Keep The Mean Girls Out Of Your Daughter’s Friend Circle To Avoid Anorexia

Mean-girlsYou may already have a distaste for your daughter’s friends and there are certainly other reasons to keep your child away from the elitist in-crowd that starts forming younger and younger. Yet, if those popular girls are already talking negatively about body image and throwing around “thinspiration,” you have scientific reason to also ban those tween brats from your house.

Anorexia may be a disease that usually alludes to deeper problems, but Reuters reports that the disorder is also “socially transmitted.” So, fashion magazines and commercials aside, girls can absorb distorted body image from their peers:

The “economic analysis” of anorexia, using a sample of nearly 3,000 young women across Europe, concluded that peer group pressure is one of the most significant influences on self-image and the development of anorexia… ”We found evidence that social pressure, through peer shape, is a determinant in explaining anorexia nervosa and a distorted self-perception of one’s own body,” [said Dr. Joan] Costa-Font.

While there are certainly efforts a parent can make in their own home to advocate for positive body image, mothers and fathers are increasingly finding themselves powerless against the loudness of media. And for every mother who makes an effort to not fat-shame under her roof, countless ads, TV, and magazines consumed by countless kids and young adults often do exactly that. So while your daughter is young and the play-dates and sleepovers are still happening on your watch, have a listen from to time to glean what that kiddie chatter is about. Children as young as eight years old are developing eating disorders and a recent survey revealed that 51% of 9 and 10-year-olds felt better about themselves when they’re on a diet. So there is more than enough reason to keep a young, perpetually dieting fashionista off that birthday party list — and to, of course, drop a word of concern to her family.


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  • bl

    Why does the girl have to be pretty and popular–a dieting fashionista? Anyone can get an eating disorder, not just the pretty popular “tween brats.” Have a little compassion. Girls engage in fat talk not typically to shame their friend but to make themselves feel better about their own body insecurities. If one kid is calling the other fat and telling him/her to quit being such a pig, well that’s bullying and sure I wouldn’t want my son or daughter around this kid. But typically it’s not like that. It’s self-criticism designed to sooth fears and assuage guilt over diet and body type. And yes, it’s still not healthy for your kid to hear, but it’s so prevalent that she’ll probably end up with no friends if you go this route. How about sitting down with your kid and her troubled friend and having open discussions about healthy body image and how to promote that. Teach your child to recognize her friend’s self-destructive habit and how to turn the conversation to a more positive direction. Fat talk isn’t going anywhere any time soon and I’d rather teach my kids to recognize it and reach out to their friends rather than ignore those obliviously privileged little brats, aa you see them.

  • Vera K.

    This “socially transmitted” business is inaccurate and a dangerous piece of information to unleash on parents who are already paranoid about their childrens’ health and safety.

    It’s very unlikely that a girl will develop a full-blown life-threatening eating disorder unless she has the obsessive-compulsive tendencies required to maintain the symptoms. You can’t “catch” an eating disorder any more than you can “catch” alcoholism. You can be influenced by your environment, certainly, and someone who is predisposed to those sorts of behaviors may start younger in the face of the proper stimuli.

    And I agree with the above commenter — as a children’s therapist I would hazard that over half of the girls I encounter with diagnosable eating disorders are NOT from the “mean girls” crowd — they are usually right on the fringe. A girl in the center of the upper-echelon is far less likely to develop early symptoms of an eating disorder than the one who sits two tables away, wishing she could be like the cool girls.

    So yes, peer pressure CAN exacerbate the condition, but it’s usually because the child feels somehow “apart from.” As a parents it is far more important that we help children develop whatever positive friendships exist while maintaining healthy body image talk at home, rather than try to micromanage a child’s relationships.

    • Koa Beck

      Hi Vera. Thanks for reading. I’d be interested to interview you as to why you contest these findings specifically as a child therapist. Please email me at koa(AT)mommyish(DOT)com.

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