For children who are brought up facing the struggles of being overweight, life can be full of low self-esteem and self-hate. Starting from a young age, a fat child can easily recognize how their appearance affects their identity, through interactions with peers, family members, and strangers. Often times, they find themselves never being solely identified by other traits without regards to their weight. They find that they can never just be the nicely dressed boy or girl, or the really smart child in Mrs. Peter’s 3rd grade class, or the 4th grader in Mrs. Thomas’ class that is an amazing artist. Most of the time their “complimented” traits, are in some way paired with their weight, for example, “the fat girl with the pretty curly hair.” This type of acknowledgment almost has a discrediting play on the compliment. As time goes on and these type of acknowledgements are repeated, larger children began to see their weight as more and more of a factor, leading to the downfall of self image.
As children grow and begin to develop thoughts, ideas, and reasoning, they use everything they see, hear, and feel too help them develop these concepts. In this day and age, the media is bigger than it has ever been before and has become a huge factor in how our children are developing opinions on different identities. For example, you get on Instagram and the women with the most boobs and butt gets the most likes or you watch the news and develop the idea that white men are mass shooters and black men are thieves. So with shows like the biggest loser, My 600lb life, and I Use to Be Fat, that project and highlight the downfalls of being fat, these children are being told from every angle that being fat is a bad thing. Let’s take a look at two beloved child animated TV shows that have all commonly used the overweight character as the one that lacks wit.
A common character that most TV shows have in common is the “airhead character” who usually adds some comedic ground to the series. In many cases, this character is overweight. In Jimmy Neutron, Carl is a larger character that isn’t always able to put two and two together. Carl is seen as unattractive and stands among the “lower class” of his peers. In Spongebob Squarepants, one of the most beloved animated series in the nation, Patrick Star, who is also overweight, plays a character that lacks common sense and spends most of his time doing absolutely nothing. He prides himself in eating on the couch and sleeping for hours in the day. A child watches on average of six in a half hours a day in front of a screen, which equates to 45.5 hours of screen time in just a week, consuming massive amounts of this subliminal messages about overweight people. Children love to admire those who resemble them, and the only thing that society has given to fat children to admire is how people who look like them are less than everyone else and that they are not smart, able, healthy, pretty, or active! Isn’t it crazy to think that some of these children, as young as 8, have taken their own lives because of their weight? Studies show that kids ages 6-16 who are overweight are at a much greater risk of committing suicide than those who aren’t overweight. What is making them go to these extents? How could such a thing, as insignificant as weight, make a child want to take their own life? It’s the bullying, the media, the teasing, the repeated comments of their incapability, the subliminal messages that come with their favorite TV shows, and their lack of role models. An overweight 12 year old girl finally discovers a celebrity that looks just like her, after years of yearning to look like the slim models she would see on TV. Her new found celebrity crush becomes a role model for her and she starts to find love within her body. A couple months later she finds out that her influencer has undergone weight loss surgery. Although anyone can choose to do anything to their bodies, what message does this speak out to the young ones who are watching? Again, they are reminded that their image is unfavored.
The struggles that fat children face in society do not get left behind in their childhood as they grow older. For some, lack of childhood self-esteem haunts them in their older years, even if they manage to lose the weight. Since their appearance was so often attached to many of their other abilities and characteristics, even after they lose the weight they find themselves still at a tug and pull with their worth. Another side effect, which can be found mainly within middle and high school years, is that some kids become angry and find a vault through bullying. Bullying is typically a result of internalized pain or hurt, and in this case can be a result of the self-hate that was manifested by the consistent negativity on their image. Although bullying seems like child’s play, many adults who struggled with their weight during their developing stages, can be found participating in the same bullying activities, whether it be towards individuals at work, in their social groups, of within their family.
As children, the things we see and hear about ourselves and who we are, are probably the most important parts of our lives. It is the foundation that determines what we believe we are capable of and forms the goals we set for ourselves for the rest of our lives. Encouraging the greatness and beauty within every child, no matter their size, can take them further than we fail to see. As we continue to move forward and encourage the embrace of all body types and sizes, we should never forget to pull in the people who need the uplift the most: our children.
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Jessica Ahenkorah is a senior at Old Dominion University, striving in her last semester to receive a degree in Mass Communications. Creativity is Jessica’s best attribute and will most likely be where her future career derives from. Her hobbies include reading, motivating others, video editing, and brand building. Her goal is to one day take her acquired skills through the doors of Nickelodeon Animation Studios where she would like to eventually land an executive position.