This Is What Happens to Women When Their Parents Comment on Their Weight
"Maybe we should buy you a size up in those pants."
"That baby fat's still hanging on, huh?"
Phrases like these may sound painfully familiar to anyone whose parents commented on their weight as a child. If it happened to you, you're not alone; in a 2012 study on kids at a weight loss camp, 37% said their parents had bullied them about their size, according to the New York Times.
Those types of comments can be crushing to kids' self-esteem. But according to a new study involving 501 women aged 20 to 35, such comments may continue to shape our body image well into adulthood.
The study: Researchers at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab set out to explore how parents' weight-related comments influence a daughter's adult Body Mass Index and "satisfaction with her weight."
Women with "healthy" BMIs were nearly a third less likely to recall their parents commenting on their weight or saying they were eating too much, compared to "women whose BMI indicated they were overweight," according to a press release.
But that's the less compelling part of the study. As you may know already, BMI is bullshit; it doesn't differentiate between muscle and fat and it fails to account for the fact that people are born with different-sized frames.
Girls already have enough harmful pressure from the media to be thin. They don't need it from their parents, too.
The more intriguing part of the study? Among participants of all sizes, those who were fat-shamed as kids tended to be "less satisfied with their weight as adults," according to the release.
For Katie Dalebout, author of Let It Out: A Journey Through Journaling, "the study completely makes sense," she said in an emailed statement.
Dalebout, who dealt with orthorexia in her 20s, still works to "find my worth outside of my body" — a task that "can be challenging for anyone, when your body is a topic of discussion from family, or the people closest to you — and especially challenging when you're young and malleable."
Whether it's from our parents of from the media, we're taught that our size determines our worth. It's a damaging notion that can affect anyone — no matter their shape.
"It is important to focus less on our bodies as a model of what 'healthy' is," Eating Disorder Resource Center administrative director and therapist Shelly Allen said in an email. "When we focus only on our physical appearance, we objectify a person. This never feels good — which supports this new research."
It's OK for parents to help their kids get healthy — just not in the form of size-shaming comments.
"If you're worried about your child's weight, avoid criticizing them or restricting food," lead author Brian Wansink said in the release. "Instead, nudge healthy choices and behaviors by giving them freedom to choose for themselves and by making the healthier choices more appealing and convenient."
Girls already have enough harmful pressure from the media to be thin, Dalebout said — they don't need it from their parents, too.
"If parents can be one less force telling girls to change the way they look to fit a cultural standard, the healthier that is for girls long-term," she said.