When I was growing up, one of my favorite pastimes was going to the playground. It was a time to forge new friendships, get a break from school work, and to exert some excess energy. Granted, there was always some sort of bullying, whether it would be this tall boy trying to take a basketball and hold it out of my reach (I was short and this was the common treatment). Overall, it was a great experience.
According to a recent CNN article, the playground has changed into a judgment zone. It is not harmless picking, like the treatment I experienced growing up; rather it has morphed into a place where kids are judging on the size of another. Talk about being exposed to body image issues at a young age.
Fat is the new ugly on the school playground. Children as young as 3 worry about being fat. Four- and 5-year-olds know “skinny” is good and “fat” is bad. Children in elementary school are calling each other fat as a put-down.’’
As our country becomes more obsessed with increasingly skinny ideals of beauty at the same time that we’re getting more obese, “Fat hatred has become so pervasive that it is part of the fabric of our language and interactions,” says Dr. Robyn Silverman, author of “Good Girls Don’t Get Fat: How Weight Obsession is Messing Up Our Girls and How We Can Help Them Thrive Despite It.” “Fat and thin are no longer simply assessments of size or weight, but rather of character. So you can imagine why adoption of these attitudes, diet talk and disordered behavior is happening earlier as well.”
Granted, it is natural for children to notice that they are different than others, and this is to be celebrated. However, with entertainment and media focusing on the images of extremely skinny celebrities, they forget to remember that children see these images. This is leading to children judging other children on the stigma that our society focuses on far too often.
However, there is another factor that the article addresses: how the parent addresses his/her own body image before the child. Is the parent focused consistently on dieting or over-exercising? A child sees how the parent conducts themselves and seeks to emulate them. It is natural, but it can be unhealthy for a child emotionally. How about appreciating your looks and seeking to live a healthy lifestyle? This is the greatest role model for children to see.
Perhaps, a child judging another child’s body is becoming the new form of playground bullying. I hope this is a wake-up call for parents to address that each person is unique, beautiful, and destined for great things. It is time for the playground to return to its fun roots.
**Note: As a former social worker, I worked with children in a clinical setting.**