The pre-teen years can be difficult for girls. Moving away from dolls, imaginative play and tea parties, the girls are not yet old enough to jump into the world where more adult interests are expected. With girls unsure about their place in this new stage, their thoughts can turn to putting down others in order to ensure that nobody is looking at their own possible shortcomings.
A new study says that some of the teasing that goes on among pre-teens may be extremely damaging. Teasing about weight, say researchers, can have distinctive and significant effects on how pre-teens build their self-image. Teasing can erode their self-confidence, particularly in the area of body image.
The lead author of the study, Timothy D. Nelson, is an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He says that the general belief that adolescence is the beginning of self-awareness about body image is erroneous. Body dissatisfaction, explains Nelson, is developed much earlier than the adolescent years, and criticism of weight can cause problems associated with self-esteem.
The study is among the first to examine the damage done by weight-related teasing among pre-adolescents, and it shows that there may be a link between weight-related teasing and other health and emotional issues among victims.
The researchers involved in the study surveyed hundreds of public school students with an average age of 10.8 years. The students were examined for height and weight and researchers calculated their Body Mass Index (BMI). They also evaluated the relationships between weight-related criticism from peers and the children’s perception of themselves.
The results indicated that overweight pre-teens who experienced criticism for their physical appearance tended to judge themselves more harshly and were less satisfied with their appearance than students who were not teased about their weight.
When the researchers controlled for the BMI results, the effects of weight-based teasing were still significant.
Often, a negative body image can lead to the internalization of problems and developing disordered eating behaviors. If administrators and teachers at schools can find ways to turn this teasing around and implement additional self-esteem and positive body image education, they can help the girls prevent a higher risk for developing problems with their body image.
The study’s findings can be useful in understanding the consequences of weight-related criticism. It is possible that interventions with preadolescents who are targets of the teasing could be effective in preventing ongoing body image problems.