No matter how hard you're crushing your goals, we all inevitably have to deal with moments in life that make us feel like last kind picked for the team in gym class: totally ostracized and self-conscious. And those moments where that feeling of shame and isolation are tied to your body image can feel especially damaging to your self-esteem. (Check out The Science of Fat Shaming.)
But the effects of weight stigma start way earlier than you probably realized, and have serious effects on our mental health as we get older, according to a new study published in the journal Child Development.
To prove that fat shaming isn't just an adult problem, researchers from Oklahoma State university recruited over 1,000 first graders from rural schools and measured their overall popularity by analyzing reports from teachers, classmates and the kids themselves. Then they gave students a questionnaire designed to measure signs of depression and finally measured all the participants' body mass indexes (BMI).
The researchers found that the higher the students' BMIs, the more likely they were to be ostracized by their peers—fewer students wanted to play with them and the overweight and obese kids were more likely to be mentioned as the "least favorite" classmate. (You have to read this Eighth Grader's Perfect Description of How Outdated BMI Is for Measuring Health.)
Perhaps unsurprisingly ,given the way their peers saw them, the first graders with the highest BMIs tended to show early signs of depression, including low self-esteem (who could blame them!) and aggression, and were even more likely to become dropouts later in life. The more overweight the kid, the worse the effects of weight stigma. (Fat Shaming Could Be Destroying Your Body.)
As anyone who's ever wrestled with their body image (read: all of us) knows, self-esteem issues can really throw you off track—both physically and mentally. Unfortunately, this new research suggests that we might be developing patterns as kids that stick with us for life.