In 1986, Jeffrey Zaslow conducted interviews with 100 fourth-grade girls about their dieting habits. More than half of the girls surveyed said that they were dieting, and 75% of them—even the skinniest girls—said they weighed too much.
In this article, Zaslow reflects on that study and checks back in with the girls, who are now in their early 30’s. Recent research shows that societal obsession with thinness and pressure on young girls to attain that ideal are, unfortunately but not surprisingly, even stronger.
Since the 1980’s, incidence of eating disorders have risen dramatically, and between 2000 and 2006, the percentage of girls who believe they must be thin went from 48% to 60%. Between the increasingly unrealistic images of “perfect” (aka “retouched”) women in ads and the concern with preventing childhood obesity, it’s no surprise that more and more nine-year-olds think they need to be tiny, not realizing that depriving themselves of the nutrients they need could put them at risk for stunted growth and brain development.
While there have been some efforts to improve girls’ self-esteem (books, for example), I don’t think that nearly enough is being done. I understand the precarious balance of the situation—encouraging healthy eating habits and self-acceptance without going overboard in either direction. This is one key area that needs more attention. Lots more.