When A 6 Year Old Is Told: "You Should Be In The Fat Class"

There is a 6 year old girl I know, Leah, who is articulate, bright, kind and hilarious. She is a ray of sunshine and the life of the party. She is also taller and a bit bigger than the other girls in her class.  

Leah had no idea of this fact until some girls told her that if she played with them she could ‘only be the dog because you're too fat.’  And: ‘You shouldn't be in our class, you should be in the fat class.’

Leah was shocked and devastated - and so was her mum. 

Her mum says; ‘My baby was standing in front of the mirror naked and crying saying she was too fat and she wished she were dead.’

And she is a little girl. 

Body image is something I thought we needed to be aware of when kids became teenagers, or at a stretch, the last years of primary school. 

But no more. 

Girls and boys as young as 3 are aware of what is a socially acceptable body and what is not acceptable. They are acutely aware of the way they look and how the world sees them in a way my generation never was. 

A friend told me a story about her daughters who are 3.5 and 2 years old. A waitress expressed how pretty the youngest one was and made a big deal about it. Later that day my friend found her eldest daughter anxiously dressing up and accessorising. She said; ‘Mum, I'm not beautiful like Ava. I need to dress up and put clips in my hair and then I will be pretty.’ I walked in to find my own daughter dressing up and putting on jewellery before a play date with a friend because she thought the boy would like her more if she were prettier. 

It does seem to be mainly the girls struggling with this stuff, but Kids Helpline is reporting more and more calls from both boys and girls about negative body issues, with calls from boys on the rise.

In a recent survey of Queensland high school students 70% of teenage girls wanted to be thinner, compared with 34% of boys. Interestingly, while only 7% of girls wanted to be larger, 35% of boys were desperate to increase their size. 

I’ve heard other stories of little kids being embarrassed to show their stomachs and telling their mum that she has ‘a fat bum.’ 

Kids are bombarded with airbrushed images of very thin women and muscled men. They’re told that being pretty is more important than being happy, and we should look ‘good’ at any price.

Leah has an aunty, who she worships and thinks is an absolute goddess. Her aunty explained that she ‘has been plus sized most of her life.’ Leah was shocked because she knows that her aunty is beautiful. But she thought that if you weren’t a ‘skinny minnie’, you couldn’t be happy, popular or attractive. 

What has popular culture done to our innocent little girls and boys? Why are we torturing their impressionable young minds and bodies with this useless stuff? And how do we stop it?

The good new is that with the help of a wonderful family, Leah is slowly beginning to feel better about herself. She wants to be healthy and happy and is starting to see that beautiful comes in lots of different shapes and sizes.