This Wall Street Journal article, Girls and Dieting, Then and Now, came to my attention by Lara and Sarah.
“One day in January 1986, fourth-grade girls at Marie Murphy School in Wilmette, Ill., were called down to the principal’s office.
A stranger was waiting there to ask each girl a question: “Are you on a diet?”
Most of the girls said they were.
“I just want to be skinny so no one will tease me,” explained Sara Totonchi.
“Boys expect girls to be perfect and beautiful,” said Rozi Bhimani. “And skinny.”
…I was the questioner that day. As a young Wall Street Journal reporter, I had gone to a handful of Chicago-area schools to ask 100 fourth-grade girls about their dieting habits. Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco were about to release a study showing 80% of fourth-grade girls were dieting, and I wanted to determine: Was this a California oddity, or had America’s obsession with slimness reached the 60-pound weight class?
My reporting ended up mirroring the study’s results. More than half of the 9-year-old girls I surveyed said they were dieting, and 75%—even the skinniest ones—said they weighed too much. I also spoke to fourth-grade boys and learned what the girls were up against. “Fat girls aren’t like regular girls,” one boy told me. “They aren’t attractive.”
The front-page story helped spark discussions about America’s worship of thinness and its impact on children. It raised the question: Would these girls be burdened by the dieting culture as they grew into women?
Those girls I interviewed are 32 and 33 years old now, and when I got back in touch with some of them last week, they said that they and their peers have never escaped society’s obsession with body image. While none of them descended into eating disorders, some told stories of damaging diets and serious self-esteem issues regarding their weight.
They felt—and recent studies make clear—that the weight-focused pressures on young girls today are even stronger…
Claire, an author and co-blogger at WeAretheRealDeal is quoted as well.
“Compared with the fourth graders of 1986, girls today see body images in ads “that are even further from reality. Retouching is rampant,” says Claire Mysko, author of “You’re Amazing,” a book encouraging self-esteem in girls. She worries that childhood obesity-prevention efforts can make girls obsessive about weight. While these programs are important vehicles to fight a growing problem, “we have to be really careful how we are implementing nutrition and body imaging,” she says.”
It was a great piece, and one that also makes me sad for many reasons, most of all the sentiment that many of today’s youth (much like their mothers, aunts, sisters, grandmothers) feel inadequate and enormous pressure to be thin. This is nothing new, but seeing it spelled out so clearly really resonated with me.
Looking back, in fourth grade, I was dancing, tooling around on the playground with my friends … I wasn’t bombarded with images of celebrities the way tweens and teens are today, and I certainly wasn’t concerned with the size of my thighs or hips.
Thighs meant I could run, do stunts, gymnastics. Hips meant I could give good piggyback rides, dance.
Life was innocent then. And you know what? Maybe I lived in my own little bubble … but I was happy.
I’m honestly frightened to someday bring children into this world. The best we can do as women is serve as good role models, but even that ins’t foolproof …
How about you? What pressures did you feel at ages 9, 10, 11? Did your feelings change between the tween and teen years? How about high school? Beyond?