Weight-Related Teasing Can Cause Lasting Harm to Girls

Sad young girl leaning next to a windowTeasing girls about their weight can increase their risk of eating disorders and cause lasting damage to their self-esteem, according to a study published in the Journal of Early Adolescence.

Weight-related bullying is a common experience; a 2012 survey reported 64% of teenagers in a weight-loss program had faced bullying about their weight. Some bullies may even believe their comments encourage people they see as overweight to lose the weight or “get healthy.” But previous research has linked comments about weight to weight gain.

How Comments About Weight Harm Adolescent Girls

Researchers asked 135 black and Hispanic girls to complete surveys about their weight, body image, and experiences with peers. The girls ranged in age from 9-12, with an average age of 11.

Eighty-one percent of participants were medically classified as obese, indicating a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. All participants reported being unhappy with their weight and wishing they were thinner. Fifty-two percent of participants reported experiencing weight-related teasing from other girls, and 60% said boys teased them about their weight.

Girls who said they had been teased were more likely to engage in unhealthy eating behaviors. Seventy percent skipped meals, dieted, or starved themselves to lose weight. Twelve percent engaged in binge eating followed by forced vomiting, and 33% reported emotional eating.

Does Teasing Cause Weight Problems?

The results suggest adolescents who are bullied are more likely to be unhappy with their weight and more likely to adopt dangerous eating habits. The study was correlative in nature, which means researchers did not explore whether teasing directly caused unhealthy behaviors. The work instead established a correlation.

It is possible that some other factors may account for the higher rates of teasing among girls with disordered eating habits. If subsequent research replicates the results, a causal connection between weight and teasing might be found.

References:

  1. Dotinga, R. (2012, December 26). Overweight Teens Report High Rates of Bullying, Teasing. Retrieved November 24, 2015, from http://consumer.healthday.com/mental-health-information-25/behavior-health-news-56/overweight-teens-report-high-rates-of-bullying-teasing-671943.html
  2. Olvera, N., Mccarley, K., Matthews-Ewald, M. R., Fisher, F., Jones, M., & Flynn, E. G. (2015). Pathways for disordered eating behaviors in minority girls: The role of adiposity, peer weight-related teasing, and desire to be thinner. The Journal of Early Adolescence. doi:10.1177/0272431615609155
  3. Preidt, R. (2015, November 20). Teasing girls about weight may cause lasting harm. Retrieved from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_155842.html

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  • Reesa

    Reesa

    November 24th, 2015 at 2:44 PM

    Believe me, the comments may have been made a long time ago but I can still hear them ringing out just as clearly as if they had been said to me today.

  • Monique

    Monique

    November 25th, 2015 at 10:08 AM

    Pretty much all of the women in my family are heavy, I guess that it is either all of the great food we make or just part of our genetic makeup. I guess that I understood form a very young age that this was sort of my destiny too, and I think that in many ways I have been ok with that because I see a lot of healthy and happy women in my life, and none of them have ever said anything negative to me about my own weight nor about theirs. We all know what the societal ideal of the perfect woman is, and none of us look like that, but I don’t think that that stops any of us from thinking that we are just a different version of someone’s ideal woman. I actually think that that is a pretty positive way to look at it.

  • jennifer

    jennifer

    November 25th, 2015 at 12:12 PM

    Alot of how this effects a person will have to do with how much sekf esteem they have to begin with.
    There will be many strong women who would never even as young girls allow hateful talk like fat teasing make them think any less of themselves.

  • Aziah

    Aziah

    November 26th, 2015 at 6:33 AM

    The words hurt much more when they come from people you love

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