her weight. Meanwhile, encourage her to participate in activities that she enjoys and that will build self-confidence.

And by all means, if you notice signs of an eating disorder, seek professional help right away. Eating disorders are extremely dangerous and life threatening if left untreated.

Continue Reading